bullied headerAs a parent, one of my great fears is of someone being mean to one of my kids and me not knowing about it. I grew up in a very different time and place. I grew up in the late 70s and 80s West Texas. Then and there if you didn’t get along with someone or you had a disagreement you tended to slug it out, get over it, and then be friends. I lived in a society and culture that was very physical. Work was physically hard, living was hard, and playing was hard. I am definitely not saying this is the right way to handle problems, but it just seemed simpler back then and there.

Today, the thought of one of my kids hitting another or being struck by another makes me cringe. I can proudly say that none of my kids have ever been in a physical fight, and I hope and pray they never have to defend themselves physically. But they are kids. They have said things that are hurtful and they have been hurt by words. There was a time when my son was targeted by an older kid on the basketball court and ongoing words led to really hurt feelings. I think this was harder to see than if he had been hit. I wanted so bad to step in and put a stop to it and give the kid a taste of his own medicine, but instead I made my son deal with it. He needed to learn how. He needed to feel like he had defended himself. He confronted the bully and fortunately that was all it took.

Many kids are not so lucky. Many kids are picked on and bullied and harassed, and they never have the feeling of safe haven that a school should offer. I would love to say that this is a problem that can be handled in a short blog entry, but it definitely is not. So instead of trying provide the complexities of interpersonal relationships and self confidence and/or degradation I want to give you a handful of things to think about. These are warning signs and simple interventions in case your child or your student is being bullied… and in case your child or your student is bullying. Many parents do not want to face up to the fact that it could be their child harassing another, but kids can be mean, kids can just be kids, and parents of a child being bullied are in a protective mode-- and therefore not always rational.

So teachers, when evaluating a child or adolescent who has been bullying others, it is helpful to:

Understand where and when is it happening and is the “who” it is happening to consistent?

  • You need to determine if there is a particular target or if the bullying behavior is the product of a certain environment (showing off for friends).

Ascertain whether or the child who bullies has signs of ADHD, depression, suicidality, bipolar disorder, maltreatment, and/or substance abuse disorders.

  • If you think any of these might be present then you need to reach out for professional assistance.

Ask the child or adolescent about exposure to violence in his/her home, neighborhood, school, and through the media.

  • An overexposure to violence makes violent behaviors seem less problematic.

Talk to family members whenever possible, in order to assess family functioning and any parental symptoms and distress.

  • (e.g., substance/alcohol abuse problems, mood disorders, and/or marital conflict).

If parents are having difficulties, encourage them to seek outside help.

  • (e.g., from relatives, parent support groups, faith-based communities, mental health services) and make appropriate referrals.

∞ ∞ ∞

Sometimes a bully can be reached and changes in behavior can occur through an increase in self awareness and an understanding of consequence.

Here are some steps to take when trying to change and even help a bully:

  • Discuss the seriousness of bullying behaviors with the student and his or her parents
  • Encourage the parents and other caregivers to communicate and collaborate with staff at their school in order to develop a consistent approach to their child's bullying behavior.
  • Create very firm and recognizable definitions of bullying and the consequences bullying will have – then apply these consistently
  • Take a proactive approach and teach self esteem building lessons and then provide a positive behavioral learning environment
  • Constantly remind educators to be on the watch for students who are at risk for bullying as well as those being bullied
  • Be present, be observant, and be vigilant – Step In!!

Finally, parenting a child who is being bullied is very difficult. Every fiber within you wants to step in and be the protector and confront the bully, yell at the teacher and scream at the parents of the bully. You want to protect your child. But as a parent you have to know and understand that this is part of growing up and your child needs to learn. They need your protection but not as an avenger. They need your protection as a nurturer.

Parents, if your child is being bullied please do the following:

listenWhen their self-confidence is being diminished at school you have to build it back up at home.

You have to help them see, believe, and understand that they are worth hearing.

tell your child...by talking about what has happened.

report all bullyingincidents and then talk to their educator. Ask your child’s teacher to help your child talk about what is happening. Don’t leave it to chance.

collaborate Talk to the principal, teacher, counselor, or anyone else you need to in order to make sure the problem stops.

keep written records role play Help your child stand up to a bully in a safe yet assertive manner.

talk very plainly...about where to go and who to reach out to if they feel they are in danger or if they are being threatened.

Assure your child that there is nothing wrong with reaching out for help.

 

specialFinally, MAKE YOUR CHILD FEEL SPECIAL!

When a child is bullied it isn’t the physical results that last, it is the mental. When a child feels like he has been humiliated or made to feel less than others, the mental and emotional impact is much more damaging and long-lasting. Your kids have to have your help. You have to rebuild their self esteem and this doesn’t happen by accident. Do these things to rebuild your child’s emotional security:

  • Tell them you love them.
  • Hug them.
  • Sit and talk to them. Show real interest in them.
  • Set them up to succeed. Find something they can do and praise them for it!
  • Step in and help. Let them see you as being there for them.
  • Make sure they know that home is safe. Home is shelter. Home is absolute.
  • MAKE YOUR CHILD FEEL SPECIAL!

Few things are sadder than seeing a child being bullied. The bully needs to face consequences but also needs help. The child being bullied must be rebuilt. The kids standing by and seeing the bullying behavior need to understand what they have seen is wrong and what they should have done about it. Bullying is not just on the playgrounds and in the restrooms any more. Bullying is on phones and computers and tablets. Bullying is not just physical domination; it is emotional and mental subjugation. Bullying is real. You have to make sure that you as a teacher or as a parent understand these things and that your response is just as real and just as purposeful. We will never fully stop bullying, but we can make sure our kids and our students have the ability to deal with its fallout and make sure that the repercussions are neither long-lasting nor damaging.

Additional Bullying Resources:

The Anti-Defamation League's No Place for Hate

The Bully Project

StopBullying.gov