World Mental Health Day: how parents can help stop bullying

How can parents help a child that is being bullied - or is a bully? Ready for World Mental Health Day, Dr. Monica Vermani explains what can be done

Hi Monica, please introduce yourself and your role. 

“Hi! I’m Dr. Monica Vermani. I am a Toronto-based clinical psychologist, specialising in treating trauma, stress, mood and anxiety disorders. I am also an author, mental health advocate, public speaker, and frequent expert commentator on TV, radio, podcasts, print, and on social media platforms. I’m the founder of Start Living Corporate Wellness and my most recent book, A Deeper Wellness, Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety, and Traumas, was published in March of 2022.” 


What led you to this industry?

“While I studied psychology at university, I had no aspirations of becoming a clinical psychologist until, while working for a prominent clinical psychologist in Toronto as a psychometrist, conducting pre-interviews of new patients. This doctor noticed something in the way I related to his patients, and how they responded to me and encouraged me to become a clinical psychologist - and here I am today!”


What is World Mental Health Day? 

World Mental Health Day —  10th October — is particularly important this year, as so many people are struggling with their mental health in what we are hoping is a post-COVID world. Of course, the objective of declaring a ‘day’ for any cause — especially one that deals with our wellbeing — is to raise awareness and bring resources in support of a cause — this year, Mental Health Day is especially important, as worldwide, mental health is the collateral damage — or perhaps better put — the second-wave health crisis of the pandemic. We need to support people who are suffering as the result of prolonged social isolation, anxiety, and depression with the resources they need. This day raises awareness of mental health issues and increases knowledge of where to seek help and resources as the first step to treatment and health is awareness. 

“This day also provides professionals an opportunity to speak about their work and how various modalities work and facilitate betterment to treat mental health issues.”

"Teach your children that other people's opinions of us are none of our business! It's our opinion of ourselves that matters.”

Dr. Monica Vermani author of A Deeper Wellness, Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety, and Traumas

How can a child that is being bullied be helped? How does social media factor and what coping mechanisms can they use?

“First and foremost, when your child is being bullied, believe them. Don’t minimise it, and reassure them that you love them and you are there to protect them and advocate for them and support them fully. Listen to your child and allow them a safe space to discuss their emotions, hurts, and thoughts related to self-worth/power. 

“Bullying is an unfortunate reality … even for young children. We cannot bubble-wrap our children, or be there to protect them every minute of the day. But what we can do is work with our children to build up their resilience. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as ‘The process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioural flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands’. We can help build resilience in our children through our strong, secure, and supportive relationships with them, by teaching them how to learn from their mistakes, cope with setbacks, deal with their negative emotions, and develop capabilities and connections with other people. Children who feel capable, connected, and worthy of their place in the world. A resilient child will be able to build positive friendships and will be more likely to ask for assistance if they are feeling threatened and stand up for themselves in the face of adversity. 

“Besides being bullied at school, bullying often carries over onto social media. When this is the case, it is important for you to help your child step away, disengage from social media, and take a break from their devices. If you can identify the bully, consider talking to their parents. Consider contacting your child’s school – if the bullying is happening with classmates, whether online or in person. Your child’s school will have procedures in place to intervene and stop the bullying.

“Empower and support your child with steps they can take to stop the bullying. Show them that they can disengage from social media and ignore the attacks, choose not to add fuel to the fire by responding or retaliating, block their bully from connecting with them on social media, take screenshots and print out bullying messages as proof of online attacks. You can encourage your child to talk to their friends, who may not understand what is going on, and encourage them to spend time in person with their friends and engaging fun activities. 

“Get support from professionals and also find proper coaches or teachers to help you navigate the situation healthily. Do not be reactive and retaliate against the bully or their family. This makes situations worse often.

“Teach and encourage your child to conduct themselves in healthy good behaviour. Negatives often multiply. We need to break the cycle.

“You can also make this a learning experience for them. Let them be part of creating a plan to end the bullying. Encourage them to become the kid who stands up for other kids who are being bullied and keep the lines of communication going.”

How can parents help their children if they are bullies?

“First and foremost parents need to believe in their children and believe in their experiences.

“Take bullying seriously as its impacts can significantly impact one's mental health. Make sure your children understand how bullying is unhealthy and whether it's at home with siblings or at school, that there are more appropriate ways to behave. There are nonviolent and healthy ways to walk away and respond versus reacting.

“Teach your kids to be respectful and compassionate to one another within the household as well as outside. Role model healthy behaviours for children on how to interact with one another so they also facilitate healthy behaviours outside of the home. Reinforce children to remove judgement of themselves and others, including race and gender differences, accept each other as they are, and see the good in everyone.

“Be engaged in your child's life and learn about their social life, learn about what's influencing them at school, and try to help them engage in having a peer group by taking them to activities, play dates, and socialising with parents of some of the children that your child is hanging out with. 

“Overall support and reinforce love and compassion and being kind to one another. Recognise often that how people treat you shows you more about them than it shows you about yourself. Teach your children that other people's opinions of us are none of our business! It's our opinion of ourselves that matters. We need to work on our self-esteem and confidence, and be good human beings, regardless of how other people are behaving. Reinforce to children that when people are in pain they spill over onto and that is not an indication of your worthiness or your value.”

How can adults deal with the childhood trauma of bullying?

“The first step to treatment is always awareness. Acknowledge the bullying that you have gone through in your past and work through some of the impacts that have shown up in your life. If we don't acknowledge our own bullying experiences and impacts, the pain, and suffering we have gone through in the past spills over onto others in the present. It is important for us to take charge of our health in order not to impact our loved ones around us including our children, family, partner, friends, and workplaces. Dismissing, suppressing, and pushing feelings of guilt, shame, and blame aside can have severe impacts, day to day. Over time, symptoms just get worse and begin to impact others. Take charge of your healing process and recognise your past hurts that you haven't had time to address and address them.

“Give from your overflow, not from your well. Take charge, and prioritise your health and recovery. Often, people don't realise how hurtful experiences from their past can affect their mood, anxiety, and self-esteem, and seriously impact their relationships and quality of life. They can hold you back, and prevent you from living life as your highest and best self.

“Don't try to be a hero, and try to do everything yourself. We are social beings. We are meant to learn from one another. Seek trauma support, psychologists, and counsellors. Speak to your family doctor to understand and get recommendations on resources to help you work through things you don't understand, including your symptoms. 

“Start to factor yourself into the equation of your life. Focus on your personal growth. Identify past hurts, and look at how to grow and become your highest best version of yourself. 

“I always ask my patients if I were to wave a magic wand, how would you like your life to look … in terms of work, social, personal self-care, spirituality, and intimacy. Look at where your life is now, and where you'd like your life to be. Start addressing the gaps between your current self and your ideal self! Seek out what you need to help you achieve your goals.” 

What do the next 12 months hold for you?

“I am looking forward to a very full and rewarding 2023. Besides my very busy private practice, I am working on a new book, and I will continue to dedicate as much time and energy as I can to contribute to mental health and mental fitness conversations in the media, and in my live, in-person public speaking engagements. I am working on building my corporate wellness programs to facilitate healing and wellness in corporate environments. I am also building a mental fitness app that will be launching in 2023.”


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