As parents, one of our responsibilities is to protect our children from harm.
The National Education Association reports that almost 160,000 US children miss school each day out of fear of being bullied. Even more disturbing are the extreme cases when a child sees no other way out but to end his life because of bullying. This should never happen!
Some people wrongly believe that bullying is a rite of passage, a normal phase that children have to go through and live with. But bullying is very serious. It can have lifelong consequences for the children who are bullied, the children who are doing the bullying, and the children who witness acts of bullying. It can negatively affect a child’s physical, emotional, and social well being along with their academic performance.
Behavior is considered to be bullying when a child is intentionally and repeatedly picked on by another child or group of children. What differentiates bullying from any instance of conflict is that in bullying, there’s an imbalance of power.
As your child’s health care provider, one of the questions we ask during the Well Child Exams has to do with school, not just academic performance. A question about the social aspect of school can be a bridge to the topic of bullying.
Types of Bullying
There are several different ways a child can be bullied:
Name-calling, teasing, threatening, saying racial or ethnic slurs.
Spreading rumors, breaking up friendships, shunning, hazing.
Hitting, punching, pushing, intimidating.
Via the internet, texting, social media.
Certain types of bullying that target a child’s race, religion, national origin, ancestry, or disability can be reported under state and federal laws. Bullying that involves assault, stalking, and harassment can be considered potential crimes.
Bullying is not gender specific. Both boys and girls can be responsible for this behavior. It can occur anywhere children are present: in school, on the playground, and in the child’s neighborhood. Adults and teachers are not usually present.
Three components can exist with bullying. They are the child who’s being bullied, the child who’s doing the bullying, and the bystander.
Signs Your Child May Be a Victim of Bullying
• Injuries your child can not explain
• Missing belongings or saying that things were lost at school
• Changes in eating habits
• Frequent headaches, stomach aches, or feeling ill and not wanting to go to school
• Decrease in school performance
• Nightmares or trouble sleeping
• Being afraid to go to sleep
• Sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, or moodiness upon returning from school
• Not participating in activities with peers
• Afraid to go to certain places
• Unusual behavior
Signs Your Child May Be the One Doing the Bullying
• Does not accept responsibility for his/her own actions and blames other people
• Is eagerly agitated and gets into fights
• Becomes violent with others
• Has difficulty following the rules
• Children who bully others tend to have low self esteem, are not empathetic to others feelings, be less involved in school, want to feel powerful and want attention from others.
Bystanders can also be negatively affected by bullying. They may become anxious, worry about the bullied child, and be unsure of how to respond to the situation.
An Important Note
The signs above for all three components — the child being bullied, the child doing the bullying and the bystander — can also be indicative of other problems that are worth further investigation.
What Parents Can Do
• Talk to your child about bullying
• Make it a habit to ask your child how school is going every day, specifically inquiring about bullying
• Encourage your child to come to you or another adult if they’re being bullied or see another child being bullied. It’s important to let your child know that the bullying is not his/her fault.
• Teach your child to walk away from the bully and to try not to cry in front of him/her
• Teach your child that’s OK to ask for help, and that he/she is not a tattletale.
• Teach your child that bystanders give more power to the child who’s doing the bullying. Encourage them to be an ally for the child being bullied.
• Praise your child for having the courage to come to you to report the bullying
• Encourage your child to make friends with other children and find group activities that interest him
• Keep a detailed diary of the bullying incidents
• Contact your child’s teacher, guidance counselor and school administrator to make them aware of the bullying. If the school is not responsive to your concerns about the bullying incidents, write a formal letter asking that the issue be addressed. Keep a copy of all correspondence.
• All Pennsylvania schools are required by state law to have a policy that addresses bullying. Make sure to review your child’s school policy.
• If a child is being bullied, it’s not acceptable to tell the child to ignore the situation or to retaliate against the bully.
• If your child talks about suicide because of bullying, it’s imperative to get help immediately.
• As adults, our children need us to be very clear about what behavior is acceptable, that bullying of any sort will not be tolerated, and that we can help and support them with any bullying problem.
Terri Bailey, a Kids Plus Provider, is a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner.