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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Coping With Bullying

Has your child even been the target of a bully? Or maybe you are the parent of a child who pushes other children around and you are mortified by his or her behavior? Well, this article is designed to provide parents with some quick and very helpful tips on both sides of the bully story as well as to provide you with some suggestions about where to go to get some more detailed information. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that “bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents. Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis,” so let’s get educated on what we are dealing with.

I would like to start by defining “bullying.” Bullying is when a person is picked on over and over again by an individual or group with more power, either in terms of physical strength or social standing ( http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/bullies.html .) This is as good a definition as any. The most important thing to remember here is that the definition can be adjusted to fit the set of circumstances you are in. For example, if your child is 2 years old he or she may not be the only object of the bully’s frustrations but they are still being mistreated by a “bully” and therefore the situation needs to be handled with as much care and attention as if they were teenagers who were afraid to go to school. It is also important to make this note because from what I have seen myself and heard from my dear friends bullying is starting even earlier these days so as the parent of toddlers I suggest getting some basic education on how to handle it.

The best advice I got while handling a recent episode we had was given to me by my retired school teacher mother-in-law. She said “the most important thing you can do right now is let her know that you care about what has happened and that you will handle the situation for her if she wants you to.” Now, this is probably easier for me than it would be for some of you out there with teenage children as a child under 5 is much more likely to ask for their parent’s help than a 16 year old but the advice is still the same for parents of teenagers. By acknowledging the hurt feelings and the need for protection you have successfully crossed the first hurdle by acting in a way that restores confidence. Children (even toddlers) need to know that they are taken seriously especially by their parents. Once this is established they feel a little more secure and the bullying is less likely to leave lasting marks on their emotions. Ignore them or belittle their feelings and you are inviting a whole host of problems for the future. Ignoring a bully in a situation where the children are older can have much more severe circumstances as well since, “numerous high-school students have died when stalking, threats, and attacks went unreported and the silence gave the bully license to become more and more violent” ( http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/bullies.html# ). So please, if you take nothing else away from this then don’t ignore your kids!

Here is what The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says about talking to you child who is being bullied:

  • 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.

By following some of these simple suggestions you can ensure that you child is actually better for being bullied as these are situations that can and do surface throughout our lives. You can do nothing better than give your child the tools they need to be able to handle such situations with care, grace and confidence.

Here is what some experts had to say about the “bullier.” Some bullies actually have personality disorders that don't allow them to understand normal social emotions like guilt, empathy, compassion, or remorse. These people need help from a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist( http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/bullies.html# ). In my little world this is what I see more often than not. A bully almost always seems to have some emotional scarring and could use having an understanding adult to talk to in order to diffuse their frustrations. It is never too early or too late to start helping you child to work through some of the emotions common to “bullies” and produce an emotionally healthy child in the end. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that “If you suspect your child is bullying others, it's important to seek help for him or her as soon as possible. Without intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional and legal difficulties. Talk to your child's pediatrician, teacher, principal, school counselor, or family physician. If the bullying continues, a comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional should be arranged. The evaluation can help you and your child understand what is causing the bullying, and help you develop a plan to stop the destructive behavior.”

Here are some good “Bully Survival Tips” for older children from http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/bullies.html# :

Ignore the bully and walk away. It's definitely not a coward's response — sometimes it can be harder than losing your temper. Bullies thrive on the reaction they get, and if you walk away, or ignore hurtful emails or instant messages, you're telling the bully that you just don't care. Sooner or later the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother you. Walk tall and hold your head high. Using this type of body language sends a message that you're not vulnerable.

Hold the anger. Who doesn't want to get really upset with a bully? But that's exactly the response he or she is trying to get. Bullies want to know they have control over your emotions. If you're in a situation where you have to deal with a bully and you can't walk away with poise, use humor — it can throw the bully off guard. Work out your anger in another way, such as through exercise or writing it down (make sure you tear up any letters or notes you write in anger).

Don't get physical. However you choose to deal with a bully, don't use physical force (like kicking, hitting, or pushing). Not only are you showing your anger, you can never be sure what the bully will do in response. You are more likely to be hurt and get in to trouble if you use violence against a bully. You can stand up for yourself in other ways, such as gaining control of the situation by walking away or by being assertive in your actions. Some adults believe that bullying is a part of growing up (even that it is character building) and that hitting back is the only way to tackle the problem. But that's not the case. Aggressive responses tend to lead to more violence and more bullying for the victims.

Practice confidence. Practice ways to respond to the bully verbally or through your behavior. Practice feeling good about yourself (even if you have to fake it at first).

Take charge of your life. You can't control other people's actions, but you can stay true to yourself. Think about ways to feel your best — and your strongest — so that other kids may give up the teasing. Exercise is one way to feel strong and powerful. (It's a great mood lifter, too!) Learn a martial art or take a class like yoga. Another way to gain confidence is to hone your skills in something like chess, art, music, computers, or writing. Joining a class, club, or gym is a great way to make new friends and feel great about yourself. The confidence you gain will help you ignore the mean kids.

Talk about it. It may help to talk to a guidance counselor, teacher, or friend — anyone who can give you the support you need. Talking can be a good outlet for the fears and frustrations that can build when you're being bullied.

Find your (true) friends. If you've been bullied with rumors or gossip, all of the above tips (especially ignoring and not reacting) can apply. But take it one step further to help ease feelings of hurt and isolation. Find one or two true friends and confide how the gossip has hurt your feelings. Set the record straight by telling your friends quietly and confidently what's true and not true about you. Hearing a friend say, "I know the rumor's not true. I didn't pay attention to it," can help you realize that most of the time people see gossip for what it is — petty, rude, and immature.


The most important thing that we can do as parents is be aware of what is going on in the lives of our children. Your presence and understanding alone have boundless power in the lives of your children regardless of which side if the fence you are on.

**I also used the web site http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/bullying for a lot of my information and noticed they have many resources for parents who are dealing with a bully situation. **

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