Almost every child experiences teasing when they’re growing up. It’s basically a part of life at this point. While many of us will say that we have all experienced it and turned out fine, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes teasing can escalate or really hurt a particular child. Oftentimes it can turn into bullying, which is when the teasers intend to hurt the recipient, or at least do it many times over the span of weeks or months. Bullying can come in verbal (threatening, name calling,) psychological (exclusion, rumor mongering,) or even physical (stealing, hitting) forms.
The Start of Bullying
Bullying is something that appears all over the world and in every economic, ethnic, and cultural circle. It’s believed that up to 30% of students will at one point be involved in bullying, whether as a bully or their victim. Bullying can start as early as pre-school, and is most likely to manifest during transitional stages such as starting elementary or middle school.
The most common victim is a child who is naturally shy, soft-spoken, and perceived to be physically weaker than the bully(s). Bullies target kids with poorer social skills or low self-esteem, since they are less likely to stand up for themselves or retaliate.
Characteristics of a Bully:
- Excessive teasing
- Physical violence
- Sexual, religious, or racial harassment
- Public humiliation
The Effects of Bullying
One of the first signs you’ll see of bullying is a sudden drop in your child’s school performance. This is because your child is suffering both physically and emotionally. When your child is in class, instead of paying attention to the teacher they will obsess over something their bully said or did. Or maybe wonder if it’s their fault. They may even become afraid to go to school. This can start early onset depression and can follow your child even into their adult lives.
Surprisingly, bullies are also affected. Namely they may have issues developing good relationships. They have higher rates of using tobacco and alcohol. They may also abuse spouses or partake in other criminal activities.
Warning Signs of Bullying
The behaviors that bullies exhibit are those that they think will improve their social status or make them feel more powerful. They are searching for victims that seem easy to harass. While no victim is responsible for the terrible treatment they receive, they may be picked on because there is something socially unsuccessful about them. Bullies use these actions or words as justification for what they do. Just ask any bully, and they will say their victims are “asking for it.” They will try to shift the blame to the victim. One of the biggest lessons we learn during childhood is that we all have the right to be who we want as long as we aren’t harming anyone. Everyone has the right to live bully-free, even if they live a completely different life from you.
Boys and girls are not only just as likely to be victimized, but they also bully at the same rate. The classic bully is not a loner. They tend to have more friends than their victims and exhibit leadership abilities. This lets them get away with their behavior, as they often get their followers to go along with their actions.
Common signs of stress that can indicate that a child is being bullied:
- Increased passivity or withdrawal
- Frequent crying
- Recurrent complaints of physical symptoms such as stomach-aches or headaches with no apparent cause
- Unexplained bruises
- Sudden drop in grades or other learning problems
- Not wanting to go to school
- Significant changes in social life
- Sudden change in the way your child talks — calling herself a loser, or a former friend a jerk
Helping Your Child Deal with Bullying
The first thing you want to do is let your child talk. Be empathetic if your child relates a bullying story to you. Does your child have an issue with phrasing their thoughts? Read them a story about a child who was also bullied and see if it helps them. You can also act out the problems safely using dolls, stuffed animals, or even puppets.
Then help your child problem solve. Teach your child how to respond to bullies. Help them make new friends to boost their self-confidence. Joining teams and clubs at school is a good way to do this.
A. At Home and Out And About
It’s difficult calling another parent about bullying unless you know them well. This is why mediation is good. Counselors, teachers, coaches, or an after school program director are good candidates for facilitating a discussion.
Talk to a parent in person rather than on the phone. Don’t get angry. Approach solutions that involve the both of you equally, such as supervising the children. Express disapproval together. Show solidarity to both children.
B. At School
Most schools will have programs to talk about what a bully is and how to spot signs of bullying. If you’re curious, you can call your local school and ask them if they have such a plan in place. Many states offer them for free so in some cases there should be no excuse to not have one.
Parents, admin, and teachers can all work together in helping a child branch out and make new friends. Teachers can also help a child with their self-esteem by praising them in class and encouraging them both alone and in front of others.
For Anti-Bullying posters check out our Bullying coloring pages section.