Standing Up to Bullies:
Tips to Bully-Proof Your Child
30 Percent of children in the United States are involved in school bullying according to National Youth Violence Prevention. That is 5.7 million American children who either are bullies or are picked on at school.
When we think of childhood bullies, the first image that comes to mind often is one of a burly, ill-mannered kid using his or her physical strength as a tool for bilking classmates out of their lunch money or threatening others into giving up the prime spot on the playground.
In reality, that stereotype only describes a small percentage of bullies, who come in all shapes and sizes and inflict pain upon their victims in many different ways.
“A bully is anyone who uses his or her power unfairly to hurt others,” said Lauren Gould, coordinator for Jenks Public Schools’ Parent Care Center. “It’s not just using that power to harm them physically, but also through emotional and social bullying.”
Bullies often pick victims who are physically weaker, less socially connected or are passive and less likely to defend themselves, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Children who engage in bullying thrive on dominating others and often bully as a way of managing their feelings over problems at home or school, boosting their egos, making up for their own shortcomings or appearing more powerful in the eyes of their peers.
Without intervention, later in life those children can go on to have serious problems with school, social settings, family relationships and legal issues, according to the AACAP.
Physical violence, the most easily recognized form of bullying, accounts for less than a third of bullying incidents reported by children, according to parenting expert Barbara Coloroso, author of “The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can help Kids Break the Cycle of Violence” (Harper Resource, $22.95).
While the bumps and bruises from physical bullying eventually heal, the emotional impact can be much more lasting.
Children who face the threat of bullying on a regular basis can become anxious, afraid, experience symptoms such as stomachaches, or even stop wanting to attend school for fear of being attacked, according to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center.
Abuse at the hands of a bully often can affect a child’s schoolwork and grades, lower his or her self-esteem and result in the child becoming depressed and socially withdrawn.
Other forms of bullying also can be just as damaging emotionally as physical threats and have long-term impacts on a child’s psyche.
Occurring on a far greater scale and sometimes harder for parents and teachers to spot and deal with is verbal bullying, which accounts for about 70 percent of incidents, according to Coloroso, and includes such behaviors as name calling, teasing, taunting, gossiping, sexual and racial slurs, and spreading false information about others via word-of-mouth, text messaging or the Internet (also known as cyber-bullying). If such bullying is allowed to continue, the victim becomes dehumanized and the abuse easier to perpetrate, Coloroso said.
Computers and cell phones have become especially useful tools for bullies, whose power used to be limited to school hallways and playgrounds, Gould said.
With the advances in technology, bullies are now able to target their victims outside of school, sending threatening or hurtful e-mails, spreading rumors via the Internet or posting hateful videos and defamatory messages on popular sites such as YouTube.com and Myspace.com.
These methods of communication have increased the range in which a bully can torment his or her victims and inflict emotional pain.
“There’s a lot more freedom now for the bully when they’re sitting behind a keyboard,” Gould said, stressing the importance of parents closely monitoring their kids’ Internet and cell phone activity. “In a sense, there’s no safe place for kids to be away from bullies.”
Relational bullying is the most difficult form of bullying to detect, Coloroso said, and is often used to shun, isolate or exclude a bullied child from his or her peers and break up friendships. Such behavior often begins in middle-school years and is especially common with young girls, who are more likely to resort to emotional bullying than physical bullying.
Relational bullying is more subtle and can include everything from gossiping behind the victim’s back to sneering or making other hostile gestures toward the victim whenever he or she is present.
At some point during their school years, as many as half of all children will be involved in a bullying situation, with at least 10 percent of children experiencing some form of bullying on a regular basis, according to data compiled by the AACAP. These experiences can have a profound and lasting effect on a child’s emotional well-being and ability to perform in school.
In the wake of tragedies such as the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, in which two Colorado students resorted to violence after years of being tormented by classmates, many child health experts and educators began taking steps to address the problem of bullying, declaring schools bully-free zones and instituting programs to teach students and teachers how to recognize the warning signs of bullying and how to prevent or stop abusive behavior.
Bully-Proofing Kids, a collaborative workshop for Tulsa-area fourth and fifth graders, parents and teachers, sponsored by Family & Children’s Services, Operation Aware of Oklahoma and the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, is one such program designed to nip bullying in the bud, providing participants with a range of tools for addressing, combating and preventing the problem before it gets out of hand.
The workshop, which will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Tulsa Technology Center’s Lemley Campus, is geared toward students in the fourth and fifth grades because that is an age when bullying problems often start, said Annette Wallace, MHR, LPC, director of Family Life Education at Family & Children’s Services.
“One reason we’re doing the workshop so early is to educate kids and to prevent something like [Columbine] from happening,” Wallace said.
Grace Geary, a fourth-grader at Eisenhower International School, says students in her class are friendly to each other most of the time, but some will occasionally engage in bullying behavior.
“The boys get into arguments about sports, but with the girls it’s about not liking each other,” she said. “They call each other names and try to get people to come on their side and not go with other people. Sometimes they start clubs and don’t let some girls join.”
Geary and her fellow students are fortunate in that their school has included anti-bullying measures as part of its curriculum, encouraging students to respect each other, avoid arguments and seek help from their teachers and counselors should problems arise.
In the Bully-Proofing Kids workshop, parents, teachers and students will be exposed to a variety of bullying situations through role-playing exercises and presentations from educators and child health experts. Students will learn about empathy – in other words, putting themselves in others’ shoes – to help them understand the effect bullying can have on a victim, as well as how they can help themselves if they’re ever caught in a bullying situation.
Parents and teachers will learn through the workshop why kids bully, how to recognize warning signs in a child who is either being bullied or is doing the bullying, how to respond to incidents or reports of bullying, and how they can create a safe environment for children to minimize the occurrence of bullying.
In many cases, it’s not just the bully doing harm to the victim, but also the kids on the sidelines. Often these bystanders are reluctant to report the abuse for fear of being ostracized by classmates or becoming a bullying victim themselves, but not telling a responsible adult or speaking out against bullying can carry serious consequences. The threats and taunts of a bully who is accustomed to tormenting others without intervention will continue and can escalate into something worse if not reported.
“The bystander has a lot of power in a bullying situation, whether they make it better or worse,” Gould said. “Bullying is a character trait – a child won’t grow out of it unless it is addressed.”
To Learn More Visit:
National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, safeyouth.org.
U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Stop Bullying Now! program, stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, aacap.org
Tips for Kids
Helping a child deal with a bullying situation isn’t easy and some children may be afraid to speak up for fear of being retaliated against. In order to encourage young people to feel comfortable speaking up about incidences of bullying, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Stop Bullying Now! program offers the following tips:
- Don’t think it’s your fault. Nobody deserves to be bullied!
- Don’t fight back or bully a person back. This probably won’t make things any better and it might get you into big trouble. Besides, you should try to act better than the person who bullies you.
- Don’t keep it to yourself and just hope the bullying will “go away.” It’s normal to want to try to ignore bullying and hope that it will stop—or hope that the person will start to pick on someone else. But, often, bullying won’t stop until adults and other kids get involved. So, be sure to report the bullying.
- Don’t skip school or avoid clubs or sports because you’re afraid of being bullied. Missing out on school or activities that you enjoy isn’t the answer. You have a right to be there!
- Don’t think that you’re a “tattletale” if you tell an adult that you’ve been bullied. Telling is NOT tattling! It’s the right thing to do.
- Don’t hurt yourself. Some kids who are bullied get so sad and depressed that they may try to hurt themselves because they think there is nothing else they can do. This definitely isn’t the answer. Talk with an adult immediately and tell them how you are feeling. They can help stop the bullying.
Tips for Parents
from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- Ask your child what he or she thinks should be done. What’s already been tried? What worked and what didn’t?
- Seek help from your child’s teacher or the school guidance counselor. Most bullying occurs on playgrounds, in lunchrooms, and bathrooms, on school buses or in unsupervised halls. Ask the school administrators to find out about programs other schools and communities have used to help combat bullying, such as peer mediation, conflict resolution, and anger management training, and increased adult supervision.
- Don’t encourage your child to fight back. Instead, suggest that he or she try walking away to avoid the bully, or that they seek help from a teacher, coach, or other adult.
- Help your child practice what to say to the bully so he or she will be prepared the next time.
- Help your child practice being assertive. The simple act of insisting that the bully leave him alone may have a surprising effect. Explain to your child that the bully’s true goal is to get a response.
- Encourage your child to be with friends when traveling back and forth from school, during shopping trips, or on other outings. Bullies are less likely to pick on a child in a group.