What to Do About Bullying

childs bullying
childs bullying

When it comes to bullying among children, parental intervention can be difficult due to several factors. In my decades of dealing with incidences, there is one thing I can assure you. No one knows the true story. The same child can claim to be a bystander, the bully, or the victim. More often than not, especially in the eyes of those involved, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The main issue is that younger children often call the rough and tumble of school bullying. Whereas teenagers who are being bullied rarely tell their parents. They either blame themselves or are afraid their parents will make things worse. Another factor that hampers intervention is the struggle many parents face in establishing the scope of bullying as definitions tend to keep shifting. Determining what constitutes bullying is one of the biggest challenges for anyone who wants to end bullying. In case your child thinks it is only them, we have a selection of quotes of famous people talking about bullying and have come out the other end.

Effects of Bullying on Children

For children, the effects of bullying are threefold. It affects the victim, the bystander, and the bully. However, the impact of bullying on the victim is better known. Below is a list of things you can look out for if you are concerned by Ian Rivers, a developmental psychologist specializing in bullying analysis. It might mean that you have to have a difficult conversation with your child to get them to open up. We have some advice on how to do that here. Some effects are immediate, while some follow children into adulthood. Find out how bullying affects the bullied below. We talk more specifically about children’s mental health here.

  • They withdraw, isolate themself, and avoid social conflict.
  • They are likely to struggle with having healthy relationships with friends or partners in the future.
  • They develop a disconnect with school and start skipping, which causes a drop in their academic performance.
  • They become sad, lonely, and depressed.
  • They develop anxiety and frequent nightmares.
  • They lack quality friends at school.
  • They show high levels of emotions, pointing to little resilience and vulnerability.
  • They develop mental health issues.

Definitions of Bullying

There are many different definitions of bullying. The classical definition of bullying was first proposed by Dan Olweus, a Swedish-Norwegian psychologist who studied bullying for more than three decades. He defines it as “intentional and repeated acts that occur through physical, verbal, and relational forms in situations where a power difference is present.” This has since been developed and simplified by the government in America. The agreed definition is “bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm and that the behaviors could be verbal, physical, or relational. Relational bullying involves attempts to damage a peer’s relationships or reputation by ignoring, isolating, or spreading defamatory information about them.” And it would have been repeated “multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”

All definitions of bullying have several consistent themes:

  • The use of any method (physical force, coercion, verbal social isolation) in person or online
  • To dominate or intimidate
  • An individual
  • Over a period of time.

It is the last two, in particular, that are important to make incidents of bullying rather than a falling-out or just the bad behavior of one child. If someone is just nasty to everyone, that is not necessarily bullying your child, but rather an issue with that person. A few incidents in a short space of time are not bullying but rather a falling out. Bullying is when one, or a small group, is picked out and harrassed over a period of time. When talking to your child, this definition must be explained. It is not that any harassment is acceptable, but the solution to an incident will often be different from bullying.

Bullying facts for Children

Below are some bullying facts for children to give context.

  • Educators often underestimate how much bullying occurs at their schools. Never send your child to a school that says there isn’t bullying!
  • 64% of students do not report when they are being bullied.
  • 86% of students surveyed said that the foremost reason teenagers turn to lethal violence at school is that other children pick on them, make fun of them or bully them.
  • Over 10% of school dropouts do so because they were getting bullied repeatedly.
  • 28% of young people from grades 6 through 12 have been victims of bullying.
  • Bystanders of bullying tend to support bullying behavior for fear of becoming the victim.
  • More than 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied.
  • 9% of students in grades 6-12 have experienced cyberbullying.
  • In secondary schools throughout the United States, 282,000 students are physically assaulted in some way each month.
  • Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to bullying and harassment.

What Does Bullying Look Like and When Does It Happen?

For children, bullying often happens in and around schools, particularly in those areas where there is little or nonexistent adult supervision. Specific examples include restrooms, playgrounds, locker rooms, cafeterias, buses, and hallways. Cyberbullying is now more prevalent than physical. We have a specific article about that here. This is particularly cruel as it is inescapable and played out in public.

As a parent, you need to equip your child with the ability to know what bullying looks like to recognize it when they encounter it. Just like adults, children can mistake meanness or rudeness for bullying. Signe Whitson, L.S.W., a national educator on Bullying Prevention, recommends that you start by helping your child understand the difference between other conflicts and bullying. Then educate him or her on the following types of bullying. This will help them articulate the problem. When they can do this, they will understand that they are a victim and something needs to be done about it.

  • Verbal bullying. This involves the use of words to hurt someone. Name-calling, insults, and demeaning statements are all tactics used by verbal bullies.
  • Physical bullying. This is the most prominent type of bullying. The bully uses their physical advantage to torment their target since they are usually bigger. Shoving, hitting, kicking, and slapping are just a few examples.
  • Relational bullying. This form of bullying usually goes unnoticed by teachers and parents. This is because the bully uses subtle tactics like manipulation and false rumors to increase his or her social standing at another’s expense.
  • Cyberbullying. This involves using a smartphone, computer, Internet, or other technology to threaten and harass others. This form of bullying seems to be on the rise because it offers anonymity and low chances of getting caught. Also, it can be done in the bully’s own home and in their own time. We have an article specifically on cyberbullying.

Often your child, when they come home, will either lock themselves away or burst into tears. Your first job as a parent is to listen. It is tempting to rush in and call the school. However, for a period of time, you might just need to hold them. Let them talk and just listen. Then as they calm down, which might take hours or days, make a list of ways they’ve experienced, heard or seen the above forms of bullying. Then have him or her identify the most common or painful ones. This will help put the incident in context. Is it a big one-off incident, or rather many joined up? Is it one person doing it, or a group? Is your child isolated at school, or do they have a support network? This will mean that you can have a meaningful conversation with the school rather than fire off an email with no context.  Plus, it allows you to effectively develop strategies to teach your child how to respond when they witness bullying or find themself at the receiving end of a bully’s tactics.

Bullying also affects children who witness it.

  • They feel guilty for not helping.
  • They struggle with feelings of helplessness.
  • They develop anxiety and may start skipping school to avoid witnessing the behavior.
  • They may succumb to peer pressure and join in bullying to avoid being bullied.

Signs Your Child Might Be Getting Bullied

Bullying mostly happens in school. Watch out for the following warning signs.

  • Frequent complaints of stomach ache and headache.
  • Change in friendships or a refusal to hang out with certain friends.
  • Returning from school with pieces of clothing missing or books damaged.
  • Faking illness in the mornings to avoid going to school.
  • Change in posture or temperament. Refusing to speak their mind or walking with their head down.
  • Excessively attached to electronic devices or a sudden withdrawal from them.
  • Relaxed on the weekends but becomes anxious or struggles to sleep on the eve of his or her return to school.
  • Taking an unconventional route to and from school.
  • Comes home with bruises, cuts or scrapes.
  • Intense emotional reaction or discomfort anytime a conversation about school comes up.
  • Withdrawal from family or becoming short and reactive with siblings.

These signs don’t always point to bullying though. But when you do notice them, ask your child questions to find out what’s going on.

What to Do If Your Child Is Getting Bullied

Children don’t always tell their parents if they are being bullied. So if your child tells you that another child is bullying them, maybe hold your emotions back a little. Every parent’s instinct is to protect their child, but you need to avoid jumping in to fix the problem without carrying your child along in case they encounter it again. How you handle the situation the first time might determine whether your child tells you next time. For parents who don’t fully understand how to stop bullying, below are a few tips:

  • Listen attentively. No matter how upset you are, you need to keep it in and listen to what your child is saying. Don’t minimize the experience and don’t criticize or blame your child for not fighting back. “Never tell your child to hit or shout names back,” says Sandra Hiller of Family Lives. “It simply doesn’t solve the problem and, if your child is under-confident (and most bullied children are) then it just adds to their stress and anxiety.” When your child is done telling you, praise the courage it took on their part to tell you. Also, make sure your child knows that the bullying is not his or her fault. Getting children to talk about something that they make see as a weakness or a failure on their part is difficult. It takes time and patience.
  • Ask for your child’s input on how to move forward. Bullying affects a child’s confidence. So instead of taking charge, ask your child how he or she wants to handle the situation. Help him or her explore their options. It tells the child that you trust their decision. This will go a long way in helping your child feel competent again.
  • Roleplay and practice responses with your child. Roleplay is a powerful way to teach your child how to respond to bullying. Responses shouldn’t be antagonistic. They should aim at being simple and direct. For practical purposes, play the role of the bully and let your child try out different responses. Comebacks can include “That wasn’t very nice.” or “You need to back off.”
  • Encourage confident body language. A confident body language can get a bully to back off as opposed to looking frightened. Encourage your child to keep his or her head up when they encounter a bully to appear confident. Help your child practice brave, confident, and happy faces. “Encourage your child to try to appear confident – even if they don’t feel it,” says Sue Atkins, a Parenting Expert for ITV’s This Morning’, BBC Radio, Disney Junior, and Good Morning Britain. This is also linked to installing self-confidence.
  • Teach strategies. The need for control and power is what drives most bullies. So how your child reacts can contribute to making the bully move on. One such strategy could be refusing to cry in the face of provocation. When your child acts like the taunts and jibes don’t get to them, the bully will likely move on. Another strategy could be your child telling the bully how they make them feel. If the bully uses name-calling, encourage your child to tell the bully how that makes them feel and firmly ask that they use the proper name.
  • Bring school officials into the loop if the bullying continues. Even if it’s relational bullying, let the school officials know if it continues. It is even more urgent to do so when it involves threat and physical harm. Most schools have anti-bullying policies in place for these situations. So bringing them into the loop can help put a stop to bullying.

However, before approaching school officials try and gather all the facts. Collect information on bullies, in particular screenshots of SnapChats etc. Schools are unable to do anything, even if they want to, without evidence. Know who was involved, how it happened, when it happened, and who witnessed it. Also, avoid accusing the school. Show your willingness to collaborate in finding a solution. Quite rightly there are measures in place to protect all the children involved. Teachers find themselves in a difficult position and are unable to help if it is just one person’s word against another.

Final Thoughts About Bullying

One of the most important steps is to make sure your child doesn’t continue bullying others. To prevent that, teach them new skills in relation to the root cause of their bullying. It is never a good idea to shame your child for their behavior. As they learn new skills, be patient and praise progress while you continue to monitor their behavior.