One can no longer read or watch the news without hearing about cases in which children have harmed themselves or others as a result of being bullied. Maybe as a child you were bullied, were a bully, or have your own child who is going through this hurtful situation. Due to the preponderance of such behavior, it is imperative to increase awareness in this area as it affects all people of different genders, sexual orientation, race, socio-economic class, age, etc.
What is bullying?
Bullying among children is understood as repeated, negative acts committed by one or more children against another. These negative acts may be physical or verbal in nature — for example, hitting or kicking, teasing or taunting — or they may involve indirect actions such as manipulating friendships or purposely excluding other children from activities. Implicit in this definition is an imbalance in real or perceived power between the bully and victim.
The newest trend is “cyber bullying” in which there is a use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. Some instances are clear-cut, such leaving overtly cruel cell phone text messages or mean notes posted on social-networking sites. Other acts are less obvious, such as impersonating a victim online or posting personal information or videos designed to hurt or embarrass another child.
What are signs to look for in a child that may be being bullied?
There are many characteristics that a bullied child may present. The following is a list of some of these behaviors:
• Comes home with damaged or missing clothing or other belongings
• Reports losing items such as books, electronics, clothing, or jewelry
• Has unexplained injuries
• Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or feeling sick
• Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
• Has changes in eating habits
• Hurts themselves
• Are very hungry after school from not eating their lunch
• Runs away from home
• Loses interest in visiting or talking with friends
• Is afraid of going to school or other activities with peers
• Loses interest in school work or begins to do poorly in school
• Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed when they come home
• Talks about suicide
• Feels helpless
• Often feels like they are not good enough
• Blames themselves for their problems
• Suddenly has fewer friends
• Avoids certain places
• Acts differently than usual
What can I do to assist my child?
When children are involved in bullying, it is important for parents to be willing to take action. Children often do not tell their parents that they are being bullied because they are embarrassed or frightened. If you suspect your child is being bullied or your child brings it up, consider these steps:
• Talk with your child. Focus on your child. Express your concern and make it clear that you want to help.
• Empathize with your child. Say bullying is wrong, that it is not their fault, and that you are glad they had the courage to tell you about it.
• Work together to find solutions. Ask your child what they think can be done to help. Reassure them that the situation can be handled privately.
• Document ongoing bullying. Work with your child to keep a record of all bullying incidents. If it involves cyber-bullying, keep a record of all messages or postings.
• Help your child develop strategies and skills for handling bullying. Provide suggestions for ways to respond to bullying, and help your child gain confidence by rehearsing their responses.
• Be persistent. Bullying may not be resolved overnight.
• Stay vigilant to other possible problems that your child may be having. Some of the warning signs may be signs of other serious problems. Share your concerns with a mental health professional
What is the school’s role?
Parents are often reluctant to report bullying to school officials, but bullying may not stop without the school’s help. Parents should never be afraid to call the school to report that their child is being bullied and ask for help to stop the bullying.
• Know the school policies. Ask for a copy or check the student handbook to see whether your school has standards in place that will help resolve the situation.
• Open the line of communication. Call or set up an appointment to talk with your child’s teacher or school counselor and establish a partnership to stop the bullying.
• Get help for your child. Seek advice from your child’s counselor or other school-based health professionals. They may be able to help your child cope with the stress of being bullied.
• Commit to making the bullying stop. Talk regularly with your child and with school staff to see whether the bullying has stopped. You may need to seek an attorney’s help or contact local law enforcement officials if the bullying persists or escalates.
What should I avoid doing?
• Never tell your child to ignore the bullying. What the child may “hear” is that you are going to ignore it. Be supportive and gather information about the bullying. Often, trying to ignore bullying allows it to become more serious.
• Do not blame your child for being bullied. Do not assume that your child did something to provoke the bullying.
• Do not encourage your child to harm the person who is bullying them. It could get your child hurt, suspended, or expelled.
• Do not contact the parents of the students who bullied your child. It may make matters worse. School officials should contact the parents of the children involved.
• Do not demand or expect a solution on the spot. Indicate you would like to follow up to determine the best course of action. Also, be aware that the law limits the ability of school personnel from revealing disciplinary actions taken against other students. Just because they cannot tell you if or how another student was disciplined, does not mean action was not taken.
Bahareh Talei, Psy.D.
Diagnostic & Counseling Center, Inc.
Phone: (818) 324-6594