Dealing with Bullies

When we think of bullies we often think of older kids, but an alarming number of young children are victims, perpetrators and participants of bullying behavior.

Researchers at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and the Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a simple questionnaire in 2007 to determine the extent of bullying in the elementary age level, and the findings were troubling. Nine out of 10 elementary students said they had been bullied by their peers, and nearly six in 10 children surveyed said they’d participated in some type of bullying in the previous year.

Here are some tips for parents who suspect their child is being bullied.

Know what bullying is and is not.

Bullying is not teasing. Though teasing can sometimes hurt feelings, it is usually playful and done by both kids, back and forth (often for a laugh). Bullying, on the other hand, is intentional, recurring persecution. Sometimes it’s physical — shoving and hitting. Other times it involves name-calling, making threats, or demanding money. Some kids bully by spreading rumors. Others use email, chat rooms, social networking websites, and text messages to taunt others and hurt their feelings.

Be observant.

Look for cues that your child might be suffering from bullying behavior at school. Warning signs include slipping grades, not eating or sleeping well, or an extreme aversion to school. A child who seems suddenly withdrawn, or one who starts exhibiting bullying behavior toward younger siblings or pets at home, could be a victim of bullying.

Listen and respond.

Talk to your kids early and often about their social lives at school and their relationships with other kids. Know their friends’ names and personalities, and introduce yourself to their parents. Encourage a judgment-free atmosphere for them to share their feelings about anything. If you are their confidant from Day 1, the more likely they’ll be to disclose the darker moments in their day.

Take any mention of bullying seriously.

It’s hard for children to reach out to an adult about being bullied because of shame and fear. If your child casually mentions anything that sounds like bullying, take notice and find out more. Many parents and teachers tend to downplay bullying behavior as just “kids being kids,” as if it’s something they’ll grow out of. Chances are they won’t, and the emotional effects won’t go away either.

Be your child’s advocate.

Don’t shy away from reporting an incident your child tells you about, or at least following up with the teacher to find out details and put your child — and the possible bully — on the teacher’s radar. Seek help from a school guidance counselor, and find out the school’s policies on harassment, bullying and violence.