Our children are back in school where they will have another year of learning, personal growth and development, and socializing with their peers. Unfortunately, over 3.2 million students are bullied at school every year. This can lead to both mental and physical health issues as well as decreased academic performance.
Bullying can take many forms. It involves an individual or a group repeatedly harming another person physically, verbally, or socially and it can occur in person or online. One of the key elements of bullying is an imbalance of power in which the bully is able to use their physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity to harm others.
The truth is anyone can be a bully, and it’s important not to label children as bullies and victims to avoid unintended consequences. Labeling a child as a bully reinforces the idea that their behavior can’t be changed and it may ignore factors such as peer pressure that led to the behavior. Referring to students as “the child who bullied” and “the child who was bullied,” can direct focus to the behavior rather than seeing children as only the lens of being bullies and victims.
While bullying at school can occur in a one-on-one setting it’s likely there will be others around or involved. Speak with your child about these dynamics so they can do the right thing. Some children will assist the bully by encouraging them or joining in once it has started. Children may reinforce the bully by providing an audience and laugh at the child being bullied which encourages the behavior. Others may see a child being bullied and come to their defense or comfort them. Children who observe the situation but do not support the bullying behavior or help the child being bullied are known as outsiders.
Outsiders may want to help in response to bullying, but don’t know how. They can help the child being bullied get away, tell a trusted adult, be their friend, and more. Your child can learn about being more than a bystander at Stopbullying.gov (http://www.stopbullying.gov/respond/be-more-than-a-bystander/index.html).
1. Talk with and listen to your kids – Adults are often the last to know when children are bullied. Spend a few minutes every day asking open ended questions about their day such as who they’re spending time with and what they’re doing before, between, and after classes.
2. Be a good example of kindness and leadership – Your kids learn a lot about power relationships from watching you interact with waiters, clerks, neighbors, and with them! Model effective communication by being polite and assertive rather than abusive or aggressive.
3. Learn the signs – Most children aren’t likely to tell you they’ve been bullied. Recognize that frequent loss of belongings, headaches, stomach aches, and avoiding recess or school activities may indicate a bullying problem. Speak with your child’s teacher and with your child directly about what’s going on at school.
4. Get informed – Learn about all the ways you can help your child, school, and community prevent, avoid, and stop bullying with the resources provided at The Bully Project (http://www.thebullyproject.com/parents), Stopbullying.gov, and the other links provided.
Follow the links for more tools on what you can do to recognize bullying in your child’s life and what you can do to help.