Responding to Bullies
Maybe we've seen a bigger kid shoving a littler kid around, or a girl with less money shunned because her clothes aren't nice enough or she doesn't live in the right neighborhood. Either situation involves bullying, and it's a serious problem in elementary and middle schools nationwide. "It begins closer to third grade and escalates into fourth grade where they begin separating into bullies and victims," says Terra Rogers, fourth grade teacher at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Steubenville, Ohio.
There's no one reason why kids bully. Maybe they do it because they see others doing it and getting away with it. Or maybe it's because they want to fit in with a particular crowd. Regardless, parents need to be aware of different types of bullying situations and how to respond when their child is either the bully or the victim.
The Rite of Passage
Some people argue that bullying is just a "rite of passage," but that certainly doesn't make it acceptable. "Growing up, we all go through these situations where we are the victims of hurtful situations," Rogers says. "As long as it doesn't get out of hand, it can be seen as a rite of passage." But Rogers also agrees that there are extreme cases, which is why she tells her students they are a family when they are in school, and if any of them feel afraid, she wants to know right away. "Some kids are afraid to go home at night, too," she says. "With no home life and scared at school, kids can turn to drugs and alcohol for release."
Too often, we don't take bullying seriously. Young people who are bullied are more likely to skip school or completely drop out. Statistics show that 60 percent of boys who were bullies in middle school had at least one criminal conviction by the time they were 24.
What should a parent do if a child is on either end of the bully spectrum? First, become educated! Know that bullying is not always a rite of passage, but instead can be a serious issue that affects the health of children nationwide. Next, don't worry! There are things parents can do to help:
- Stop and listen to the affected child, and take their complaints seriously.
- Be responsive, and take the appropriate actions to intervene.
Here are a few ways to determine if a child is being bullied:
- Your child comes home with torn, damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books or other belongings.
- Your child has unexplained cuts, bruises or scratches.
- Your child is sad, depressed, moody or teary when he or she comes home from school.
- Your child frequently appears anxious or suffers from low self-esteem.
"Bullying absolutely has to be dealt with, not brushed off," Rogers says. "The bully has to be removed from the situation so the other children don't have to put up with it."
On the other side of the coin, who's the bully? Here are a few common characteristics of a child who is or can be a potential bully:
- Impulsive, hot-headed and dominant
- Easily frustrated
- Lacks empathy
- Has difficulty following rules
- Views violence in a positive way
There are many different factors that can place a child at risk for bullying his peers. Statistics show, however, that a child who exhibits these traits comes from a home where the same characteristics are portrayed. "If the child is happy at home, they are usually happy at school," Rogers says. "If they are struggling with a poor home life, they are unhappy at school. They are angry, and it has nothing to do with the child [they bully]. They are victims themselves."
Tips for Kids
Parents want to protect their kids from harm, but occasionally kids can help, too. Teach your child some positive ways to deal with any bullying situations they encounter:
- Say kind words to the child being bullied. Let him or her know it's not his or her fault!
- Tell the child who is being bullied to talk to someone, and offer to go with them.
- Tell an adult! Go to your teacher, principal, lunch aid, playground aid, school nurse, bus driver or any adult you trust.
No child should be afraid to go to school or participate in school activities. If you would like more information on how you can help take a stand against bullies, visit Stop Bullying Now.