BY MARY ELLEN CHRISTY
Most people think of childhood as a blissful and carefree time of growth and development, exploring new things with friends in living within the comfort of loving family. But childhood for far too many children is downright painful due to teasing, meanness and bullying. These behaviors have been on the rise since the mid 1970’s. The National Education Association estimates that 166,000 children miss school every day due to severe bullying. Bullying has existed since the beginning of time and is defined as when a person or group of people try to deliberately make someone feel sad or frightened. In the 21st century, bullying appears in four forms: physical (harming or frightening someone through physical means), verbal (saying hurtful things to frighten or embarrass someone), psychological (excluding someone from the group with the intention of making them sad), and cyber bullying (using social media to cause embarrassment or fear in another person, to damage their reputation).
In the preschool years when many children have little impulse control, some children learn that pinching, biting or slapping gives them power over others. Bullying is all about gaining power over others. At this age this behavior is easily corrected. Once children reach school age, the verbal bullying and taunting begins and physical bullying continues. This trend continues in fourth to sixth grade when bullying children begin to exhibit exclusionary behaviors. The peak of bullying is from fourth to sixth grade when most middle schoolers experience one episode of verbal harassment per day. This is when cross gender bullying also first appears – unpopular boy bullying popular girl. This is when internet bullying first appears as well and may include rumors, innuendos, even sexual harassment. All forms of social media are at play and we need to have strict guidelines and supervision of children’s exposure to them. Cyberbullying is prevalent amongst high school and college students.
There are seven commonly accepted reasons why children bully:
- They may not be receiving the warmth, love and guidance they need from their parents and seek the power over others as compensation. Bullies have low self-esteem.
- They experience aggression within their family such as physical punishment from parents or older siblings. Bullies can have difficult home environments.
- They have learned this behavior from peers. Those who are bullied often become bullies. Bullies are looking for power.
- Children who bully tend to make friends only with others who bully and then a pack is formed.
- Lack of adequate supervision or clear-cut rules for anti-bullying.
- Poor supervision in the areas where bullying most often occurs: on the playground, in the cafeteria, in the locker room or in the bathrooms.
- Girls engage in emotional or verbal bullying to make themselves feel better about themselves. Meanwhile, boys engage in physical bullying to feel more powerful. 66% of all bullies are male.
In her book What to do When Children are Mean to Your Child, Elin McCoy tells us the three most common mistakes parents make when children are being bullied: ignoring their child’s complaints, advising the child to tell the bully to stop and telling a child to hit the bully back. In most of my articles, I have stressed the desire to encourage problem solving skills and the development of resilience in children. But the child who is being bullied needs your help, support and protection.
According to Dr. Michelle Borba, one of my favorite go-to resources for parenting, if you see any of the following signs in your child, it is time to take action:
- Can’t explain bruises, marks, cuts or torn clothing
- Can’t explain loss of books, clothing, toys or lunch money
- Fears being left alone or riding the school bus and/or does not want to go to school
- Is sullen withdrawn or evasive, remarks about being lonely
- Undergoes marked change in typical behavior or exhibits a personality change
- Has physical complaints, headaches, stomach aches and makes frequent visits to the nurse
- Has difficulty falling asleep, cries self to sleep, has nightmares or begins wetting the bed
- Begins bullying siblings or younger children
- Wants to use the bathroom only at home
- Eats ravenously when returning home from school (lunch money may have been stolen)
- Experiences a sudden and significant drop in grades and ability to concentrate or focus on tasks
Early intervention will bring better results. Start talking with your child first and then with the professionals. This is the time to start the conversation with your child, who might be embarrassed, but needs to know that you are there to support and protect them. We can all think of so many responsibilities we have to our children; good nutrition, a comfortable home, a good education, orthodontia bands, but our primary responsibility is to keep them safe. Reassure your child that they no longer need to face this alone and that help is on the way. Try to develop some strategies that will improve their emotional responses such as: not reacting too quickly to verbal teasing by stopping, taking a deep breath and counting backwards– silently- from 20. This requires focus and gives them a chance to collect their thought and robs the bully of an emotional response. Another strategy is to use “self-talk” by repeating silently to yourself “calm down and chill out.” A third possibility is to use a comeback. When a bully calls you “four eyes”, respond by saying: “Are you just noticing that? I’ve been wearing glasses since the first grade.”
Something you might also consider trying ,and which usually meets with minimal success, is to contact the bully’s parents and report their child’s bullying behavior. In most instances the parent will become defensive and try to blame your child. A more positive approach would be to open the conversation with, “I am concerned about our children’s relationship. What do you think?”. Try to frame it as a dialogue not as an accusation.
You may want to meet with school officials, such as your child’s teacher and the principal. This is a pretty good idea because it creates awareness and some documentation of your concerns. Show concern not just for your child but for all the children in the school including the bully. Keep anecdotal records of the bullying and the resulting behavior your child has exhibited. Ask to review with them the school’s policy on bullying and inquire about establishing an anti-bullying task force to initiate affective education for all the children which will discuss the root causes of bullying and its effect on others. Also, try to keep an open dialogue with your child to develop new strategies, this will increase your child’s sense of safety and will encourage building problem solving skills and building emotional intelligence in your child.
You may want to teach them the following skills to reduce the possibility that they will become victims of bullying in any form:
- Act with awareness. Make note of your surroundings, Project self-confidence.
- Leave dangerous situations as soon as you become aware of the danger.
- Set boundaries about disrespectful or unsafe behavior.
- Use your voice.
- Protect your friends from name calling and hurtful behaviors.
- Speak up on behalf of others.
- Guard your mobile devices- keep your phone and computer locked.
- Avoid oversharing on social media.
- Always know with whom you are communicating online, avoid chatrooms.
- Be judicious in the taking and sharing of photographs.
If your concerns about your child who is being bullied continues to be serious, seek out private psychological support for your child. You may even consider changing schools. Nothing in life should be more important to us than the welfare and safety of our children.
“Easing the Teasing” by Judy S. Freedman.
Six books for adults which you may find helpful are:
Easing the Teasing by Judy S. Freedman
Bullies and Victims: Helping your Child Through the Schoolyard Battlefield by SuEllen and Paula Fried
Facing the Schoolyard Bully: How to Raise an Assertive Child in an Aggressive World by Kim Zarzour
Girl Wars 12 Strategies that will End Female Bullying by Cheryl Dellasaga and Charisse Nixon
Your Child: Bully or Victim Ending Schoolyard Tyranny by Peter Sheras
“The Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig.
Books for young children are:
Chrysanthemum by Peter Henkes
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Wonder by P J Palacio
“Dear Bully” by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones.
“13 Reasons” by Jay Ascher
Dear Bully by Sawn Metcalf
13 Reasons by Jay Ascher
Tease by Amanda Maciel