How to Know Whether Your Child is Being Bullied
Despite the fact that 49 states have anti-bullying policies in place, children skip school every day to avoid bullying, and there are plenty of horror stories about kids who commit suicide because they feel that there is no way out. Many children who do tell their parents say that they don’t believe them or their advice is not helpful. For instance, it’s not enough to tell your child to “just ignore” the bully. Bullying is almost always a repeated behavior, so once a child is targeted, they’re likely to continue to be targeted. Given that over 64% of children being bullied don’t tell parents or teachers, how would you know? Dr. Michele Borba offers these 19 Warning Signs of Bullying.
Bully-Proof Your Child
Bullies typically have low self-esteem and pick on those that they perceive as vulnerable. Their targets could be weaker, smaller, shy or just plain different. You can encourage habits in your child that will make them a less likely target of bullies, such as:
- Build your own child’s self esteem. Confident children are rarely good targets. Have your child practice walking tall and with an expectation that other children will be nice to them. (Confidence vs. Fear)
- Encourage your child to look others in the eye when they talk. (This could be a good Goal to set with your child; you can download a free goal chart here.)
- Stay calm. Bullies are counting on a reaction. Have your child practice staying calm in the case of insults.
- Respond in a strong voice. Equip your child with some ready responses such as saying “No” or “Back Off” in a firm voice. The bully expects pleading and crying, not a firm command.
- Walk away. Your child should remove themselves from the situation or environment as quickly as possible. Leave the lunchroom, move to another seat on the bus, tell a monitor on the playground that you need to go inside now, etc.
What Parents Can Do
When your child tells you what’s going on, listen and believe them! Of the children who do tell their parents when they’re being bullied, it’s reported that only about 1/3 of parents believe them. Your child cannot handle this alone; they must have help from a caring adult. Dr. Michele Borba offers some steps to take if you believe your child is being bullied:
- Gather facts. Get names, dates and places so that you can detect a pattern and help your child construct a plan.
- Outline specific actions that your child can take. For instance, if the bullying takes place on the bus, tell your child to sit directly behind the driver (or put them on the bus and talk to the driver about the situation).
- Identify a trusted adult that your child can go to when they are being bullied. This could be a custodian, school secretary, teacher, etc. Talk to this person with your child and confirm that they’re willing to watch out for your child and intervene when needed.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t promise to keep the bullying confidential if you intend to talk with school officials or professionals. Instead, tell your child, “Let’s see what we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again”.
- Get professional help. If the bullying persists, consult a psychologist or mental health professional. Bullying can have devastating and long-lasting effects on children; make sure yours are protected.
What Schools Can Do
Bullying behavior decreases significantly when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied. One study of middle school students in New Jersey reported a 30% drop in bullying behavior when a social influencer (a cool kid) intervened. Schools can go beyond a “zero tolerance” policy to actually enlisting influential students to help those who are being bullied.
One middle school teacher instituted a “Spread the Love” Project where the kids were required to compliment each other as a way of providing inspiration and combating negativity.
Bullying decreases by 25% when a school has an anti-bullying program. October is National Bullying Prevention Month and a great time to start an anti-bullying program if one does not exist at your child’s school.
What if YOUR child is the bully?
The American Psychological Association reports that 80% of middle school children admit to bullying behavior in the last 30 days. Here are some warning signs that your child may be the bully:
- She’s impulsive and gets very angry quickly.
- He takes out his frustration by hitting or pushing other kids.
- She hangs out with other kids who behave aggressively.
- He fights bitterly or physically with his siblings.
- She has difficulty understanding how her actions affect others.
- He gets into trouble frequently at school.
If you see these signs in your child, encourage him to take a deep breath and count to 10 before acting. If you see your child behaving aggressively, remove her from the situation and calmly talk to her about what she might do instead next time. (Obviously, you don’t want to act aggressively when teaching your child how to be less aggressive!)
Of course, it’s not easy to keep communication lines open with kids, especially in middle school and high school, but keep trying! Continue to let your child know that you are a resource for them and you’re there to help. If your child does open up to you and tells you they’re being bullied, don’t shrug it off or blame them – believe them! Asking clarifying questions (without judgment) will help you decide what kind of help to enlist.
If you’ve addressed the bullying according to all the best advice and the behavior is not changing, consult a psychologist or mental health professional.
Consider using a chart to track and practice bully-proofing strategies. Talking with your child about bullies and preparing them with potential responses can take much of the stress out of your child’s school day and will make for a much more positive learning environment.