Without a doubt, bullying is violence. Increasingly, we are hearing about bullying in schools, neighborhoods and even in our homes. It’s become so prevalent these days, that it’s frequently thought of as an unavoidable part of growing up. As adults and parents, we need to be aware of what is going on in our child’s life and if we see this violence occurring, we need to do something about it.
Bullying can create an atmosphere of fear in our schools, reducing our child’s ability to learn. A survey by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that bullying occurs most frequently during the middle school/junior high school years and that more than 16% of US school children report that they have been bullied by other students.
Aside from cyber bullying, which we will address in a future newsletter, there are three main forms of bullying:
Physical: the most common form, includes hitting, kicking, stealing, etc
Verbal: includes taunting, teasing, threatening, etc
Psychological: includes spreading rumors, social exclusion, intimidation, etc.
So what is a parent to do?
Watch for Symptoms
Anxiety, sleep disturbances, headaches or stomachaches, belongings or clothing missing or coming home damaged as well as the unwillingness to go to school are signs that your child may be bullied. Most children will not tell others they are being bullied, so be aware of signs for something is off kilter.
Ask Questions (but ask the right way)
Ask your child if he likes walking to school, walking home or riding the bus. Ask if there are any children at school who are bullies. Ask how he is spending his lunch hour and who he sits with. Don’t ask outright if he is being bullied; remember to ask open ended questions to encourage discussion rather than questions that result in yes or no answers.
If you find that your child is being bullied, stay calm. Allow your child all the time he needs to express fears and feelings. Listen, and then make it clear that it is not his fault and that he is not alone. You are your child’s advocate even when you are not in school with him. Let him know you are on his side and that you have his back.
What not to say
Do not tell your child to simply fight back. This is likely to increase the bullying activity. Do not tell him to just ignore it and it will stop. If ignoring it were possible, your child would not be asking for help.
Think up avoidance strategies
Does the bullying occur on the way to or from school? Find another route or arrange for an older child to be a companion. Brainstorm and come up with solutions to help your child avoid situations that expose them to bullying.
Tell them it’s ok to speak up for themselves
Encourage your child to talk to you, a teacher, or another trusted adult whenever they are having a problem, particularly before the situation escalates.
Be an advocate for your child
Talk to teachers and school administrators about bullying. If you feel like you’re not getting the response that is needed, talk to another teacher, the principal, other authority. Let them know about the problem, keep a written journal of incidents, list who is involved and where the incident occurred.
Advocate for school safety
Suggest closer supervision at school. Every child has the right to feel safe at school, so ask for increased adult visibility in hallways, bathrooms, lunchrooms, on the playground. Talk to the PTA/PTO at your child’s school and see if adults would be willing to volunteer for this step.
As an important side note: always talk to your child before taking action. Let him/her in on the plan, otherwise the line of communication you have may break down because they’re afraid of how you’re going to react.
If parents, teachers, school administrators and other adults are proactive, then bullying can be prevented. They can raise awareness about bullying, work to improve student-to-student relations, they can step in the stop intimidation when they see it happening, they can set out clear rules against bullying behavior and importantly, they can support and protect the victims.