Bullying occurs when a student is repeatedly and knowingly harmed, psychologically or physically, by another student or a group. It may take the form of physical aggressions, verbal threats, intentional exclusion from a group, spreading rumors, menacing gestures, or repeated name calling. Bullying can occur in person or in writing, including online “cyberbullying” involving electronic communication.
Schools strive to create a nurturing environment for their students, and almost all have a defined behavior policy, which includes both preventative components and methods to deal with issues that may come up. The most effective anti-bullying programs involve parents and schools as collaborators, with a common understanding of bullying, and a common strategy for reporting and supporting those children who may be involved.
Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children and adolescents are bullied at some time during their school years, including extracurricular clubs and sports teams. These children can experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, and school performance. Some bullying, such as girl-dominated “social relational bullying,” can be “under the radar” of parents and teachers, and can be present in even the youngest grades.
Parents can help protect their children in the following ways:
•Encourage your child to feel empowered and speak up.
•Serve as a “consultant” to your child around social challenges, helping him/her to understand all social interactions from all standpoints, and what is not acceptable. Together, explore positive ways to handle hurt feelings, competition, and social difficulties.
•Encourage your child to come up with his/her own course of action and solution in order to build self-confidence in dealing with the typical peer issues that arise.
•Convey the importance of treating others with respect and dignity, and consciously model kind and inclusive behavior/language.
•Convey that being a “bystander” to bullying helps empower the bully, and that a witness to bullying should feel empowered to take action. Role play to practice what to say to a bully so he/she will be prepared.
•Be aware of how your child interacts with peers. Discuss any potentially problematic or vulnerable behaviors that you observe, including exclusion of less popular/athletic children, or potentially isolating shyness/passivity.
What do I do if I suspect my child is bullying others?
Report any incidents of bullying behaviors immediately to the school even if your child is the one engaging in them; this shows your child that you do not support these behaviors, and allows intervention before the situation escalates. Research suggests that children and adolescents who bully are often the victims of bullying themselves, or may be depressed, angry or upset about events outside of school. It's important to seek help for him/her as soon as possible. It is also important to help the child fully understand and be accountable for his/her actions. Get help from your child's pediatrician, school, or outside counselor. The goal is to understand what is causing the bullying, and help develop a plan to stop the destructive behavior. If you are uncertain, some helpful questions to ask yourself:
•Has my child ever been accused of bullying at school or elsewhere?
•Does my child speak in negative terms about other children?
•Do my children’s friends sometimes present as a “clique?”
•Is my child easily frustrated and oppositional?
•Has there been a change in my child’s behavior or home life?
What do I do if I suspect that my child may be the victim of bullying?
It's important to seek help for him or her as soon as possible. Notify your child’s teacher or other school personnel. Ask the school to quickly develop a strategy to deal with the situation and take steps to maintain a safe learning environment.
Talk with your child about what takes place in school -- specifically what has been happening, and what they should do when they feel unsafe. When your child comes to you and/or shares a situation they are facing, it is important to respond in a calm, positive and accepting manner. Let your child know that he or she did the right thing by telling you.
If you are interested in learning more about bullying, you suspect your child is being bullied or is bullying another student, please contact Diane Ferber, Executive Director at The Collaborative Center, at firstname.lastname@example.org.