Written by Sudha Ramaswamy, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA
What is Bullying?
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power. It also involves problem behaviors that are repeated or have the potential to be repeated over time. Children who bully use their power, such as popularity or physical strength to intentionally harm or control others. There are many different types of bullying-physical, social/relational, and verbal are the primary examples.
Examples of Bullying:
Some examples of physical bullying involves hitting a person’s body or possessions, taking someone’s belongings, making inappropriate hand gestures or destroying property. Examples of social/relational bullying are: actions which have the intent of hurting someone’s reputation, embarrassing someone, leaving someone out or telling others not to be friends with that person. Verbal bullying involves (but is not limited to): threatening to cause harm, teasing, and name calling.
Common Traits of Bullies:
Children who are bullies tend to control other people and are easily frustrated. They often demonstrate a lack of empathy are frequently unsympathetic to anyone’s needs. Children who are bullies blame the victim for his or her own behavior by saying things like, “If that dork didn’t look so ridiculous, I wouldn’t have to punch him.”. Children who bully have difficulty following rules and have very little respect for authority. They tend to view violence in a positive way and often have other friends who bully.
Signs Your Child May be Bullying Others:
Children who bully often blame others for their problems and they don’t accept responsibility for their actions. They are often competitive and worry about their reputation and often get into physical or verbal fights and have friends who bully others. They often get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently and may have unexplained extra money or new belongings.
What are the Characteristics of Children Who are at Risk of Being Bullied:
These children are seen as different (overweight, new kid at school, different clothing, cannot afford to wear what others do, disability, medical condition). They may be less popular than others and have few friends. Children who are at risk for being bullied are often anxious, or have low self-esteem and are perceived as weak. They also frequently do not get along with others.
Why Children who are Bullied Often Don’t Seek Assistance:
Children are often afraid they are tattling. They have learned that “telling on peers” is not favorable and often may fear retaliation from the kid who bullied them. Bullying can also bring about shame and as a result, children may not want adults to know what is being said about them, whether true or false. They may also fear that adults will judge or punish them for being weak. It is also feasible that bullied children have bought into a belief that bullying is part of growing up.
Signs that Your Child is Being Bullied:
Children who are bullied may show signs of unexplained injuries and lost or destroyed belongings such as clothing or books. They may complain of frequent illness and parents may notice changes in eating habits such as skipping meals or excessive eating. Parents may also notice other changes in habits such as insufficient sleep, poor grades, and loss of interest in school.
What You Can Do for the Bullied Child:
The more supportive a parent can be for the bullied child, the better. Parents should actively listen and convey support. Parents should repeat the child’s thoughts and feelings and use phrases like “I know you’re feeling concerned” to help the child know he/she is being understood. Offer assurance without making him or her feel like they are trying to talk him/her out of feeling that way or dismissing the child’s feelings. Let the child know it is not his/her fault and that there are things strategies to address the situation. Review strategies to use if someone teases or bullies. Ignoring the bully and simply walking away or using humor to combat aggressiveness might get the bully to stop. Of paramount importance is for the parent to report bullying to school personnel.
What to Do if You Know Your Child is Bullying Others:
Teach your child that bullying is not appropriate behavior and that there will be consequences if it continues. If punishment consists of taking away privileges, be sure that the consequence is consistent. Follow through on consequences, for example, if your child bullies other kids through text messages, remove phone privileges for a period of time. If your child emits aggressive behavior at home, do not allow it to continue. Teach more appropriate ways to respond, such as walking away or breathing exercises to cool off. Teach kids to treat others with kindness–teach your child that it is wrong to make fun of differences (e.g., appearance, special needs, gender). Be a social detective-look for insight into the factors that may be influencing your child’s behavior in the school environment. Do other kids bully? Who are my child’s friends? What kinds of pressures do the children face at school? Involve your child in conversations about these issues. Include your child in activities outside of school so that your child can meet and develop friendships with other kids outside of the school setting. Parents can encourage good behavior-positive reinforcement is the single most effective tool that a parent can use to change behavior. Catch your child being good — and when they handle situations in ways that are positive, and let them know! Be a good model–consider how you handle conflict. If you behave aggressively, chances are high that your model will be imitated. When conflicts arise in your own life, be open about the frustrations you have and how you cope with your feelings.
Create and Be Part of a Compassionate School Community:
Parents can help create a compassionate school community by partnering with the school administration. It would be helpful to become familiarized with the anti-bullying policy at the child’s school. If a teacher observes bullying in a classroom, the teacher should record that the event occurred and inform relevant school administrators so the incident can be further investigated. Children and parents can be part of the solution by being encouraged by administration to inform adults about problems as they occur. Parents, teachers, and school administrators can help children engage in positive behavior and teach them skills so that they know how to intervene when bullying occurs. Additionally, for children who have a hard time establishing friendships, school staff can facilitate friendships or provide special responsibilities to complete during lunch and recess so that children do not feel isolated or at risk for being bullied.