Bullying: How to Help Your Child Cope
Has your child always loved school but now tries every trick in the book to keep from attending? Maybe he is being bullied. Bullying is a real threat to a child’s safety and security. Learn what a bully is, why they act as they do and how to help your child cope.
Has your child always enjoyed school, but now makes excuses because he doesn’t want to go? Do stomachaches, headaches and other mysterious ailments appear in the night or at breakfast? If so, it may be that someone is harassing your child at school. Yes, he may be the victim of bullying.
Where Does Bullying Occur?
Bullying takes place in cities, small towns and rural communities. It is something that happens everywhere in the world. Some adults believe bullying is a part of childhood and that it’s all part of growing up. It isn’t true. Bullying is an activity that is unacceptable. All children should be able to live their lives and have fun without having to worry about their safety and security.
What is Bullying?
Bullying covers a wide range of activities. It can be the act of pushing, shoving and other physical activity, or it can be verbal threats or something as simple as being made fun of because a child wears glasses, looks different, acts different or gets either excellent or poor grades. Bullying is anything that takes the pleasure out of a child’s life or makes him feel depressed or alone. It can turn a simple event such as riding a school bus to school, going to a locker, entering the bathroom, or playing in the schoolyard frightening and scary.
Physical bullying consists of the following:
- Pushing, shoving, hitting, kicking, pinching or pulling hair.
- Forcing someone to do something that they know is wrong or something that they don’t want to do
- Stealing, hiding or destroying objects that belong to someone else.
- Threatening someone, even if the threats are never acted out.
- Taking something that belongs to others, such as gloves, mittens, a hat, a game or any other personal belonging and not giving it back; playing keep-away with items that belong to others.
- Taunting, teasing, mocking, or insulting others.
- Calling someone names, even in fun.
- Giving someone the cold shoulder by not talking to them
- Spreading rumors and lies about others
- Telling someone they cannot play with people of their choosing.
This type of bullying is very subtle and is very common in girls, though boys sometimes use it as well:
- Isolating someone
- Shunning peers and excluding them from games, lunchroom chatter and not including them when handing out invitations to parties.
- Spreading lies and rumors to expel someone
- Anything that causes another person emotional pain is considered emotional bullying
This type of bullying can be acted out on those of different cultures and races:
- Making jokes about the child’s ancestry or country of origin.
- Slurs about the child’s race or the color of his skin
- Calling someone names that refer to his race or skin color.
- Making rude comments about someone’s cultural traditions or religion.
In recent years a new trend of bullying tactic has appeared; cyberbullying. It is something that happens on the Internet. Bullies are taking full advantage of today’s technology to attack their victims. There are as many bullying incidents online as there are on the playgrounds of our schools. If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, don’t make him stop using the computer. Instead, monitor his online activities to assure he has a positive Internet experience.
What Constitutes Cyberbullying?
- When a person is harassed in any way while online, including in a chat room or through a messenger service or e-mail.
- When someone threatens a person online
- Anything that makes a person feel uncomfortable while online.
- When someone accesses information that’s on a computer and uses it against the victim.
- An incident that happens online to inflict emotional pain, embarrassment, depresses the victim, makes the victim nervous or causes him to stop using his computer.
Dealing with Cyberbullying
- Advise your child to let you know if he someone is bullying online immediately.
- Ask him to show you what he does on the Internet.
- Encourage him to save any threatening messages he received so that you can use it as evidence.
- Save any threatening messages in a particular folder on your computer and back them up in case your computer crashes.
- If your child continues to be threatened or bullied while online, notify the police and show them the evidence you’ve collected.
Gang bullying is prevalent in today’s society. It occurs when a group of people bullies a single person. It is much more frightening than being intimidated by someone. A child may feel he can defend himself against one person but loses hope when he alone.
What Constitutes Gang Bullying?
Gang bullying occurs when a group of people, children or adults, do the following:
- Won’t let a child pass.
- Threatens to harm their victim.
- Becomes physical in any way that inflicts pain on their victim, such as hitting, shoving, pinching and hair pulling.
- When some people demand money of their victim
- When they steal or destroy personal property of the victim
- When they spread rumors or lies about their victim in hopes of isolating him
- The infliction of any emotional or psychological pain
- When the victim is forced to do something he knows is wrong or that he doesn’t want to do.
Encourage your child to do the following if someone is bullying him:
- Tell an adult that he feels he can trust; a parent, teacher, the school principal or counselor or another person of authority. Even a school volunteer will help.
- Advise him to walk with a group of friends so he will feel safe and have witnesses to any incidents of bullying.
- Ask a parent, grandparent, guardian or caregiver to walk with him.
- If he feels threatened and there is no adult around to assist him, he should seek a safe place and call 911 or another emergency number to get the police involved.
Why Kids Bully
Bullies often have an underlying reason for their actions. They frequently target kids who are different than themselves and work to exploit the differences. They choose their victims carefully and pick on those who they think will not retaliate. The victim might wear glasses, be overweight, have cultural differences, have learning disorders or invisible disabilities, such as Asperger’s Syndrome. They can choose other victims because they excel in academics or get very poor marks. Any difference at all makes them a target.
Inside the Mind of a Bully
No one can tell if a child is a bully by looking at them. Bullies often deceive teachers and other people of authority because these children are always on their best behavior when adults are present. These kids are charming and manipulative. Bullies are often the most popular kids at school. Others are children who have social disorders, or who are dealing with stressful situations in their life at home. Possibly their parents are separated or getting a divorce. Maybe the child is physically, emotionally or sexually abused. Perhaps they are the victims of bullying by a parent, guardian, caregiver or another person in authority. Some bullies see their actions as usual because their family life is dysfunctional. We can place them in a home environment where anger, cursing, hitting, and name calling is ordinary. In this case, their self-esteem is very low, and they get a boost when they taunt, torment and threaten others.
Whatever the scenario, bullies usually bully their victims as a way of dealing with problems in their own lives. They seek out weaker kids to be accepted, feel important and be in complete control. Bullies come in all sizes and shapes, but usually, pick victims who are smaller than they are.
Another type of bully is the one who is kind to your child’s face when they are experiencing a one-on-one situation but bullies the child when others are present. It usually occurs because of peer pressure. All kids want to be accepted and will do almost anything to make acceptance possible. So, when there are others around, they mimic their actions. They think it’s fun to show-off and they enjoy the attention that they get from their peers.
Children who fall into the following categories are often the victim of bullying:
- Those with learning disabilities and disorders, or with invisible disabilities.
- A person of a minority; a girl or boy taking a non-traditional class
- A child who is very mature or immature.
- Children who are loners.
- Children who are physically or mentally handicapped.
- Children who experience overwhelming emotions or who are easily upset.
- Shy children and those with low self-esteem.
- Children who are small or large for their age.
Signs That Your Child is a Victim of Bullying
Be sure to listen to what your child is telling you. Some children tend to put their real feelings into situations that aren’t forthright. Be alert for hidden messages. Then, talk to your child about the case. Talking about the school bully and knowing you care about what’s happening in his life can be a big help to your child. Your child will feel very venerable when discussing the subject, so be sure to show him love and support.
Never make light of reports of bullying and don’t add fuel to the fire by becoming angry or calling your child a wimp. Don’t allow your child to see that you are upset over a bullying incident. The child may misinterpret anger or sadness for disappointment in them. Always let the child know that you believe the bullying incidents are real and that you understand how he feels. Assure him that the bullying is not his fault and that bullies are often confused and unhappy people who feel bad about themselves.
If you suspect your child is the victim of bullying, ask these questions:
- Do you enjoy riding the school bus to and from school?
- What types of activities take place in the school cafeteria and hallways at lunchtime?
- Who do you walk with to meet the school bus and do you walk home from the bus with the same friends?
- Are there any bullies in our neighborhood or at your school?
- Do you know anyone who receives threatening e-mails or messages while they are on the computer?
- Do you know anyone who gets threatened, either verbally or physically?
- Do you know anyone who is taunted, teased or called names?
- Do you have any enemies? If so, why do you think they are your enemy?
Questions such as these will make it easier for your child to open up and talk about any incidents of bullying that have happened to him. The child will also realize that other kids are victims of bullying and he won’t feel so alone.
Have young children draw pictures or use hand puppets to reenact incidents of bullying. Make it a game. You may be surprised at what you find out.
Tips for Victims of Bullying
If your child gets bullied, give him the following tips to help him cope safely with the situation:
- Don’t fight back or become physically involved with the bully. Hold your temper. Becoming angry or violent will only make the situation worse.
- Explain to your child that bullies enjoy controlling their emotions and that if they react negatively, the bully feels very powerful. It is better to ignore taunts and threats. The bully will tire of getting no reaction and eventually chose another victim.
- Tell your child that if he gets into a physical confrontation with a bully that he may be putting himself in danger or serious bodily injury. Advise him to keep his distance and hang out with others so he will be safe. He should tell an adult about each incident for it to correct the situation.
- Explain to your child that the best thing for him to do is walk away from the bully. It’s also acceptable for him to make eye contact with the bully and tell him to stop. Bullies thrive on negative responses to their actions. When your child ignores him, he will not feel powerful.
- Tell your child to use humor when someone bullies him or to compliment the bully. Something like, “Your backpack is cool,” will send the bully for a loop and leave him standing with his mouth open. However, be sure that your child understands that he shouldn’t make fun of the bully or laugh at him. It will worsen the situation.
- Your child must know to tell his teacher, the principal or another adult in authority when someone bullies him so it can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently before the situation escalates.
- Talk to your child about the bullying incidents. Talking is an excellent way to address your child’s feelings in the open and quiet his fears and frustration.
- Ask your child to use the buddy system to keep himself safe. Ask the child to join social organizations and to broaden his friendships. Being in a group and interacting with peers will help him build his self-esteem.
The Parent or Guardian’s Role
If the bullying continues or worsens, don’t hesitate to get involved. Walk to school or the bus stop with young children. Doing this with growing children may make the taunts worse. Talk to the child’s teacher, principal, and school counselor. If these methods don’t bring results, then meet with the bully’s parents, along with your child’s teacher and the principal, at the school to have proper mediation. If, at this point, the bullying incidents continue, contact the local police department. Be sure to document all incidents of bullying. Include the date, time, place, and particulars of the incident.
Is Your Child the Bully?
Is your child the bully? If so, you may be shocked and disappointed. Remain calm and don’t overreact. Do not be on the defensive. It will only worsen the situation. Tell your child how frustrated you are. It may have a significant impact than if you become angry.
Bullying often occurs when a child is unhappy or insecure. Talk to your child and try to find out why they are experiencing these feelings. Ask your child the following questions if he is bullying his peers:
- Can you tell me how you feel about what’s happening at home and school?
- How do you feel about yourself as a person?
- Do you treat your peers well?
- Do you get along with your peers most of the time?
- Who are your friends?
- Is someone bullying you in some way?
- Why are you bullying your peers?
- What can we do together to help you stop bullying others?
Make an appointment with your child’s school counselor or principal to find out why they think your child has resorted to bullying. If you don’t get the answers you are looking for, ask your family physician to refer your child to a psychologist who specialized in aggressive childhood behavior.
If you suspect your child of being a bully, seek professional help. Bullying is a type of violence and aggression that will worsen as the child ages. It can lead to more antisocial, aggressive and violent behavior. Statistics state that one in four school bullies have a criminal record that haunts them throughout their lives. Teen bullies lose friends and are rejected by their peers, which causes the bully’s behavior to worsen. Bullies also tend to fail in adult relationships, both intimate and platonic.
Help Your Child Change
Problems with the family unit cause not all bullying. However, if your child is a bully, it’s time to take a long, hard look at the personal interaction that your child sees at home. Does a sibling tease him unmercifully? Is he called names and ridiculed by you, your spouse or a sibling? It seems like innocent fun may be hurting your child by you and the rest of the family modeling bullying behaviors.
Teasing, whether in earnest or fun can damage your child’s self-esteem and make him emotionally insecure. Your child may blame siblings or peers for his shortcomings. He must be made aware that he, and he alone, is responsible for his actions.
Always focus on your child’s behavior, never on his person. For instance, if he neglects a chore say, “I counted on your to do that. I’m extremely disappointed because you forgot.” Never say, “You are lazy. You can’t do anything right, can you?” Always criticize the behavior, not the child.
A child’s home should be a haven where he feels safe and secure and gets love, support, and respect. He should never be made to feel uncomfortable, unloved, unwanted or harshly criticized.
Encourage Your Child
Create a positive home atmosphere for your child to grow in and use these tips to help him stop bullying:
- Teach your child to treat all people with respect, kindness, and dignity.
- Set limits for your child and consistently maintain them.
- Reward appropriate behavior and punish that which is unacceptable.
- Talk to your child’s educators for advice on how to help your child change his behavior.
- Set realistic goals and see that your child reaches them. If he slips, reassure him and tell him you love him and encourage him to continue trying to change.
Help for Bullies and Their Victims
Whether your child is the bully or the victim, you may need professional help. Talk to your child’s educators, the school counselor, and your family physician. If necessary, get a referral to a mental health occupational.
If your child’s school doesn’t have an antiviolence program in place, talk to other parents, the parent-teacher association and the school board to have one put in place. Be sure to insist that your child’s school adopt a zero tolerance level for bullying, violence, and other antisocial behavior. You and only you can make a difference in your child’s life. By doing so, you may change the lives of other children as well. Take action now!