Bullying in school is an issue which has always been present in schools and in our communities. Though it has taken many different forms the results are usually the same. Children have heard many different suggestions on how to handle a bully. We have taught them to ignore, go to an adult, or to confront the bully. All with varying levels of success. Sometimes the bully is punished by the school through the use of detention. Other times they are punished at home with the loss of privileges, grounding, scolding or more severe consequences. Sometimes there is no consequence at all. So then what is a parent to do when trying to prepare their children for what almost seems like an inevitability? I suggest taking the word bully out of the discussion altogether.
The word bully is an all encompassing label that designates a child as being mean, cold hearted, damaged or deranged in some sort of way. I have yet to see a child in my office who is bad to the core. Instead when parents bring in children who have been showing signs of aggression whether at home or in school, I see a struggling child. Sometimes this child has troubles at home, other times this child has an undiagnosed mental illness such as ADHD, or depression. Whatever the issues there is almost always a root cause to the behavior. A label such a “Bully” puts the cause and the solution outside of the child's reach. As adults it is our responsibility to help children learn the coping skills they need to manage their behavior in a healthy way. When children start to act out it is easy to jump to punishments to get them back in line. However this often exacerbates the problem because in addition to the root cause of the problem the child now is alienated from the adults who could be helpful and he or she can start to think poorly of themselves which leads to increased acting out behaviors due to low self-esteem.
So what is a parent to do when you think your child is being bullied? Here are a few suggestions:
Learn the signs that your child is being bullied. Loss of interest in activities they normally enjoyed, school refusal, stomach aches or other ailments that come up routinely around school events. Recognizing the signs and intervening as soon as possible will help reduce the cycle of bullying.
Remember this is a child who feels out of control, and in order to feel in control they are going to control someone else. This person needs someone to help them manage their behavior until they are able to manage it themselves.
Keeping number two in mind early intervention is helpful because it can bring attention to both children's needs. Keeping your child safe it the priority, but also identifying a child who has challenges and/or barriers that are not being met is helpful to the school and parents. For instance a parent who is trying to get their child on an IEP for an emotional disability may have difficulty until the school recognizes that this issue is impacting the learning environment. Partner with other parents to make a change.
Teach your child multiple strategies to deal with bullying. Your child can ignore, walk away, tell the bully that this isn't funny, and he/she wants them to stop. They can also ask for help from peers, teachers, lunch monitors, school counselors and administrators.
The child also can invite the bully in. Ask them to come play a game, sit with him/her at the lunch table, or come over for a play date. If the bully is a lonely child with poor social skills they may just need someone to take the first step.
Be a good bystander. This doesn't always mean confronting the bully. It means providing an alternative activity to either the bully, or the victim. For instance, walking up to the victim and asking them to play a game at the other end of the room. Or, telling the victim the teacher needs them, and walking to the teacher with them. Conversely a child whose friend is making a bad decision could make a joke, “you don't want to do that, it's silly.” or they could offer to have the child get involved in another activity.
The idea behind these actions isn't to label a child, or their behavior as bad. It is to provide alternatives to that behavior they can use for years to come. In doing this we not only help our children, but the community as a whole. As always if your child is in physical or mental jeopardy then it is imperative to seek intervention by the school, or activity chair. If you child has suffered from bullying episodes or is currently struggling psychotherapy can help them learn the skills they need to combat bullying and maintain a healthy self image. For more information on mental health or to get assistance visit our website at www.lamplightcounseling.net.