How To Help Your Child Manage Dental-Related Bullying at School
This is a very sensitive time for your child. They’re getting to know who they are, as well as who everyone else is. Unfortunately, kids can sometimes be cruel, resulting in bullying. Usually, children grow more insecure about their own appearances around the same time as the normal time frame for braces or other orthodontic work. This creates the perfect storm to make school life much more stressful for your child.
If your child suffers from malocclusion, or dental misalignments, they likely have experienced bullying. Studies show that children with things like overbites, obvious gaps, or missing teeth tend to be at a higher risk of being bullied.
As parents, we want to help our children over these hurdles.
But there is hope!
In the end, the idea is to eliminate your child’s malocclusion, whether it is an overbite, gap, or crooked teeth, through orthodontic care. In this study of children bullied for their dental misalignments, 78% of children interviewed no longer experienced bullying after they finished their treatment.
Even though this statistic is heading in the right direction, it’s not perfect. And we all know that sometimes the teasing doesn’t stop when your child gets braces. Sometimes that can even be the start of it.
How To Help Your Child
First and foremost, listen to your child. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a parent is to truly listen to them. They want to feel heard, be reassured they aren’t alone, and feel as though their feelings are valid—because they are!
Help them learn how to think and speak kindly about themselves. This may feel impossible, as a large percentage of adults aren’t the best at this skill either. But if your child says they are getting braces because their teeth look bad, for example, try to help them reword it. Mention that their braces are there to help the overall health of their mouth, not just their smile’s appearance. Be sure to tell them that the way their teeth were before was also perfect.
Try to be gentle and sensitive with this conversation, and try to steer their thoughts away from their appearance.
Be sure to give your child compliments—yes, even when they roll their eyes at you and walk away. The words you say will stick with them, no matter how “cringe” it may sound to them at the time. Though they may think you’re just saying these things because you’re their parent, it is still important.
But when do you let that protective side loose?
This can be a tough one. If you intervene too early, it can sometimes do more harm than good. You have to ask yourself if the situation is one the children should work out on their own or if it’s time to take the matter to the school.
Some people suggest using the 24-hour rule. When your child comes home with that very first report, take a step back, talk to them, and breathe. Wait 24 hours and see how they are feeling and what direction feels right for you to go.
If you jump straight into action, it can sometimes blow the situation out of proportion. You want to make sure it is bullying your child is experiencing, not just a friendship issue that they can troubleshoot on their own.
How To Help Your Child Encourage Their Friends
It is important for children to know how to handle bullying among their peers. Teach them to walk away instead of actively engaging in the situation if they see a friend bullying someone. Be sure they know not to forward cruel photos or messages about others. Teach them how to support their friends in asking a trusted adult for help. If the situation is one where the friend can’t ask for help on their own, teach your child to speak up for them.
But what if my child is displaying bullying behavior?
If you find out that your child is the one bullying others, it can be quite a shock. If your child is the one at fault, it can be confusing to know what to do. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean your child is a “bad kid,” but it is a sign that they might need some help. Your child could be picking on another because they want to feel included with the “cool kids,” or they could be looking for ways to get extra attention from teachers or parents.
If this sounds like your child’s behavior, the first step is to communicate with them. Keep an open mind, listen to everything they say, and see if you can pinpoint why this is happening. If you are unable to get to the bottom of things, that is not your fault. It might be time to reach out to a children’s therapist for help.
Most importantly, be sure to keep an open mind throughout this entire ordeal. Sometimes these antisocial behaviors can stem from things your child is experiencing at home, with siblings, or from added stresses they place upon themselves. Life gets crazy, and it’s our job as parents to help them navigate these issues before they get out of hand.
Bullying is a serious issue among adolescents, and it tends to increase when they need orthodontic work. But we can do our best to help our children through this time in their lives, whether by focusing on communication or seeking outside help.
Unfortunately, bullying happens among younger children too. If you have a little one fighting the battle with anxiety, here are 10 books you can read to them to help them find just a little more comfort.
We Make Kids Smile can support you through the orthodontic process.
At We Make Kids Smile, we have counseled countless kids getting braces for the first time. We understand their concerns and insecurities about the process, and we offer a nonjudgmental, understanding, and positive outlook on the process. We know that braces are going to improve your child’s smile and oral health for the better! If your child is worried about being bullied because of their braces, come visit us so we can show them how braces are part of their journey to a happier, healthier smile.