Parents are naturally concerned that their children will be targeted by bullies. They wonder if their kids will tell them if there is a problem. They want to strike a balance between being overly protective or overly involved and allowing their children to solve their own social problems.
Odds are your children will have to address bullying behavior at some point in time. The National Association of School Psychologists reports that, at any given time, 25% of U.S. students are the targets of bullying and about 20% are engaged in bullying behavior.
The reach of bullying into the future is also long and damaging. Being bullied affects a child’s self-esteem, increases anxiety, and can cause sadness and depression. Bullies also pay a high price. As they grow up bullies are more likely to bully their partners and children, to exhibit aggressive behavior and to become engaged in delinquency and interpersonal violence.
But bullying does not need to be so pervasive. With concrete strategies and practice, families, schools, and communities can teach children interpersonal skills that value and respect individual differences, how to prevent being bullied and how to intervene in bullying situations.
This page will help you to:
- give age-appropriate messages about bullying
- role-play to move prevention concepts into skills
- apply those skills to real-life situations
Bullying is something most children encounter in one form or another. Children struggle with being called names, being picked upon, being excluded, not knowing how to make friends, or being the ones acting unkindly or aggressively toward others. All forms of bullying are abusive and all are opportunities to teach children how to get along, how to be considerate people, how to be part of a community or group.
For too long, adults have believed that bullying is just part of growing up, that there have always been kids who are jocks and kids who are geeks; those who are “in” and those who are “out.” This acceptance has prevented adults from stopping this pattern. This website will help you challenge this acceptance from the earliest possible age, creating a new standard for interpersonal relationships. Just as children led the drive to use seat-belts and to reduce smoking, they are the leaders in setting a new course for how we treat one another.
The Take A Stand approach to bullying will teach you how to be an advocate for creating a community that will not tolerate bullying behaviors; to teach children who are bullied how to stand up for themselves; to teach the bullies themselves alternate ways of handling their own feelings of not belonging.
Bullying can take many forms: physical, emotional, verbal or a combination of these. It may involve one child bullying another, a group of children against a single child or groups against other groups (gangs). It is not unlike other forms of victimization and abuse in that it involves:
- an imbalance of power
- differing emotional tones, the victim will be upset whereas the bully is cool and in control
- blaming the victim for what has happened
- lack of concern on the part of the bully for the feelings and concerns of the victim
- a lack of compassion
Bullies are very often children who have been bullied or abused themselves. Sometimes they are children experiencing life situations they can’t cope with, which leaves them feeling helpless and out of control. They may be children with poor social skills, who do not fit in, who can’t meet the expectations of their family or school. They bully to feel competent, successful, to control someone else, to get some relief from their own feelings of powerlessness.
VIDEO Defining Bullying
WHO ARE THE TARGETS?
Not all children are equally likely to be victimized by bullying behavior. Those children who are more prone to be picked upon tend to have the following characteristics:
- low self-esteem
- lack of social skills,
- don’t pick up on social cues
- cry or become emotionally distraught easily,
- unable to defend or stand up for themselves
Some children actually seem to provoke their own victimization. These children will tease bullies, make themselves a target by egging the person on, not knowing when to stop and then not being able to effectively defend themselves when the balance of power shifts to the bully.
Children who are not bullied tend to have better social skills and conflict management skills. They are more willing to assert themselves about differences without being aggressive or confronting. They suggest compromises and alternate solutions. They tend to be more aware of people’s feelings and are the children who can be most helpful in resolving disputes and assisting other children to get help.
Role-play: Just as in the prevention of child abuse, role-play is what makes the skills real. Actually walk through situations and have your child practice different responses. Discuss prevention techniques such as staying with other kids. Do not get involved with bullies in any kind of interchange. Don’t take it personally, it’s really the bullies problems that are causing the situation, not you.
VIDEO Learning to Role-Play
As soon as children begin to interact with others, we can begin to teach them not to be bullies and not to be bullied. We can give them words for their feelings, limit and change their behavior and teach them better ways to express their feelings and wishes. Children do not learn to solve these kinds of problems and get along by themselves. We need to teach them.
When preschoolers begin to call people names or use unkind words, intervene immediately and consistently. In kindergarten, children learn the power of exclusion. We begin to hear things like, “She’s not my friend and she can’t come to my party.” Respond with, “You don’t have to be friends with her today, but it’s not all right to make her feel bad by telling her she can’t come to your party.”
VIDEO Learning to be Inclusive
In the early elementary grades, cliques and little groups develop which can be quite exclusionary and cruel. Children need to hear clearly from us, “It’s not all right to treat other people this way. How do you think she feels being told she can’t play with you? Kids don’t have to play with everyone or even like everyone, but they can’t be cruel about excluding others.
Boys who are physically small or weak are more prone to victimization. Making fun, picking on and other forms of bullying need to be identified in their earliest stages. The message needs to be crystal clear: This is not okay. Think about how he must feel. How could you include him and let other kids know it’s not all right to treat others this way?
Children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. Teach your children to speak up on behalf of children being bullied. “Don’t treat her that way, it’s not nice.” “Hitting is not a good way to solve problems, let’s find a teacher and talk about what happened.”
VIDEO Lessons Learned Early
For more examples and role-play situations, or for coaching on talking to parents or teachers about bullying, please refer to The Safe Child Book.
IF YOUR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED
If you learn your child is being bullied, you may immediately want to protect your child and confront the aggressor. You may feel embarrassed and want your child to toughen up, to get in there and fight back. You may feel helpless yourself. None of these responses are helpful.
Get as much information as you can about what has happened. Avoid blaming anyone, including the bullying child or children. Look at your own child’s behavior and style of interacting. Ask yourself what you know about your child and how you can turn the immediate situation around.
If you are going to get in touch with the parents of a bullying child, remember that they will probably feel defensive. Keep in mind that your goal is to have a safe and nurturing environment for all of the children, not to escalate an already difficult situation.
For your own children, there are several steps you can take.
- discuss alternatives to responding to bullies.
- don’t react, walk away, get help if pursued
- agree with the bully, saying “You’re right.” and walking away.
- be assertive.
IF YOUR CHILD IS THE BULLY
What every parent doesn’t want to hear – your child is behaving like a bully.
Your first response will probably be defensive. Disarm the situation and buy yourself some time to process what’s being said. For example, “Instead of labeling my child, please tell me what happened.” Make yourself really listen. Remember that this discussion is ultimately about the well-being of your child, regardless of how it’s being framed.
Even if your child is behaving aggressively or acting like a bully, remember that this behavior is probably coming from your child’s feelings of vulnerability. You need to look for what is going on in your child’s interactions with others and what is going on internally, causing your child to behave that way.
In talking with your child, DO NOT BLAME. Do not get into a discussion about the “whys” of what happened. Your discussion should focus on several key points:
- Bullying is not acceptable in our family or in society.
- If you are feeling frustrated or angry or aggressive, here are some things you can do.
- Remember to role-play, act out the new behaviors.
- Ask, how can I help you with this? Who could you go to, in school, if you see yourself getting into this type of situation again?
- Specify concretely the consequences if aggression or bullying continues.
- You want to stop the behavior, understand your child’s feelings, then teach and reward more appropriate behavior.