Committee for Children Blog

What Parents Should Know About Bullying, Part 2

This article is the second of two about what parents should know about bullying. To read the first one, see What Parents Should Know About Bullying, Part 1.

Wouldn’t My Child Tell Me About Being Bullied?

Not necessarily. Children may not tell adults—even their parents—about being bullied at school. Studies show that children don’t tell because they believe adults won’t stop the bullying. Children may also think that they should be able to solve their own problems. Or they may not even recognize that they are being bullied. Other children are afraid. They think that telling an adult will result in worse treatment from the child bullying them.

Any of the following signs could indicate a child is being bullied:

  • Fear of riding the school bus
  • Cuts or bruises
  • Damaged clothing or belongings
  • Frequently “lost” lunch money
  • Frequent requests to stay home from school
  • Frequent unexplained minor illnesses
  • Sleeplessness or nightmares
  • Depression, or lack of enthusiasm for hobbies or friends
  • Declining school performance

Could My Child Be Bullying Others?

A child who bullies may exhibit some of the following behaviors:

  • Frequent name-calling; for example, describing others as “wimps,” “lame,” or “losers”
  • Regular bragging
  • A constant need to get his or her own way
  • Spending time with younger or less-powerful kids
  • A lack of empathy for others
  • A defiant or hostile attitude; easily taking offense

What Can I Do If My Child Is Bullied?

Help your child learn to avoid responding in ways that reward bullying. Explain to your child that people who bully are hoping to get certain reactions. For example, one child might try to bully another by making him feel angry or sad. When the bullied child responds assertively instead (“That’s bullying. I want you to stop!”), the child who is bullying may lose interest, and further bullying may be prevented.

Following are some additional ideas for helping your child cope with being bullied:

  • Assure your child that he or she is not to blame.
  • Instruct your child not to fight back. Bullying lasts longer and becomes more severe when children fight back. Physical injuries are often the result.
  • Advise your child to report all bullying incidents to an adult at school or a parent.
  • Let your child know that he or she has made the right choice by reporting the incident(s) to you, and assure your child that he or she is not to blame.
  • Help your child be specific in describing bullying incidents: who, what, where, when. (Look for patterns or evidence of repeated bullying.)
  • Role-play friendship-developing social skills with your child. For example, you could help him or her practice making conversation, joining a group activity, being respectful, and being assertive. Friendships can help buffer a child from the harmful effects of bullying.

What Can I Suggest as Possible Alternatives for Handling Bullies?

Parents can suggest the following approaches to a child:

  • Avoidance is often the best strategy.
  • Play in a different place.
  • Play a different game.
  • Stay near a supervising adult when bullying is likely to occur.
  • Look for ways to find new friends.

Parents can also take the following approaches:

  • Support your child by encouraging him or her to extend invitations for friends to play at your home or to attend activities.
  • Involve your child in social activities outside of school.

How Can I Promote Respectful Behavior?

Children need to learn that respectful behavior is an essential part of all relationships. Below are some strategies for reinforcing that idea with your child:

  • Spend time with your children. Plan time each day to talk with your children about any joys or difficulties they encounter. When problems come up, help your children think of respectful, cooperative ways to solve them.
  • Know your children’s friends. When your children are away from home, make sure that you know and trust the children they are with.
  • Be consistent about discipline. Hold your children responsible for negative or hurtful behaviors, but avoid using public put-downs and physical punishment. These methods validate causing shame and using physical violence as solutions to problems. Make sure that your children understand the consequences of their actions.
  • Eliminate toys, games, and TV shows that reward aggression. Villains and heroes often successfully use violence to reach their goals. The negative consequences that should follow are rarely seen. Some children learn how to bully by seeing it on television or video games.
  • Keep tabs on your children’s Internet use. Bullying over the Internet, also called cyber bullying, is growing rapidly.
  • Encourage your child to be slow to take offense. Children who bully often are quick to interpret innocent actions, such as being hit by a stray elbow in the hall, as hostile. Teach your children to stay cool and calm by counting to ten or using self-talk. For example, your children could say to themselves, “I don’t get mad about little stuff like this.” Praise your children for choosing respectful, nonaggressive responses.
  • Make sure your children know what other kids expect. Respectful behaviors we have all learned include taking turns or apologizing when you accidentally hurt someone. Observe your children playing with others. Are there unspoken rules they don't understand? If so, discuss them privately.
  • Help your children see other points of view. Children who bully often have difficulty interpreting facial expressions or tone of voice. They forget to consider other children’s feelings. Explore with your children how they might feel “in someone else’s shoes.”

People of all ages experience conflict in their relationships. When children learn to recognize and respond effectively to bullying, they learn positive skills that will last a lifetime.

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