School’s here folks!  Time to learn new things and get a refresher course in the classics for those of every age.  It also means that new and old safety concerns will arise depending on the grade level your child is going into.  One in particular seems pervasive in all grades though…bullying.  Sometimes it even goes beyond the standard K-12 and, sadly, there’s no magic wand or trick to rid oneself of the problem.  It happens.  Kids can be a bully, a victim, or even both.  Whatever category they fall into there are things to help prevent bullying, signs to look out for, and things to do if you suspect it’s occurring.

(In order to keep things simple I’m going to stick to lists; lists for books, school supplies, classes, and now safety.)

Prevention

Prevent your child from becoming a VICTIM:

  • Instill self-confidence in your child – a confident child is less likely to be seen as an easy target
  • Help your child establish good social skills – bullies aren’t going to go after a child who is well-liked and has friends that’ll stand up for them
  • Teach your child to speak up for him or herself – bullies tend to target those who fold easily, run away, and/or stay silent so a child who stands up and speaks out is less likely to be a target
  • Tell your child that they should seek help from you and other caring adults if harassed – at the very least someone else, someone with more power, is being made aware of the problem

Prevent your child from becoming a BULLY:

  • Present yourself as a model of non-aggressive behavior – children model themselves after the key adults in their lives so, if you’re not a bully, they’re less likely to be one
  • Clearly state that aggression in speech and/or action is not acceptable
  • Assist your child in finding non-aggressive strategies for anger management and conflict resolution – some kids just aren’t emotionally mature enough to keep from lashing out so need to be taught more constructive alternatives
  • Seek help from mental health/school counselors to help stop bullying and aggressive behavior – sometimes things are beyond your control and seeking outside help may be the best option

Signs

A child being bullied may often:

  • Withdraw socially; “lose” friends without apparent cause – bullies will frequently try and isolate a victim from whatever friends they have (often via rumors or bullying those around their key victim) in order to further dominate the victim
  • Feel isolated, alone, and sad
  • Feel picked on or persecuted – both because they are and because it’s likely that others aren’t sticking up for him/her even if aware of the bullying
  • Feel rejected and not liked – again, because it’s unlikely others are sticking up for him/her even if aware or a witness to the bullying
  • Complain of illness – because they are getting sick from stress and/or so they don’t have to go to school
  • Not want to go to school, avoid certain classes, or skip school altogether – they’re avoiding the bully
  • Bring home damaged possessions or report them “lost” – the bully having either damaged or taken them
  • Cry easily; display mood swings and/or talk of hopelessness
  • Talk about running away
  • Talk of suicide
  • Threaten violence to self and/or others
  • Have changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Take or attempt to take “protection” to school (a stick, knife, gun, etc.)
  • Display “victim” body language: hang head, hunch shoulders, avoid eye contact

A bully may often:

  • Seek to dominate and/or manipulate others
  • Enjoy feeling powerful and in control (whether they really are or not)
  • Be a poor winner (boastful and arrogant) and/or a poor loser (aggressive and threatening)
  • Seem to derive satisfaction from other’s fears, discomfort, or pain
  • Be good at hiding behaviors or do them when/where adults can’t notice – so, even if you don’t see bullying behavior, don’t presume others are untruthful/overreacting in speaking about it
  • Be excited/entertained by conflicts between others
  • Blame others for his/her problems
  • Display uncontrollable anger
  • Display patterns of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating, and/or other aggressive behaviors
  • Have a history of discipline problems
  • Have a history of violent and aggressive behaviors
  • Display intolerance and prejudice towards others
  • Use drugs, alcohol, and/or be a member of a gang/”bad crowd”
  • Lack empathy towards others

Key side note on signs of a bully: The bullies of yesteryear are on their way out.  Frequently the bullies of today are popular, well-liked by teachers and fellow students, and at first glance may lack many of the signs listed above.  They are not always the “bad kids” who’ve been in trouble repeatedly for aggressive or illicit activities; though many of the emotional and/or psychological aspects (such as enjoying power and control and having a lack of empathy towards others) will remain the same.  This is important to keep in mind when dealing with any bullying issue.

It (Might’ve) Happened…Now What?

If you suspect your child is being bullied:

  • Make sure your child knows being bullied is not his or her fault – it’s both common and normal for any victim to think they brought the attack upon themselves in some way
  • Let your child know that he or she does not have to face being bullied alone – family, school staff, and peers are all there as support (current or potential)
  • Discuss ways of responding to bullies – this should not include responding aggressively; fighting will likely just get them in trouble as well and, if school staff isn’t aware of the situation, they may end up seeing the victim as the bully.  Instead discuss the options below:
  • Teach your child to be assertive – assertive people are less likely to be bullied in general
  • Tell your child not to react, but to walk away (preferably to the nearest adult) – bullies are looking for a reaction, if they don’t get one they may move on/give up (and, if pursued, then your child will find safety and witnesses in the presence of an adult)
  • Tell your child to report bullying immediately to a trusted adult – once people are informed about the problem further steps can be taken
  • Contact the school/teacher – for the same reason mentioned above…and, no matter who they tell, remind the victim that telling is not “tattling”

If you think your child is a bully:

  • Be sure that your child knows any form of bullying is not acceptable behavior
  • Explain to your child the penalties for bullying and be sure to enforce them fairly and consistently
  • Help your child learn alternative ways to deal with anger and frustration
  • Teach and reward more appropriate behavior
  • Work out a way for your child to make amends for the bullying
  • Help your child develop an understanding of the impact of their bullying on the target
  • Seek help or counseling if the behavior continues
  • Stay clam, especially if contacted by the school or another child’s parent/guardian; try not to become angry and/or defensive.  Make sure to really listen and be objective.  Remember this is ultimately about the well-being of your child as much as any other child involved

One other thing I want to touch on is the newest version of bullying that’s becoming increasingly popular…Cyberbullying.  This is a form of bullying done online and via cellphones that can include everything from name-calling and threats to creating pages to bash the victim and fake profiles to impersonate others (such as the victim or a boy/girl interested in the victim).  Those who cyberbully can be different than the average bully due to the anonymity that being online and/or on a cellphone can provide.  Rather than pretend to understand all its intricacies and/or risk expanding this piece far beyond the “quick read” I intend here are a few sites specifically on cyberbullying for those interested:

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