What is Bullying and Who are The Targets
There has been a lot of discussion in schools and among parents about this topic on bullying. Parents fear that they will get that "call" from the school or from another parent that their child was either the target for being bullied or was the bully. Bullying is different from teasing or "horseplay". Teasing becomes bullying when it crosses the line into being repetitive and there is a strong intent to hurt another person. Bullying can be in the forms of verbal (name calling, threats), psychological (humiliation, spreading false rumors, exclusion) and physical (hitting, taking another's possessions). Girls are more subtle and indirect in their bullying behavior. It often comes in the form of withdrawing friendship, humiliating another person in front of someone else, or making a hurtful comment and then exclaiming that they were only "kidding". Boys tend to be more physical through pushing or shoving and doing mean pranks. The victims who are the targets of bullying are often shy and may have low self-esteem and poor social skills. They also may be the ones that are the loners and are not accepted by others. Bullied children often let other people be in control and due to their passivity, they don't stand up for themselves.
Stopping Bullying Behavior
Research show that 20-30% of school age children are involved in bullying incidents, either as the bully or the victim. The goal in preventing bullying is not to get rid of the bullies, but to get rid of bullying. Often children learn bullying from older children, adults, and from TV or movies. Since bullies enjoy feeling powerful and in control, they are insensitive to other people's feelings. How can parents help? Here are some suggestions:
- Encourage children to report bullying to adults- Explain to them the difference between "reporting" (helping) and "tattling" (telling on someone in a hurtful way). Children are often afraid that if they report a bully, they are tattling which is not the case. By children working with their friends, they can distract a bully from performing cruel behavior on another, and report the incident.
- Talk about empathetic behavior and how it would feel to be a victim of bullying- Discuss the difference between teasing and how it can be construed as bullying if it continues. Ask the child how it would feel if someone intentionally ignored someone or humiliated another in front of other children. If your child is the bully, help him/her understand how it would feel to be in someone else's shoes by role playing being the bully and he/she as the victim. Empathy creates caring people, and caring people don't hurt other people intentionally.
- If your child is a victim of bullying, offer some strategies to help improve the situation- Bullies strive on feeling powerful by intimidation and getting others upset and angry. Teach them not to react by crying, being angry or laughing which can provoke a bully to continue. Tell them to avoid the bully and to team up with another friend on a bus, a hallway, or at recess so they are not alone. Encourage them to walk away, act brave and ignore the bully and report situation to an adult. By ignoring the bully, the child is sending the message that he/she doesn't care which will eventually bore the bully (bullies feed off of reaction to fuel their cruel behavior). Also, as a parent, if your child is the victim of a form of bullying from known friends, encourage them to make new friends and involve he/she in other activities that would widen their circle of friends.
- What to do if your child is behaving like a bully- Remember if your child is acting like a bully, most likely it is coming from feelings of inferiority and vulnerability. In discussing with your child about this behavior, do not come from a place of blame and focus on pointing out that bullying is not acceptable in your family. Specify concretely the consequences if the aggression or bullying continue. Role model more appropriate behavior to help teach he/she different ways of relating to others. Remember you want to stop the behavior, understand the child's feelings, and then teach and reinforce more positive interpersonal behavior.
Ask Dr. Andie
Questions can be submitted through the website and if possible, will be answered either in the Q&A section or in the Power2Relate Newsletter.
My son is seven- years- old and recently he wakes up on school days not wanting to go to school. Up until a few weeks ago, he loved school and we had no problem with him not liking or not wanting to go to school. He also seems a bit withdrawn and doesn't want to talk about what's going on with him. Are these signs of him being bullied?
With these sudden changes in his behavior, your son may be a victim of being bullied at school. Besides the symptoms he is exhibiting, other signs of a child being bullied are frequent crying, sudden drop in grades, sleep disturbances, vague physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches, belongings that come home ripped or missing, and fearfulness. Since he is refusing to talk about it, try more indirect questions to him. For example, "How is he spending his lunch hour?" or "What is it like taking the school bus?" Also ask if there are any children at school that are being excessively teased or bullied without personalizing it. Some children will talk about someone else's "experience" easier than their own. I would also suggest you speak with his teacher to find out if his same behavior is going on at school. Your son may not have spoken to his teacher about being bullied but the teacher may understand the classroom or playground dynamics better and have some more insights.