In the past 10 years or so “bullying” has become a buzzword we use to justify our children’s behavior. Anytime there is some sort of school violence, specifically a school shooting, we immediately look for some pattern of bullying to explain the child’s actions. As soon as I see something like this posted, my immediate thought is what does bullying actually mean. I went to www.stopbullying.gov to get their definition. It reads:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
Sometimes bullying is easy to identify and other times it is more difficult. Let me give an example – if the stereotypical bully walks up to a smaller kid, hits them on the back of the head and demands their lunch money, most people would not struggle to call this bullying. But what about when bullying is more subtle? Here is another example – I had a client who experienced significant social problems. He was difficult to get along with and was not liked by his classmates. The other children ignored and isolated him and rejected his attempts to play with them. He identified them as “bullies”. Typically girls who bully are more likely to engage in this type of social or psychological bullying, but it occurs in either gender.
So what can we do if a child is being bullied?
What the child can do:
- Talk to your parents, teachers, principal, coach, and anyone else who might listen. You aren’t (and shouldn’t be) in this alone. Keep asking for help until you get the help you need.
- Remember bullies are typically looking for a reaction. If you can find a way to withhold that reaction from them, they will get bored and move on. It completely sucks that they will likely continue to do this to others, but you may be out of the line of fire at least.
- Remove yourself from situations where bullies congregate. This depends on your situation – it can be a specific basketball court or hallway or team.
- Look at your own behavior. Is there something you might be doing to contribute to this dynamic? This does not mean it is your fault, but there may be things you can do to make it easier on yourself. My client who was not liked by his peers was assisted by working on his social skills so he could read and interpret others’ social cues more easily.
What parents can do:
- Try to maintain open communication with your kids, so they are more likely to come to you with a problem.
- Talk about bullying both specifically and generally so your child knows your position on bullying.
- Take it seriously when your child tells you he/she is being bullied. Talk with them about it and make a plan on how it is going to be addressed. Follow through and follow up.
- Talk with your child’s teacher, coach and/or principal about bullying. Ask for help. Demand it if it is not offered.
- Do what you need to do to protect your child – change groups/classes/schools if necessary.
- Get your child additional assistance – this can include a therapist to talk out feelings. You can also seek out additional support for skill acquisition (i.e., sports, academics, social, etc).
Bullying is terrible. Children can be driven to a number of actions based on this experience including violence against themselves and others. They do not have the awareness or maturity to know it is only temporary and they can be free of it with either age or assistance from others. They feel trapped in their pain and are looking for any escape possible. Let’s help them identify alternative options and get them through to the other side.