Dealing with Bullies at School
Bullies in school come in all shapes and sizes. The only pre-requisite is that the bully have the ability to make changes in the behavior of the individual that the individual wouldn’t normally do.
Bullies can turn normal events, like going to study hall or the bus stop, into a living nightmare for children. The emotional scars are left for a life-time and in extreme situations can lead to violence, property damage or even death. And, unfortunately bullying is widespread in the school systems. In a nationwide survey most kids said that they were witness to or experienced bullying in school.
Bullying is intentional. It can involve teasing that is taken to extremes, physical or verbal mocking and psychological torment. Hitting, shoving, name calling, threats, extortion, spreading rumors and the use of technology to taunt others and hurt their feelings are also ways that bullies have been known to torment their victims. It’s important to take all of these childhood behaviors very seriously because the effects are damaging to the child’s self-esteem and ability to form future relationships.
Some children are willing to share their experiences with their parents but others try to hide it from everyone. There are some warning signs that will make it easier to spot. And it’s important to talk about bullying with your child even if you don’t believe they are currently victims. Sometimes just being armed with the knowledge of what to do if it happens is enough to give them confidence and courage.
Children who are bullied may act differently. They may get anxious more quickly, change their eating and sleeping habits or their school habits can change. If a child seems moodier or gets upset more quickly than usual it means they are under stress somewhere in their life. Kids who are being bullied also try to avoid the situation by giving in to the extortion or avoiding the situation where the bully is – such as sports practice or study hall. If your child wants you to pick them up from school there just may be a bully on the bus.
If you think your child is being bullied they may not want to open up to you. Some children believe it’s their fault that they are being bullied or that their parents will be disappointed in them. You may be able to find other opportunities to talk about it by using situations seen on television, at the movies or in a current book or news show to ask about how that may affect the life of the victim or if the child has seen that happen themselves.
Let your child know that if they are being bullied or have seen others bullied it’s important to talk about it with an adult – school teacher, parent, counselor or family friend. Only by bringing the problem out in the open will they be able to deal with the consequences of the behavior.
If your child tells you they are being bullied – stop! No matter how angry or upset you might be it’s more important to offer comfort and support to your child in that immediate moment. Praise them for being able to talk with you about it. Remind them that it is the bully whose behavior is wrong and that together you will figure out a way to deal with the situation.
Help the child to develop strategies to deal with the behavior and practice any that require them to react appropriately. You may be tempted to tell your child that it’s alright to fight back. After all, in our society the storyline of the bully being ultimately tamed by the geek has an endearing quality. And you may be feeling bad about not standing up for yourself as a child. But it is important to tell your child to walk away – not to fight or bully back. By increasing the level of anger it can easily escalate to violence where one or both of the children can get hurt.
Children should be advised to look for the situations where they are being bullied and devise a strategy to avoid them. For instance, if the bully is in the bathroom then use another bathroom. Don’t go to the lockers when there is no one around. Use the buddy system on the bus, hallway or at recess – where ever the bully is.
Help children to understand that the bully is after one of two things – either the child gets angry or the child becomes afraid. Bullies thrive off of those feelings. They feel more powerful when they can affect a change in the way a person feels about themselves. It takes practice but the child should not look angry, cry or get upset when the bully is around. It is useful to help the child learn a “poker face” without smiling, laughing or looking upset. Sometimes any appearance of emotion is enough to put the child on the bully’s radar.
Children who act brave and walk away have a better chance of falling off the bully’s radar than those who react to the behavior. Children should firmly tell the bully to stop and then turn and walk away. Practice ignoring hurtful remarks aimed at making the child angry and eliciting a response. And remove the incentives. The bully wants something – so get rid of it. If the bully wants the mp3 player don’t bring it. If the bully wants money – bring lunch. If the bully wants the tennis shoes – change them.
No matter how upsetting that a bully can be there are lots of people and organizations who are there to help children work through these situations without resorting to violence, fighting or anger.
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