Bullies are a way of life, in every city and state. Whether you live in rural Iowa or New York City, your children can be exposed to bullies. As parents, we can work together to learn ways to identify bullies and their victims. You can teach your children not to be victims, and not to allow other children to remain victims, either.
How to Identify Bullies
Most kids have experienced teasing at the hand of a friend or sibling at some time. If it’s done in a friendly, mutual, playful way, and both kids are amused, it’s not normally harmful. However, when it becomes constant, hurtful and unkind, this crosses the line into bullying. It needs to be stopped.
Harmful bullying occurs when one person torments another, in psychological, physical or verbal ways. It may include mocking, extorting money, threats, name-calling, shoving or hitting.
Some children bully by spreading rumors about others, or by shunning them. Today, text messages and social media sites are too often used to hurt others’ feelings, or taunt them.
As parents, we need to take any bullying seriously, rather than brushing it off as a thing that the kids need to “work out”. The effects of bullying may be serious, and could affect our kids’ sense of self-worth and safety. Bullying can lead to tragedies, in serious cases.
Why Do some Kids Bully Others?
Kids commonly bully others because they lack attention from one or both parents at home. They lash out to get attention. This includes children with a parent or parents who abuse alcohol or drugs, children who are neglected and children of divorce.
Older brothers or sisters can cause bullying, too. If a young child has been bullied, they may be more likely to bully younger siblings, to feel power or security.
In some cases, adult role models bring on bullying. This may include coaches, teachers or parents. Most children who bully don’t comprehend how wrong this behavior is, or how it makes the bullied child feel.
What are some Signs of Bullying?
As parents, we could feel unsure whether our children are being bullied, or even being bullies themselves. If you believe that your child may be involved in either side of bullying, look for the telltale signs.
- Becoming withdrawn and spending time alone
- Missing or broken toys or other possessions
- Behavior changes
- Eating habit changes
- Complaints of stomach or headaches
- Wetting the bed
- Not sleeping well
- Getting worse grades at school
- Worrying about going to school
There are other things that can cause many of the same signs, so don’t assume your child is being bullied. There could be other things bothering your child, like changes or problems in the home, a separation or divorce.
If none of these other reasons exist, and you believe that bullying is causing your child anxiety and distress, you need to act early.
Empowering Your Children against Bullies
- The best way for us as parents to keep our children from being bullied or becoming bullies is to ensure that their home life is respectful and loving. For example, research has shown repeatedly that a child who is physically disciplined is more associated with bullying behaviors of children.
- Model self-confident behavior with others. Your child learns when he watches you. Learn to assert your own rights, if it’s not your inclination to do so naturally. Don’t put your child down, since you’re teaching him to follow your lead.
- Teach your child how bullying looks and works. Bullies often start off using verbal harassment. The way the intended victim reacts will determine whether the bully will continue targeting him. Then the aggression escalates.
Discuss this with your child at a fairly young age, before he might become bullied. He needs to stand up successfully for himself when a bully starts to test him.
- Remain closely connected to your child through good and bad times. Bullies often pick on lonely children. If a child is ashamed that he is the target of a bully, he may worry about letting his parents know. You should develop an open line of communication and a close relationship with your child.
Guidance alone is not enough. Your positive relationship must support the guidance. Always keep the communication lines open.
- Teach your child not to be ashamed by being bullied. Encourage them to walk away, to tell an adult what is going on, and to ask for help. Bullies can escalate, and the earlier they are stopped, the better.
- Teach your child about self-assertion. Kids should know they can get what they need and still be respectful of others. Give him good phrases to use, so that he can stick up for himself early on. They include:
- Hey, stop that.
- It’s my turn now.
- It’s not OK to hurt.
- Keep your hands off me.
- Teach your child to intervene and prevent bullying when noticed. When kids who are close by intervene properly, they may be able to stop the bullying by their sheer numbers, usually within a short period of time.
- Don’t be afraid to intervene yourself. Your child is yours to protect.