Bullying has become a serious problem in today’s schools. It is much more than just hurtful words; some kids are physically threatened and harmed and even develop other problems, like anxiety and depression, when bullying persists. In many situations, the bully needs help too. One look at the daily news and you will see evidence of this. Maybe it’s even closer than you suspect.
Let me tell you a little story. In high school, I was a kid who used to punch a boy who would never speak up or fight back. (I know, it was awful and I have since apologized to him.) I was also a straight-A student and the teacher’s pet. Why was I bullying? I needed help. I was being abused at home and acting out at school. Luckily, I got some counseling to handle the things that were impacting me.
Is your child being bullied?
What does a bullied child look like and how might a parent know it is happening?
- Parents need to communicate with their child about what is happening and, if possible, find another child who may be witnessing the bullying. Ask more than just yes/no questions. Ask for the best and worst parts of your kid’s day to get more details.
- Often, other children will see bullying in action while teachers may not be fully aware of what is being said and done among the children. Ask your child if a friend or classmate might have seen something.
- An astute caregiver may see signs of bullying like unexplained injuries or loss of personal items, changes in appetite or attitude.
- While kids may not want to lose their friends or be known as a tattletale, it is important to stress the need for adult intervention when bullying happens.
- Kids really should not deal with it themselves and need to know they have the support of the adults around them.
- Once a bullying situation is identified, adults can step in and help all involved.
What can you teach your child about handling the situation?
- Teach them not to handle it directly. As soon as they realize there is a problem, speak to a trusted adult.
- Adults need to stop the situation immediately and assess the safety of the children.
- Adults need to make it perfectly clear that bullying is not acceptable.
- It may be best to separate the parties and get the individuals to speak to adults separately.
- Adults should stay calm and be positive role models for resolving conflicts.
- If weapons or serious bodily injury are involved, the police may need to be contacted.
One very successful technique to teach all children about bullying is role playing. This is led by an adult and children can “play” different roles to actually experience (in a safe and supportive setting) how it feels to be the bully, to be bullied and even to witness bullying. Kids can generate excellent ideas in this kind of setting and test them out. Practice does help. When a child has practiced what might happen and several options of how to respond, he or she is much more likely to handle it positively and correctly when it happens in real life.
The last thing a parent wants to hear is that their child is being bullied at school or on the bus. Childhood is short enough without bullying problems. Being bullied can make an already shy kid just turn inside out. Or worse, being bullied can make your child feel hopeless and helpless in a place where he or she should feel safest. Of course, schools and teachers are more prepared today to handle bullying with training and awareness programs. Be sure to talk to your kids about bullying, communicate with school and teachers and get involved in community activities. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so it is a perfect time to start the conversation with your kids.