Bullying among school-age children is more common than some adults realize. Bullying has expanded in recent years from pushing someone down on the playground to spreading malicious gossip by e-mail.
What about the idea that "kids will be kids"? Does bullying really matter? Researchers, and most parents, agree that it does.
You might wonder what counts as bullying. "Matt Watson, a therapist with LDS Family Services, says a behavior can be called bullying 'when there's fear and intimidation or when someone says 'Stop,' but the behavior continues. There's no acknowledgment of the victim's feelings.' Bullying can make people feel worthless, friendless, and alone" (Taylor 34).
Bullying is different among boys and girls. Boys tend to be more physically aggressive, while girls are more likely to use insults, to exclude other girls, or to spread rumors about them (Taylor 34).
Why do some children get picked on?
Foster Cline and Jim Fay, authors of Parenting with Love and Logic explain that kids will often make fun of anyone or anything that is different. "Unfortunately . . . being very pretty, very responsible, very kind or very sweet leads to standing out like a punching dummy, especially if the child doesn't know how to roll with the nonsense" (301).
When your child is a bully.
Surprisingly, your child may tell you. Often, younger children may think they are playing, or they are copying behavior they've seen and think is OK.
Bullying is never OK. Teaching proactively with bullying means that we teach our children early and often how to be kind, how to identify bullying, and how to deal with it. As we do this we should include descriptions of all types of bullying, including verbal and cyber bullying. Role playing these behaviors will help children recognize them.
When your child is bullied.
Does your child avoid activities or friends they enjoyed previously? Has your child lost self-confidence? Is your child reporting being picked on?
Give your child some ideas on how to feel and act confident. You could role play these with your child. Remember that Cline and Fay suggest avoiding bullies if possible, and that can be a great tactic. Friends can also stick together to help avoid bullying.
Early teasing provides children with an opportunity to learn not to internalize the problems of others. A parent might say, "Honey, all your life you are going to be around miserable people. Lucky for you, you are learning to handle that now; some don't really understand this until they are adults. I expect you'll come out of this wiser, more thoughtful, and more understanding of others" (Cline and Fay 302).
If your child is being bullied it is a good time for additional parental contact and teaching. A strong parental relationship can offset, to a degree, a painful experience with peers. Your love and open communication will help fortify self confidence. Your time will help build a safe place for your child.
If your child is bullying others, create hypothetical situations or role play bullying and have a conversation with your child about how they think others would feel in these situations. Teach them that thinking about how others feel will help them focus on kindness.
Your child may want to know what to do when he or she witnesses bullying. We should consider carefully and then teach them some basic steps to take when they see bullying occur. You may wish to teach them to report it, or provide support or some other action.
Giving a child advice or suggestions about behavior without being asked to is not recommended (Cline and Fay 302). If the child seems to be able to work it out on his own, cheer him on from the sidelines. If he needs to involve you, let him know you'll be ready to help.
If your child is bullying, the fact that your child has acted out aggressively is a signal to slow down and take some time with him or her. Keep communication open so you can take advantage of opportunities to teach alternative positive behaviors.
Understanding basic principles and steps to take can help remove some of the emotion that is inevitable when you learn your child has been bullied.
As we interact with our children about the types of behavior they see among their peers, we may be surprised by the number of examples they can give you of bullying behavior.
Taking simple, proactive teaching steps with your child about how to deal with bullying can help him feel confident and in control.
Cline, Foster, and Jim Fay. Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. USA: Pinion Press, 2006.
Taylor, Rebecca M. "How to Beat Bullying," New Era, Jun. (2004): 3438.