Erica Moltz, MA, NCC
Bullying is a widespread problem in our schools and neighborhoods. It can be very harmful to children and is often very difficult for parents to deal with. Below are some definitions of exactly what bullying is and strategies for helping your child.
What is Bullying: It is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying is repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time. A child is being bullied when another youth is making threats to them, spreading rumors, attacking them physically or verbally and excluding them from a group. Children who bully use their power, such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or their popularity to control or harm others. Both children who are bullied and children who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
Types of Bullying: Verbal bullying is when mean things are written or said about a child including teasing, name calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting and threatening to cause harm. Social /relational bullying occurs when a child’s reputation or relationships are hurt, when a child is left out on purpose, when other children are told not be friends with the child, when rumors are spread about a child or a child is embarrassed in public. Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions, including hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking a child’s things, or making mean or rude hand gestures. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It can be posted anonymously and distributed to a wide audience and is extremely difficult to delete. It involves using email, social network sites, cell phones, web cams, text messages, Internet sites to send mean messages, spread rumors, and post embarrassing pictures or vides and fake websites or profiles.
When and Where Bulling Occurs: It can happen during or after school. Although most reported bullying occurs in the school building, a significant percentage happens in places like the playground or school bus. It can also happen traveling to and from school, in the youth’s neighborhood or on the Internet or on texts when your child is at home.
Signs that Your Child May Be Dealing with Being Bullied: It may be going on if your child is reluctant to go to school or get on the computer; if your child’s mood changes after looking at his/her cell phone or going on the computer; if your child is frequently sick, with headaches and sleeping problems and often wants to stay home from school; if your child is moody, anxious, depressed or withdrawn; if he/she keeps losing money or other valuable items or has a lot of damaged or missing belongings; if there are unexplained bruises or injuries; and if your child doesn’t seem to be eating lunch and comes home unusually hungry or lunch comes back home.
Why your child may not ask for help: Bullying can make a child feel helpless and he/she may want to handle it on his/her own to feel in control again, or the child may fear being seen as weak or a tattletale if they tell an adult. The child may fear a backlash from whom ever is bullying them. Bullying can be a humiliating experience and your child may be uncomfortable sharing what is being said about them, whether it is true or false, and may fear that they will be judged. A child who is being bullied may already feel socially isolated and may fear being rejected by their peers who give them support and can protect them from being bullied. If a child has been exposed to trauma and distressed attachment then they may feel shame, making it even harder to ask for help from adults.
What You Can Do If Your Child is Being Bullied:
Listen with empathy and curiosity to what your child has to say. Be supportive without getting too emotional. Help your child name the feelings he/she is experiencing. For example, you can say “I am so sorry this is happening to you and I wonder if you are feeling scared and embarrassed. “
Refrain from blaming your child; it is not his/her fault. Define the bulling as “wrong”, that it has to stop and that you will help.
Be aware of your own Triggers that may be activated when you find out your child is being bullied. For example, if you were bullied as a child you may have intense feelings and relive some of your anger and helplessness as a child. Remember that if you get too emotional it may make it harder for your child to come to you.
Use the mindful strategy – Stop, Drop, Roll – to feel calmer and more emotionally regulated. Stop the interaction, Drop into a calm, centered place, and Roll Out with a new thoughtful strategy.
Coach your child on how to avoid bullies at school and whom to go to if he/she feels unsafe. Give you child some control by communicating that he/she may not be able to stop the bullying immediately but could get away from the bullying person and find someone to talk to. Role play short and simple responses and encourage your child to then leave the scene. Have slogans they can say like, “I have had enough or cut it out or it’s not funny”. Let you child know that fighting back verbally or physically often will often only result in escalating things and fuel the child who is bullying. Encourage your child to find a buddy at school that they can be with for support.
Step in when things escalate to the point when you feel your child isn’t safe and the child cannot handle it on their own. Ask your child what would be the most helpful thing you could do to help.
Find a teacher or administrator in the school who will help. Encourage your child to use them as a safe haven when they need a break or time out to get away from the bully.
Keep your child talking whether it is to you or to a safe adult at school.