Bullying: How To Know It’s Happening And What To Do About It

Bully Pointing And Laughing At BoyName Calling Just As Harmful as Physical Abuse

We all can probably name the “school bully” (or bullies) from our childhood. Bullying is not a new challenge for children, but it should not be dismissed as simply a part of growing up. Bullying is a serious issue of abuse that can be emotional, verbal, physical, or some combination of the three. All three forms of bullying can be devastating to children. The old adage of “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” is simply not true. The March/April issue of the Journal of Child Development features a study conducted at UCLA that determined verbal abuse happens twice as often as physical abuse and “the students who were beat up and those who were called names were equally bothered.” Today, we have an additional form of bullying: cyber bullying, which, takes bullying to a whole new level.

Your child most likely won’t tell you

As parents, we want to protect our children from bullying, but how do we know our child is being bullied? Most likely, your child won’t simply come up to you and say, “Kids are teasing me, calling me names, and bullying me at school.” But, there are warning signs that indicate that a child is being bullied. If your child begins to act differently, seems anxious, is not eating or sleeping well, not doing things he or she used to enjoy, or avoiding certain situations, it may be time to ask if someone is bullying or threatening him.

Signs your child may be bullied:

  • Not wanting to go to school or complaining about being sick, with no clear physical ailments
  • Being scared to walk to or from school, refusing to take the school bus, or begging you to drive him to school
  • Coming home with clothes, books, or belongings destroyed, “lost”, or missing
  • Coming home starving (because the bully took his lunch money)
  • Asking for money or starting to steal money (to pay the bully)
  • Becoming withdrawn, distressed, or anxious
  • Crying himself to sleep or having nightmares
  • Beginning to bully other children, especially siblings
  • Refusing to go to the bathroom at school and/or coming home with a sense of urgency
  • Attempting or threatening suicide
  • Giving unlikely excuses for any of the above

What to Do if You Believe Your Child is Being Bullied

Even if your child won’t talk with you about being bullied, the important thing is that he feels he has a safe place to go to talk about it. Whether it’s an aunt, uncle, grandparent, teacher, coach, family friend, or social worker, make sure your child feels safe talking to someone.

If your child does tell you about the bullying, make sure you don’t assume that your child has done something to bring on the teasing. It may not make sense to you, but at this point it doesn’t matter why it’s happening, it just matters that it is indeed happening.

Listen without passing judgment on your child or the “bully” and don’t try to solve the problem. Ask questions to encourage your child to talk more. “Tell me what happened.” or, “What do you think about that?” Your child needs to know that his feelings are important and that they are being heard.

Help Your Children Come To Their Own Solution

Don’t fight your child’s battle for him. Let your child come up with some ideas that he thinks might work. Ask questions, such as “What do you think would work?” Or, “What do you think you could say if he (the bully) says that to you?” Then, help your child think through possible outcomes. By doing this, you are giving your child a lifelong gift of problem-solving mastery. Your child will learn to advocate for herself! An important question to ask your child is: “What would make YOU feel better about what happened?”

The National Mental Health Information Center recommends that when you talk with your child:

  1. Make sure to let your child know that that being bullied is not his fault.
  2. Let your child know that he does not have to face being bullied alone.
  3.  Discuss ways of responding to bullies.
  4. Teach your child to be assertive (I tell kids this is sticking up for yourself in a good way that doesn’t hurt anyone– including yourself and doesn’t get you in trouble).
  5. Tell your child not to react, but to ignore the bully, walk away and get help if pursued.
  6.  Tell your child to report bullying immediately to a trusted adult.
  7.  Contact the school, teacher, school social worker, or therapist.

Get The School Involved

Contact your child’s teacher as soon as you confirm that your child is being bullied. A face to face meeting is the most effective and will be taken the most seriously. Bullies are often savvy enough not to bully kids in front of a teacher. So, most likely, the teacher is not aware of the issue. When addressing the teacher, tell her that your child has come home talking about what had happened and let her know how it is affecting your child. The goal of this meeting with the teacher is to raise awareness and have the teacher be on the lookout for this type of behavior. Later, you can check in with the teacher with a quick phone or email follow-up.   Also, many schools have a school social worker who is specially trained in conflict resolution and can assist your child and you in resolving the issue. The school social worker may already be familiar with the child or children involved and can step in right away.

If the bullying doesn’t stop, or if it is increasing in severity, address the principal. Let the principal know that you talked with your child’s teacher about the issue xxx weeks ago and note that your child is still coming home with a complaint of bullying. Ask the principal, “What should I do?” Then, ask the principal what can be done next and when you will hear about the outcome.

Keep Things Private

It’s important to ask the school staff to keep your conversation private. One school I have worked with told me that they address bullies or any wrongdoings by telling a child, “You’ve been observed doing XYZ.” This takes out the possibility that the bully will identify who “told on them.”

If the bullying progresses past verbal abuse and there is a threat of physical violence, it is considered a crime. “Criminal threatening” is cause to alert police. Illinois, along with many other states have bullying laws to provide protection.

*North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Inc. (NSPT) intends for responses to the blogs to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; all content and answers to questions should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). Questions submitted to this blog are not guaranteed to receive responses. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by NSPT to people submitting questions. Always consult with your health professional first before initiating or changing any aspect of your treatment regimen.


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