What you need to know and ways to help your kids: Bullying in schools and cyberspace is an issue our kids are dealing with at ages younger than ever before. The problem only gets worse and harder to control as kids get older.
Having good relationships and open conversations with your children are some of the best ways to find out if your child is being bullied and how to keep it from happening.
What is bullying?
Bullying happens when someone hurts, embarrasses or scares another person on purpose. It is typically something that happens over and over. It can include:
- Punching, shoving and other physical acts
- Spreading bad rumors about others
- Keeping certain people out of a "group"
- Teasing other kids in a mean way
- Getting others to "gang up" on someone
Bullying is also happening online and electronically much more often. In this case, bullies aren't limited by the end of the school day and are able to reach their targets more easily by phone and the Internet. They can send emails and use text messaging and social networking Web sites to post mean pictures and messages for all to see.
Why do kids bully?
There's no one single reason why kids bully. It can begin because kids see other kids doing it and they want to hang out with that crowd. Or, it may make them feel stronger, smarter or better in some way. Often it may simply be a way to keep from being bullied by others.
Regardless, bullying is a sign of aggression and needs to be addressed. Make sure your kids understand that you will not tolerate bullying. Set rules and stick to them. If you punish your child by taking away privileges, be sure it has impact. If you catch your child bullying other kids via text or a social networking site, take away their phone and computer privileges for a period of time.
Good behavior and a strong self-esteem begin at home
It's important to let your child know what family values you have. Teaching your kids about respect and kindness at an early age will help them understand and care for those who are different. Get involved in a charitable cause where your child can see how their efforts can benefit those less fortunate than themselves.
Talk to your children, talk to their friends, teachers and friends' parents. Know what's going on in their school environment. Learn about their social circle. Get your kids involved in activities outside of school so that they meet and develop friendships with other kids.
Use positive reinforcement versus negative discipline. Compliment your kids for being good and praise them for handling a difficult situation well. This shows them how to be constructive and positive, a behavior you want them to learn and display elsewhere.
Be a good example for your kids. Think about how you talk and act around your children, especially when handling conflict or problems. If you behave aggressively, it's likely they'll follow your lead. When conflicts happen, try to be open about your emotions and take time to show your children how to deal with frustration and anger.
Signs that your child is being bullied
Kids can be full of emotion and tend to fight with other kids over the littlest things. Even their best friend today may not rate so high on the list next week. So, how do you know when to be concerned? You may need to get involved if your child shows the following signs:
- Withdraws from social, school and/or family activities.
- Expresses physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches and/or goes to the school nurse frequently, especially during certain classes.
- Does not want to ride the bus or refuses to go to school.
- Has trouble sleeping.
- Comes home with torn or missing clothing or personal items.
- Grades start to go down.
- Appears sad, tearful, irritable, angry or sullen.
- Comes home very hungry or says they did not get to eat lunch at school.
- Will not use the restroom at school.
- Stops talking about friends.
- Appears upset after using the computer or cell phone.
What more can you do?
Talk to your kids about bullying as early as you can. Even if you don't suspect it's a problem, it's good to share your thoughts on the subject and open the doors to future conversations. It is OK to ask them if they've ever bullied someone or been bullied themselves. It's important to listen and let them know their feelings are normal. If your child is the bully, explain how it's important to treat others as you would want to be treated. Let them know you are always ready to listen if they need to talk about what or who is bothering them at school. Learning how to deal with their frustrations may be an important topic to talk about. If your children are being bullied, help them to understand it's not their fault. Empower your children by helping them develop a plan for dealing with a bully. Role playing together and deciding what to say to a bully will help them in a stressful situation. If things do not get better, you may have to report the bully to a teacher, a school administrator or even the police.
Books for parents
- Bully-Proofing Your Child: A Parent's Guide, Carla B. Garrity
- Raising Kid's with Character, Elizabeth Berger
- The Parent's Book about Bullying: Changing the Course of Your Child's Life, William Voors
Books for kids
- Stop Picking on Me, Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker
- Is it Right to Fight? Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker
- The Berenstain Bears and the Bully, Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain
Additional information can also be found in the Checkup Health section