Bullying has become a common catch phrase in the past 10 to 15 years, but do we really know what it means or the damaging effects that may result from bullying behavior? What if I told you that child (or adult) being bullied is not the only one that may suffer?
To start off, we need to have a common definition of what bullying truly means. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program defines bullying as when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending themselves. Ultimately it boils down to these three elements: aggressive behavior, a pattern of behavior that happens overtime, and an imbalance of power. Bullying may happen “in person” or take place online. Online bullying is known as cyberbullying.
Is your child the one being bullied?
One in five students report being bullied. That means your child has a 20 percent chance of being on the receiving end of bullying. It’s a sobering reality.
The impact on your child
The impact of bullying may cause both physical and mental health problems. The physical effects can include sleep disturbances, headaches, and stomach issues. A child experiencing bullying is at an increased risk for mental health problems including depression and anxiety. It can also lead to learning problems and difficulty with managing emotions. Children who are bullied may also experience issues in the school environment including: lack of concentration, reduced motivation, less class participation, lower attendance, and lower academic achievement.
What you can do
That is a lot. As a parent you may even feel the mama or papa bear reaction kick in which is very normal, however, history shows responding to the situation in a calm manner yields faster, more long lasting positive results. Retaliation might feel good in the moment, but it may have the opposite effect than you are looking for. Instead, look for ways to find common ground and collaboration.
Educators care deeply about the success of each and every child. Reach out to your child’s teacher or school administrator to let them know what is happening. School districts across the nation, including the Cedar Rapids Community School District where I work, have strict policies and tools in place to combat bullying. The school is there to support you through this tough time and will be able to guide you through the proper actions to make sure all the children involved start the healing process.
While you are working with your child’s school to find solutions, you can also help your child heal from the bullying. Tell your child something about themselves that you are proud of. If your child is being bullied due to a physical difference, uplift that difference as something that makes them special. For example, if your child is called “little or tiny” by a classmate, you might say, “great things come in small packages” or “you just didn’t need to grow as tall to reach perfection.” It may seem small, but it can make all the difference to your child to hear something good. It helps them “flip the script” in their mind.
What if your child is the one doing the bullying?
We know the child being bullied suffers from the experience. But, the reality is that the effects of bullying are widespread and negatively impact all involved. In addition to the effects of bullying on a student who is bullied, these behaviors also have significant impacts on the child doing the bullying.
The hard facts
A child who bullies others is more likely to view their school climate as negative. This can lead to carrying a weapon and getting into more fights — possibly resulting in injury. The child may also experience poor academic achievement including skipping school, dropping out, abusing substances, and engaging in stealing and vandalization. Studies have also shown the long term effects of engaging in bullying behaviors. One study of middle school boys showed boys who bullied others were four times as likely to have three or more convictions by the time they are 24-years-old. Scary stuff.
Your child is not “bad” and you are not a “bad parent”
If you learn that your child is bullying a classmate or several other kids, you may sense a sinking feeling in your stomach. Your thoughts might go to, “My kid is a bully. What did I do wrong?” Stop right there. Your child is not a bad seed and it does not mean that you are a bad parent.
Let’s start with labels. Would you refer to someone with cancer being a cancer person? As if their medical diagnosis defines who they are? Of course not. You would refer to them as a person with cancer. In the same token, your child is not a bully — they are a person who is showing bullying behaviors. They are still worthy of your love and care. Tell them you love them.
Actions do have consequences. Your child may have changes in their school schedule (including passing times, seating arrangements, or free time, etc.) put in place to support them through this change. In addition to possible punishment, the school will also work with you to provide new skill building and support to overcome past bullying behaviors. Working together as a team with your child’s school – you can turn the situation around. You can also seek the help of a licensed therapist or school counselor to identify what prompted the bullying in the first place. Uncovering the “why” can help your child begin to improve their behavior and find happiness.
What if your child standing on the sideline watching the bullying happen?
You may feel relieved if your child is not being bullied or doing the bullying, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected. Bystanders are the children who are exposed to bullying behavior, but are not directly involved with the bullying.
The children standing on the sidelines also encounter negative effects including: feeling afraid, powerless to change the situation, guilty for not acting, and diminished empathy for students who are bullied. This can change their overall feelings towards school or an activity.
Your child can be a hero
Your child and you are not powerless to help. At the same time, it is important that your child does not put themselves in harm’s way by trying to step in the middle to stop the bullying behaviors. Help them learn safe ways to help a classmate experiencing bullying.
Tell an adult. Teach your child to say something if they see bullying happening at school. It is entirely possible that the teacher might not see what is happening. Teach your child to talk to a teacher or trusted adult if they see bullying happening.
Be a friend. We all want our kids to be “good humans.” We do our best as parents to teach our children how to be kind. One of the best things that your child can do if they witness bullying is to include the child being bullied. At one of our elementary schools, a student noticed another child being excluded and bullied by another child during recess. Instead of ignoring the situation, the student and his friends invited the child being bullied to play with them. Kindness has so much more power than anger.
Be part of the solution.
Bullying behaviors have a wide-reaching impact on our children and social climate. It is imperative we support our students, no matter what role they play, in preventing, and intervening.
Talk with and maintain supportive open communication with your child. Encourage them to report bullying behavior to a caring adult at home and at school. If you have concerns that your child is being bullied at school, reach out to the staff at your child’s school. They care and are there to help.