Bullying! something you wish would never happen to anyone. But sadly it does. Just recently my older son’s best friend has been the victim of bullying behavior by his class mates. He didn’t feel he could tell his teachers as he didn’t trust that they could do anything to help him. How sad and frustrating is that? I have heard people shrug off bullying as a part of life during the school years. And I have heard many a school principal say their school doesn’t have bullying – this likely leads to ignoring bullying when it does happen.
A child should never feel like the people around him aren’t going to be able to help him, or won’t protect him. Bullying often has long-lasting effects on the bullying victim (low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues etc). If we don’t take action it doesn’t teach the bully that their behavior is wrong or help them change, thus making it more likely they will continue to bully others in the future. Children deserve a safe learning environment.
Though bullying happens in every age group, bullying is more common in the middle school years – with sixth grade being a big time for bullying. We might think just because our younger children are in elementary school they are in a safe environment free from bullying, but unfortunately that isn’t true.
So let’s go through some helpful tips when it comes to bullying – what it is and what we can do about it.
What is bullying?
There are 4 forms of bullying that we often see: physical, verbal, social and cyber.
Physical Bullying – hitting, kicking, shoving, stealing and damaging property.
Verbal Bullying – teasing, taunting, name calling, mocking and derogatory comments.
Social Bullying (also called Relational Bullying) – excluding, starting/spreading rumors.
Cyber Bullying – using electronic devices (cell phones, computers etc), the internet and social networking sites to intimidate, threaten or humiliate.
We often see bullying minimized by others. with people saying things like “he was just teasing” or “it is only a joke”. Often times it doesn’t feel like teasing or a joke to the bully victim.
Why do kids bully?
- To gain social status.
- To create a power imbalance.
- To enjoy attention from their peer group.
- Just because they can.
What can bystanders do?
As parents it is important to talk to our kids about what they can do if they experience bullying – both as the victim or witness it as a bystander. This will help them have the confidence to take action when it happens, and to know that you’ll be a safe space to come to if they need to talk about it in the future.
Bystanders, though they aren’t directly involve in bullying incidents can strongly impede or encourage bullying. We want to encourage our kids to not be passive bystanders.
- Partner with the victim and help remove them from danger. To help with this we can teach kids assertive phrases that they can use to stop bullies in the act and also have role plays of bullying prevention skills in class rooms.
- Shout or call for the teacher or other school staff in the heat of the moment. Or talk to them at a later time. Some people wonder if this might make the bystander a target. Yes it is possible, but in order to stop bullying someone needs to take the first step and be willing to take a stand. To say that it is not ok.
What can parents do?
- Listen openly when your child talks about bullying at school – whether they are the victim or a bystander witnessing it. They don’t need a big reaction, but they do need you to listen to them, validate their feelings and support them.
- Don’t wait for a second bullying attempt. The earlier parents intervene by talking to their child’s school the better because the risks of waiting to assess the situation further just aren’t worth it.
- Ask the school administrators, teachers or guidance counselor to hold bullying prevention programs across all grade levels This could be through social and emotional learning programs or extra workshops targeted at both kids and parents. This can encourage an open dialogue about what bullying is, what causes it and how to stop it.
- Seek additional support for your chid as needed: school counsellor or a licensed professional counselor to talk to, if needed.
And finally, but most importantly, what can the bullying victim do?
- Verbally disarm the bully. Use dismissive responses like “ok” or “whatever” to imply they aren’t bothered.
- Don’t yell. A strong reaction often adds fuel to the bully’s fire.
- Act confident – keep their facial expressions neutral.
- Use I messages. This avoids attacking and blaming.
- Talk to a trusted adult. They aren’t talking to battle or get anyone into trouble but to keep everyone (including themselves) safe.
Bullying may be a common occurrence, but if we all work together we can help reduce the acts of bullying happening in our school communities.