Teaching your Child to Deal with Bullies

Bullying is not new, but some of the more serious consequences are, and technology is making it easier to cut someone out from the crowd. Bullies choose their victims because they seem vulnerable in some way. Then they find avenues to make themselves feel in control. One of the most painful aspects of being victimized by a bully is that it is relentless.

Basically, bullying is a form of violence. It may escalate to real physical threats, posing the danger of bodily harm. Bullies have been known to drive their victims to violent acts, or to suicide. Without intervention, the abuse will not stop.

Bullies may use physical tactics such as punching, tripping, knocking things out of the victim’s hands, spitting in or putting gum in hair, and shoving. They can establish emotional control through taunting and further isolating the victim, and by making threats or spreading rumors. They could send cruel emails or put embarrassing and usually false information out on the internet.

It is not always apparent to teachers or other school staff who is causing the problem. Some bullies appear to be aggressive, but others may seem polite and cooperative. They operate more subtly, perhaps by spreading rumors or surreptitiously destroying property. Most bullies have poor self esteem and social skills. They like to dominate and are usuallyself centered. They may have difficulty developing empathy for other people.

Most kids get picked on for two reasons: appearance and social status. They don’t seem to fit in either because of the way they dress and act, their physical appearance or body odor, their race or ethnic group, or because they are shy and withdrawn. Kids may be bullied because someone thinks they are gay or lesbian. Anything that can be used to cut the individual out of a group can be exploited by a bully.

Both the bully and the victim are at risk and need help. Kids who are victimized may have falling grades, withdraw from social situations, suffer from depression and anxiety or other illnesses, and contemplate suicide.

Kids who are bullies risk escalating the violence. They may lose their friends and become socially isolated themselves. They may fail in school or careers, and are more likely to run afoul of the law.

A parent who learns her child is victimized may want to jump in and defend the child and confront the bully. Or the parent will want the child to stand up for himself and go on the attack. The parent may feel helpless in the situations. These reactions will not help the victim or the bully.

First, learn as much as possible about the situation. What is being done, when, and how? Who else is present? Take into account your child’s way of dealing with people and stress. Look for ways to turn the immediate situation around.

When another child began to pick on 10-year-old Abigail, calling her names and trying to isolate her, the teacher noticed. She set up a private meeting between the parents, the principal and herself to discuss how to approach the problem. Abigail was a little chubby and shy. She enjoyed reading, and excelled in her schoolwork. It was decided to boost Abigail’s confidence by inviting students who were friendly to her or neutral about the situation to Abigail’s house for a special sleepover party. The kids were treated to fun activities, made their own individual pizzas, and, in the morning, made doughnuts for breakfast with a doughnut maker. All of this was done under adult supervision and in a spirit of fun.

With this beginning, more support was given to draw Abigail out. She began to make more friends and feel more confident in her dealings with other students. The child who had been picking on her was quietly taken aside and redirected to more positive activities. The teacher was able to discover that the child’s father had recently lost his job. The family thought they might have to move in with relatives. Reassurance and gentle redirection were all that was needed. The incident passed, and both girls benefitted from the intervention.

How a bully should be dealt with depends partly on the age of the students and how serious the aggression has become. Don’t try to do this yourself. Never confront the bully or the other parents. Always work through the school. Set up a meeting with teachers, counselors and administration to develop effective strategy.  If the tone is violent or extremely demeaning, police intervention may be required to bring the situation under control. Make an immediate report if your child receives an injury or threat of bodily harm.

Remember that bullies usually don’t feel good about themselves. They pick out certain kids who they think don’t fit in and belittle or abuse them to make themselves feel more in control. Knowing this can help your child deal with the situation.

Teach the child to stay with a group in order to discourage bullying. It is also important that the child give no response, which is what the bully is after. Arguing with the bully, fighting back or showing hurt will only invite more abuse. Physical aggression is particularly dangerous, because it in not known what actions the bully is willing to take to maintain his hold on the situation.

Teaching the child how to be assertive about what he or she wants will help to discourage aggression. Help him pursue his goals and participate in the life of the school. Teach him to walk with confidence. Help him figure out who his real friends are, and how to enlist them in dealing with the situation.

Many schools provide programs that will help to prevent and deal with bullying. Tribes is a school-wide program that promotes strong community ties to support students and prevent problems such as bullying. The model uses four components: attentive listening, avoidance of put-downs, mutual respect, and the right to pass during discussions.

In extreme situations, it may be necessary to move your child to a different school for his protection. Use your best judgment, work with the school and, if necessary police. But if the violence is escalating, don’t wait too long to get the child into a safer environment. Talk with him. Let him know that this is not “running away” but is finding the most positive way to deal with a situation that has gotten out of hand.

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