|Image courtesy of Katrina Joyner|
Bullying. It’s an all-too-common occurrence in today’s society. Reports from the U.S. Department of Justice reveal that one out of every four school-aged child deals with bullying at some point during the school year. It can take on many forms, from physical and verbal abuse, to cyber stalking, racial and gender slurs, to intimidation, ostracizing and public ridicule. In short, it is aggressive behavior aimed to intentionally hurt another physically and/or emotionally. While every child may encounter a bit of this from time to time, it’s the constant onslaught that needs to be dealt with swiftly, before it results in serious, if not grave consequences. Some schools have been proactive in eliminating bullying; however, it usually requires the parent, child and school administration working in tandem to find a solution.
Identifying the Problem
More often than not, children that are being bullied won’t admit it to anyone, as they are often ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid of being labeled a “tattler.” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, some signs to look for include:
- Making multiple excuses not to go to school, usually in the guise of illness.
- Fear of going to school or participating in school activities.
- Comes home with torn or damaged clothing or unexplained cuts, bruises or scratches.
- Loss of interest in school and/or slipping grades.
- Appears sad, moody or depressed after school.
- Suffers from anxiety or low self-esteem.
- Has few, if any, friends.
Whether you find out yourself or your child opens up to you, it’s important to be compassionate and understanding. Irene van der Zande, Executive Director of Kidpower, offers some guidelines for parents dealing with this prevalent issue.
Try to avoid an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the news by taking a deep breath and silently count to ten. You want to focus on keeping your emotions in check before you proceed, lest you run the risk of scaring your child into clamming up.
Open up communication by asking, in a non-confrontational way, who, what, where, when and why do you think the bully is doing this, then listen carefully, without judging or criticizing. Do not blame your child for what has happened or ask him what he did to provoke the attack.
Empathize with calming statements like, “I’m sorry you’re going through this. It must really hurt.” Be careful, however, to avoid minimizing what happened by saying things like, “Just ignore the bully,” or “Everyone goes through this when they’re young.” You may inadvertently invite your child to endure the bullying in silence. You also want to avoid encouraging your child to hit back. Many well-meaning parents issue this advice to their kids who are being bullied physically. Rarely does this tactic work, and often it escalates the problem.
Once you’ve got the details from your child, engage in a dialogue with the school administrators. Do your best to avoid shouting or hysterical behavior; calmly present the facts as you know them and ask them to contact the bully’s parents. Generally, the parents are apt to take a call from the school more seriously than they would a call from you.
Ask your school to implement a strict anti-bullying program and, if possible, volunteer as a playground or classroom aide for a couple hours a week. If you make it your priority, they’re likely to make it theirs as well. If the school is uncooperative, let them know you will be contacting a lawyer. Their fear of lawsuits will most likely spur them into action. For more information on dealing with school administration, visit the HSRA website.
The final step is taking action at home. Since bullies feed on vulnerability, showing your child how to present himself as invulnerable is a great place to start. According to Michael Thompson, Ph.D., Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. and Catherine O’Neill Grace, authors of Mom, They’re Teasing Me, there are several ways to coach your child to confidence.
Tell your child to stand up straight and look the bully in the eye. This sends a message that he cannot be intimidated. When he speaks to the bully, his words should be direct and uncompromising. Instead of saying things like, “You can’t hurt me,” or “You need to stop hitting me,” instruct him to say, “I won’t be hurt by you,” or “I don’t care what you call me.” The “I” message is one of empowerment, whereas the “you” verbiage continues to give power to the bully. Additionally, teach him positive self-talk, i.e. I am strong, I am smart, I am just as good as anyone else, I have the right to be here, etc.
Mostly, reinforce these lessons through role playing. In addition to strengthening the bond between you and your child, it will not only help them deal with bullies in childhood, but instill a sense of self-esteem they can rely on throughout their lives.
-- Hana Haatainen Caye