Even more alarming, however, is that fact that many parents are not even aware that their child is being attacked. This article addresses why children bully, how to identify if your child is being bullied, and what your child can do to prevent or stop bullying.
Children bully because it gives them a sense of power and domination over others. The bottom line is that it makes them feel powerful. More often than not their parents have used power-assertive discipline at home or they have been bullied themselves (e.g., by schoolmates, siblings, etc.). Many bullies come from homes where the parents are cold or uninvolved. Bullies typically carry a great deal of internal anger, pain, insecurity, lack interpersonal skills, and show little remorse for hurting others.
A larger set of children are not direct bullies but rather are bystanders. These bystanders tease others to go along with the crowd. While these students typically express some guilt over their actions very few go against the crowd to stop the bullying. Victims are more often harassed by groups of students than a single "bully."
Boys and Girls differ in how they bully. Girls tend to engage in verbal bullying or relational aggression such as excluding someone from the group or spreading rumors about another person. Boys are more likely to engage in direct aggression such as physical fighting or verbal attacks.
That said, you may still be wondering, why my child? Your child did not cause the bullying. However, there are certain characteristics that victims of bullies often share. They are typically (but not always) withdrawn, anxious, timid, children who react to bullying with overt emotion (e.g., fear, crying). They give the bullies the reaction they want. Also, victims may be targeted for looking or acting differently. Body weight, style of dress, high/low intelligence, race, ethnicity, and lack of social skills (e.g., appearing intrusive) are all common characteristics of victims.
Even more important is identifying the signs that your child is being bullied. Engulfed in our hectic schedules, we, as parents, may not even be aware that our child is being bullied.
Here are some signs to look for:
- he seems more withdrawn or fearful
- he cannot name a friend or does not talk about a friend at school
- he does not call or invite any friends over
- he comes home with torn or dirty clothes
- his money or personal items are frequently missing
- he often complains of school related illnesses (e.g., stomachache, headache, etc.)
- he has a loss of appetite or eats constantly
- he has sleep disturbances
- he "hates" school and does not want to go
- he shows a decline in school performance
- he demonstrates increased anger or self-destructive behavior (e.g., eating disorder, cutting on self, etc.)
It is important to keep in mind that being shy and having only a few friends is not, in and of itself, a cause for concern. Having one or two supportive friends can mitigate many of the negative effects of being picked on. Most children are picked on at school, for a short period, at one time or another. One friendship can give your child the confidence he needs to stand up to a bully if necessary.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied ask your child directly but try to stay neutral (cool) and not get overly emotional about the situation; otherwise your child may feel even more helpless. Tell him that no one has the right to make him feel badly about himself. Encourage your child to tell you about these incidents--listen and share the hurt with him. Assure him that he is not defective and that there are things he can do to prevent or stop the bullying.
Bullies have an ability to detect and prey on insecurity. Therefore, advise your child to stand tall, look the bully in the eye, use a firm voice and say, "You are being a bully and you need to knock it off. You are not funny." Tell him to stay calm, neutral and try not to show his fear. Practice this response at home with your child and encourage him to practice these responses in the mirror over and over until he feels comfortable and confident. Work on building his self-esteem through activities he is good at and by spending more time with supportive friends.
Also encourage your child to report the incident to a teacher or administrator he trusts. If there isn't anyone he trusts, offer to get involved. Administrators and teachers should promise discretion and anonymity.
No parent wants his or her child to be bullied. Bullying can go on for years and cause severe self-esteem problems. Be involved, empathetic, and constructive-- you can help your child prevent or stop bullying before it becomes a serious problem.
Here are some additional resources for parents and children:
- School Wide Prevention of Bullying
- Don't Laugh at Me http://www.dontlaugh.org/
- Olweus Bullying Prevention Program www.colorado.edu/cspc/blueprints/
- Bullying Interventions http://www.nwrel.org/
- Bullying.org http://www.bullying.org/
- Let's Talk about Bullying http://www.talk-helps.com/
- Anti-Bullying Hotline http://www.stopthebully.org/
- Not My Kid http://www.notmykid.org/
- Bullying Online www.bullying.co.uk/school/
- Nickelodeon TALK