Sara is in her first year of Junior High. Every day, when Sara walks down the school hallway between her mid-morning classes, there is a group of girls who will tease, push her, or dump her books from her arms.
She wonders daily what she did to deserve their meanness. She doesn’t even know these girls as they came from a different primary school than her own. Every evening, she lays in bed and cries just thinking about having to encounter these girls in the hallway the next day.
Jeremy used to be good friends with Bill until Bill started calling Jeremy names. At first, it started as what seemed to be Bill trying to get a laugh from the other boys on his soccer team. He would make fun of Jeremy to get a laugh from the other boys. He has continued with the behavior for weeks, but it has gotten worse and Bill now calls Jeremy hurtful names at their soccer practice every day. Jeremy is thinking about quitting soccer because the situation has become so bad.
Renee was born with a congenital defect. Her arm is malformed and she only has three fingers on one hand. She is in her first year of primary school. There is a little boy in her class who makes fun of her arm and mimics her arm movements and shortened arm effect anytime they are together and a teacher isn’t watching. Renee cries at home after school saying that she doesn’t want to go to school anymore. Her parents are bewildered as she has been begging to go to school for years. Now that she is old enough to be enrolled in primary school, she doesn’t want to attend anymore after just one month of school. Her parents have no idea what is causing her to be upset and not want to go to school.
These are just three examples of bullying. Bullying can vary widely in behavior and context. Parents must know the difference between “kids just being kids” and bullying.
Bullying involves repeated behavior that harms another child. For example, the girls who continually pick on Sara in the hallway are bullying her by dumping her books, pushing her, and shoving her every day.
Bullying is not always physical, though. For example, in the situation of Jeremy, his teammate Bill is bullying him by calling him names repeatedly.
StopBullying.gov is a website about bullying that is hosted by the United States government. This website provides a clear definition of bullying as the following:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include [an imbalance of power and repetition].
An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Bullying is aggressive, mean, and/or unwanted behaviors that happen repeatedly to a child.
Bullying, especially for kids, requires immediate intervention. If your child suddenly decides that they no longer want to go to school or that they want to quit an activity, then a discussion should occur. Sit down with your child, and ask them what is going on in their life.
Have compassion, understanding, and care in your words and tone of voice so that your child can open up to you. You never know if they are being a victim of bullying unless they open up to you and share what is occurring in their life.
Some children don’t share immediately because they are embarrassed by the bullying. Others don’t tell their parents because they are afraid of the bully. They worry that if they tell, the wrath of the bully may get worse. This should also be a concern for the parents.
Any intervention must be effective in removing the threat of the bully. If reporting the situation makes the bully’s behavior worse, then the intervention has failed.
Talk to School Leadership
Parents should talk to school leadership, such as the teacher, counselor, or principal when a bullying situation is occurring. If the bullying is happening at school, then the staff should be made aware so that they can intervene.
Most schools have policies and protocols in place for handling bullies. Such things may include separating the students so that they aren’t interacting anymore.
For example, with the situation of Renee, the boy who makes fun of her arm may be moved away from the school table they currently share. He would be moved to a separate side of the classroom so that he couldn’t easily communicate or make fun of Renee.
Then, the counselor would talk to the boy about how his actions are hurtful and why he shouldn’t be making fun of anyone. The teacher and principal may have to implement consequences, such as removal from class or suspension, that are made clear to the student and his parent if he continues his behavior.
In many instances, removing the opportunity for the students to interact is the best way for the bullying to stop. If the bully doesn’t have the opportunity to interact or communicate with the victim, their bullying behavior is stopped. This is the reason why in many instances of bullying parents need to involve school staff members (if it is happening at school).
Parents can’t control where the students sit in the classroom. However, the school can change where students sit in the classroom. Parents should speak to the school about the bullying to ensure that appropriate interventions are made, including separating the bully from their victim.
Parents are advocates for their children. If parents do not stand up to protect their child, then who will? When a situation of bullying is revealed by a child, the parents need to take the information seriously.
Unfortunately, many parents of bullies don’t want to admit that their child is a bully. It can look and feel like they failed as parents. When a child is being bullied, that parent may reach out to the bully’s parent for intervention only to be put off. The bully’s parent may claim it is the other child’s fault, or they may insist that their child is innocent.
This is why intervention should happen at the school if possible. Parents must advocate protecting their children as bullying can leave mental and emotional scars. The sooner they can get the bullying to cease, the better.
Bullying Can Have Serious Effects
Victims of bullying can develop depression and anxiety. The ongoing bullying can impact a child mentally and emotionally long term. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center cites research that shows that both bullies and their victims are at an increased risk for suicide. In recent years, suicide has been increasing among teens and pre-teens. Bullying, including cyberbullying, is one of the primary causes for the increase in suicide among our youth.
The serious—and sometimes even deadly—effects of bullying should be considered by all parents. If a child comes forward to reveal a situation of bullying, affecting either them or someone else, then parents and adults must intervene. Schools are set up to handle these situations, with policies and protocols in place. The consequences of bullying can be quite serious, which is why most schools have taken steps to institute bullying policies.
Signs of Bullying
Not all kids will come forward to tell their parents that they are being bullied. Parents should be aware of behavioral changes in their child, such as depression, anxiety, sadness, loss of interest in activities or school, sleeping issues, not eating, irritability, and moodiness. If your child exhibits any of these behaviors for a period of two weeks or more, then it is time to talk to the child about what is happening in their life.
A parent who suspects bullying may be happening can talk to their child about bullying in general. The parent can explain what bullying can look like, or they can provide an example that has happened in their own life. They can explain that it is not the victim’s fault.
Let the child know that if they see other children being bullied or if they are experiencing bullying, then they need to tell an adult (preferably you as the parent). When the child believes that telling can help the situation, that child is likely to then talk about it.
How to Help Your Kids
If your child is being bullied, you can and should help them. You can do it not only via intervention within the school but also by helping them cope with the situation.
The first step is talking—having the child open up and talk about what is happening so that you can help them with strategies to stop the bullying. You can’t help them unless you know what is actually happening.
Here are some more ways that you can help your child who is dealing with a bully:
1. Advise Them to Avoid the Bully
If they aren’t exposed to the bully, then the bullying often stops. This is often why school intervention is needed so that the kids are separated and no longer have interactions.
If it is cyberbullying taking place (e.g., your child is being bullied on social media) then they may need to block the person who is bullying them or put their own account on hold.
2. Advise Them to Walk Away and Not Engage
Many bullies thrive on reaction. The reaction from the person being bullied is what fuels their behavior. They may be doing it to make others laugh, or they do it to feel power over another person. If the reaction from the one being bullied goes away, then the bully may become less interested.
You should advise your kids to not engage with a bully. Walking away without reacting is a good way of handling the bully.
3. Let Them Know It Is Okay to Get Help
The child should feel empowered to get help when they need it. For example, if Jeremy stays in soccer and the coach is informed about what is happening and the bullying happens again, Jeremy should tell the coach.
He can do it confidentially after practice, or he can talk to the coach off to the side during practice if possible. If Jeremy needs intervention for Bill to stop, then he needs to ask for help when it happens.
4. Build Their Confidence
Often, a bully chooses to bully someone because they see the person as a weak or easy target. Other times, a child is picked on because there is something about them that is different. Building up your child’s confidence and self-esteem is important to helping them prepare for handling bullying in the future.
For example, if another child makes fun of Renee’s arm next year in her new class, she would be prepared to shut it down by defending herself confidently with calm words that deter the child from making fun of her again.
Every situation is different. But if your child has something that makes them different or stand out from others, then they can be prepared to handle the situation better if they know in advance what they would say to someone who picks on them for this difference.
5. Encourage Them to Have Positive Friendships
Children and youth need peer relationships. This helps them live a balanced and healthy life. A child without peer relationships and friendships is more likely to be a target of bullies.
Encourage your child to make friends with others who are positive and kind. Help your child develop these skills as well. You can’t get friends unless you can be a friend.
Be There for Your Child
One of the worst things that a parent can do when their child is being bullied is for them to say “tough it out” or “kids will be kids”. Not taking their situation seriously and not helping them is failing them. Parents must be willing to not only listen to their child and allow them to express things openly, but they must also be ready to help their child.
If your child comes to you because they are being bullied, then take the situation seriously. The lasting effects of bullying are not something you will want to deal with in the future. Deal with the situation at hand so that the bullying can cease today.
Be prepared to take serious action. If your school principal is not taking the situation seriously, then take it to the next level. Inform the school board or school administrators about what is happening. Keep the facts, and let them know you want the bullying to stop immediately.
If the school doesn’t take any action and the bully continues to be a threat to your child, then be prepared to remove your child from the situation or the school, so you can protect your child from harm. Above all else, our job as parents is to protect our children.
Bullying is not a one-time instance of someone saying something mean to your child. Bullying is a repeated act, whether physically or verbally, that is harming your child. Don’t allow your child to be repeatedly harmed. Once you know that bullying is happening, it must be stopped immediately through appropriate interventions.
Get Additional Help if Needed
If your child has been bullied and is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other emotional turmoil because of bullying then they should get professional help. You can go to Psychology Today and enter your location to find a qualified therapist near you. This website allows you to search by issue and treatment age as well. This can help you find a therapist near you who can help your child with their specific issues.
Stomp Out Bullying is another website with additional support and information about bullying. They offer a free chat line to teens who are experiencing bullying. If your teen is being bullied and needs additional support check out their website today.
Bullying, especially for kids, is a serious matter that should be addressed as soon as possible. It can bring long-term psychological and physical damage to your children if you don’t act on it immediately. Your primary role as a parent is to protect your child from harm. This guide can help you help your kids to deal with bullies to get them out of harm’s way.
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Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com
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