When your child is being bullied, it's often tough to remember that the bullying child probably has a problem at least equal to if not greater than your child does. While nobody knows the exact reason some children become bullies, studies show that children who bully are more likely than their non-bullying peers to come from homes with certain characteristics:
- A lack of warmth and involvement on the part of parents
- Overly permissive parenting (including a lack of limits for children's behavior)
- A lack of supervision by parents
- Harsh, physical discipline
- Bullying incidences at home
The story doesn't get any happier as bullies age. Children who frequently bully their peers are more likely than others to:
- Get in frequent fights
- Be injured in a fight
- Vandalize or steal property
- Drink alcohol
- Be truant from school
- Drop out of school
- Carry a weapon
These unhappy statistics don't excuse bullies for their behavior but they do provide a good incentive for teachers and administrators to intervene when bullying occurs. Unchecked, the problem only gets worse, not just for your child but the bully, as well.
WHAT IS BULLYING?
Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior that is intentional, takes advantage of an imbalance of power or strength, and is usually repeated over time. It can be either physical (hitting, biting and kicking) or verbal (teasing, emotional intimidation, social exclusion). It can take place person to person or, increasingly, online.
"Access to technology has made 'cyber bullying' a matter of real concern," explains Jody Bertram, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "It's almost impossible for parents and teachers to know everything that's being exchanged via cell phone and computer."
EFFECTS OF BULLYING
Bullying can have serious consequences. Children and youth who are bullied are more likely than other children to:
- Be depressed, lonely, anxious
- Have low self-esteem
- Be absent from school
- Feel sick
- Think about suicide
RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS OF BULLYING
Many children are reluctant to tell their parents about bullying that occurs at school—either out of shame or because they've been threatened with reprisals if they tell.
Here are some early warning signs:
- Your child comes home with torn, damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books or other belongings.
- Your child has unexplained bruises, cuts or scratches.
- Your child seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus or taking part in organized activities with peers.
- Your child appears sad, moody, teary or depressed when he or she comes home.
- Your child frequently appears anxious and/or suffers from low self-esteem.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED
STEP 1: GATHER INFORMATION, FOCUS ON YOUR CHILD
Be supportive and gather information about the bullying. Check your emotions. A parent's protective instincts stir strong emotions. Although it is difficult, a parent is wise to step back and consider the next steps carefully. "In order to be most helpful to your child, it's essential to put your emotions to the side. This allows you to be rational, objective and create the best plan possible to tackle these sensitive situations." says Bertram.
Strategies that work:
- Listen carefully to what your child tells you about the bullying. Ask him or her to describe who was involved and how and where each bullying episode happened.
- Learn as much as you can about the bullying tactics used, and when and where the bullying happened. Can your child name other children or adults who may have witnessed the bullying?
- Empathize with your child. Say that bullying is wrong, and that, "It's not your fault and I'm proud you had the courage to tell me about it." Assure your child that you will think about what needs to be done and make sure the situation is addressed.
Strategies that don't work:
- Don't tell your child to ignore the bullying. What the child may hear is that you are going to ignore it. If the child were able to simply ignore it, he or she likely would not have told you about it. Often, trying to ignore bullying allows it to become more serious.
- Don't blame the child who is being bullied. Don't assume that your child did something to provoke the bullying. Don't say, "What did you do to aggravate the other child?"
- Even if you disagree with how your child handled the bullying situation, don't criticize him or her.
- Don't encourage physical retaliation ("Just hit them back") as a solution. Hitting another student is not likely to end the problem, and it could get your child suspended or expelled, or escalate the situation.
STEP 2: CONTACT YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER OR PRINCIPAL
Parents are often reluctant to report bullying to school officials, but bullying may not stop without the help of adults. When approaching the school, keep your emotions in check. Give factual information about your child's experience of being bullied including the who, what, when, where and how.
- Emphasize that you want to work with the staff at school to find a solution to stop the bullying, for the sake of your child as well as other students.
- Let them know you expect the bullying to stop. Talk regularly with your child and with school staff to see whether the bullying has stopped. If the bullying persists, contact school authorities again.
Do not contact the parents of the student(s) who bullied your child. This is usually a parent's first response, but sometimes it makes matters worse. School officials should contact the parents of the child or children who did the bullying.
STEP 3: HELP YOUR CHILD BECOME MORE RESILIENT TO BULLYING
Here are some strategies that may help your child become more resilient to bullying. Bertram notes, "The EAP can also support the goal around promoting resilience and building upon this through coaching with parents and in face-to-face sessions with the child."
- Teach your child safety strategies such as seeking help from an adult when feeling threatened by a bully. Talk about who to go to for help and role-play what the conversation might sound like. Assure your child that reporting bullying is not the same as tattling.
- Help your child focus on developing talents or positive attributes. Suggest and facilitate music, athletics and art activities. Doing so may help your child be more confident among peers.
- Encourage your child to make contact with friendly students in class. Your child's teacher may be able to suggest students with whom your child can make friends, spend time or collaborate on work.
- Help your child meet new friends outside of the school environment. A new environment can provide a fresh start for a child who has been bullied repeatedly.
We Can Help
Everything about bullying is stressful. Most parents would rather be bullied themselves than send their children into a situation where they have to confront unpleasant or intimidating behavior.
If you're wondering how to help your child cope—or simply need to blow off steam—call 800.383.1908 any time of the day or night and talk to a VITAL WorkLife consultant about whatever concerns you have.
MORE ABOUT BULLYING: HELPFUL ONLINE RESOURCES
At VITAL WorkLife website, you'll find helpful articles and links to resources regarding bullying, including:
- Children Who Are Bullied
- Children Who Bully
- Bullying and Gay Youth
- Adolescent Bullying
- Bullies and Your Child
Accessing these resources is easy. Simply follow these steps:
- Go to VITALWorkLife.com, click on member login and enter your user name and password.
- On the page that comes up, in the left hand column, click on the "Your Work & Life Resources" button.
- In the shaded area at the top of the screen, click on the pull down menu that says "Parenting" and click on the "Parenting" topic from the list.
- In the Articles Section on the left side, click on "View All."
Pathways to Well Being Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908