Forty-nine percent of children grades 4-12 have been bullied at least once in the past month. And 3.2 million kids have been the victim of bullying. As a parent, how can you recognize the signs and offer your child help?
Why do kids bully other kids?
First, we need to understand why kids bully other kids. Bullying can happen at various stages of development for children. Younger children may present with aggressive behaviors as they are learning to control their emotions and respond to conflict. Some kids model behavior they have seen in their environment, while others use it as self-defense if they have been a victim of aggressive behavior themselves. Family conflict can also be a contributing factor. It’s important to remember that the child doing the bullying may have been traumatized and needs help as well.
Signs of bullying
Each child’s response to bullying will be different. For some children, the psychological damage will be minimal while others will experience more significant mental health symptoms. Victims may:
Show signs of depression and anxiety, such as not wanting to go to school, becoming withdrawn, being tearful or unusually emotional
Experience physical symptoms such as a stomachache
Display behavioral problems, including emotional outbursts, refusing to follow directions or participate in activities and conflict with family and peers
How to combat bullying
Effective strategies to combat bullying behaviors include teaching social and emotional skills to increase empathy. Strategies include:
Talking with kids about how their behavior impacts others
Having conversations about feelings, especially related to conflict, and helping kids identify and label the feelings they are experiencing
Encouraging kids to consider other perspectives and find common ground
Teaching youth self-control also helps students decrease impulsive behaviors and consider consequences for themselves and others.
Students experiencing bullying can discourage bullying attempts by first trying to simply ignore the behavior. Ignoring the bullies’ antics will be less rewarding for the bully, who will be less likely to continue the behavior with someone who ignores them.
Setting boundaries and simply telling the bully to stop in a non-emotional manner is another way to disarm them.
Using the buddy system is helpful as well; there is often safety in numbers. Encourage your child to keep a friend around them to stop bullying attempts.
If possible, parents or guardians should attempt to contact the bullies’ parents or guardians. There is a chance they are unaware of the bully’s behavior and will disapprove of it and address it accordingly.
If contacting the parent or guardian is not helpful and the bullying occurs in the school setting, contact the school staff. Many public schools are mandated to have a process to address bullying in their school.
If there is a threat of physical harm, contact the police.
Sometimes, the psychological damage of bullying can last into adulthood affecting career choice, self-esteem, relationships, decision-making skills and overall success. It can also create a cycle in which victims inadvertently becomes bullies to protect themselves from future incidents of bullying. Sending a clear message about intimidating behaviors helps disrupt this cycle. Providing an open ear, educating youth on the impact of bullying and violent behavior, increasing empathy and teaching skills to combat this behavior will impact the culture of bullying in our society. We all have a role to play.
The Children’s Advocacy Project (CAP4Kids) provides resources for parents. If your child’s school has a school-based behavioral health therapist, have your child talk to them about bullying or click here to learn more about Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s school-based therapy.
Kamilah Twymon, LPCC-S has been part of the Behavioral Health team at Nationwide Children's Hospital since 2007 and is currently the clinical coordinator of the School Based Program and Community Partnerships. She collaborates with Columbus, Bexley and Canal Winchester school districts along with several community partners on wellness and prevention efforts.
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