Bullying is the systematic maltreatment of an individual by another individual or group of individuals as a means of exerting power to intimidate or harm someone that is perceived as weak. The innate powerlessness that is felt by the one being bullied is profound. Feelings of shame, anxiety, fear, depression, and loneliness are just a few emotional reactions to bullying. Often times, the shame and fear prevent these kids from speaking out, for fear of retaliation or not being believed.
In Hara Estroff Marano’s article “Bully Pulpit” in Psychology Today, she says: “Bullying is not garden-variety aggression: It is a deliberate attempt to cause harm to those of lesser power.” Kids are beginning the long process of learning to stand up for themselves, understanding right from wrong, and developing accountability. However, by 8 years old, kids do begin to understand the power that they have, or the lack thereof. In truth, the social pecking order begins early. As kids find their way as individuals, some may realize they are different from some of the kids in their peer group. Being different or not like everyone else doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be accepted, though. Unfortunately, the bullies don’t always agree and are prone to viewing difference as a sign of weakness.
Children who are bullied don’t always tell teachers or parents that they are targets of bullying, and it’s not uncommon for someone being bullied to feel helpless in his or her endeavors to get help. From the bullied child’s perspective, it can feel like there is great risk in asking for help. The bully makes sure those they bully live in perpetual fear of retaliation. Sometimes, proving one is being bullied is often difficult, and the issues fall into a he-said-she-said cycle. As parents and teachers, we have to play the role of detective and investigate all facets of the situation, looking for key emotional and physical signs that our child is being bullied.
The following are some indications that your child may be a victim of bullying:
- Becoming moody or short tempered.
- Finding excuses for not wanting to go to school.
- Claiming physical illnesses such as stomachaches and headaches that may have, in fact, actually evolved into such physical symptoms.
- Returning to bedwetting.
- Beginning to have nightmares.
- Developing either a lack of appetite or increase of eating compulsively.
- Having difficulty concentrating.
- Deterioration in the quality of schoolwork.
- Having insomnia, anxiety.
- Starting to become quiet, withdrawn.
- Exhibiting physical signs like bruises, torn clothing, scrapes, and so on.
- Expressing sadness and/or violence in writing or drawings.
- Displaying unusual acting out behaviors.
If you notice your child is exhibiting any of these behaviors, it’s important to honor your child by lending them your ear and your respect. It’s frightening to talk about being bullied, and if we as parents can sit and listen fully, without judgment, the likelihood of our child or children opening up is better. Second, parents must intervene on a larger scale in order to stop the bullying behavior in its tracks.
- Contact school administration to ensure that they are aware that bullying is happening in their school. They need to take necessary steps to stop it.
- Get informed!
- Find out what anti-bullying programs are available in your area and contact them for support.
- Does your school have an anti-bullying policy? If not, see if you can form a coalition of parents and administrators who are as concerned as you are and create some solid guidelines for addressing bullying
Please don’t punish or shame the child who is being bullied. It’s not their fault. Asking questions like that start with, “You should have,” or “Why didn’t you,” implies blame and judgment. A bullied child (all children, really) needs compassion and understanding, particularly from their parents. Home has to be a safe space for them to land. They need to be encouraged to be exactly who they are and they need to know that you, their parent, loves them and sees them and accepts them no matter what. They need to learn that walking away is far braver than engaging in negative interactions with a bully. And they need to know that walking away is not a sign of weakness but a sign of great courage.
“The common mistake that bullies make is assuming that because someone is nice that he or she is weak. Those traits have nothing to do with each other. In fact, it takes considerable strength and character to be a good person.” – Mary Elizabeth Williams
Bullies may seem like they prevail, but over time, their feigned popularity and social pull wavers as those in their peer groups tire of the bullying antics. The bully’s aggression “lowers their social desirability,” thrusting them toward other likeminded, deviant kids.
David Schwartz, associate professor of psychology at USC is quoted in the same article, “Bully Pulpit,” as saying, ” “Victimization is not about the child, it is about what the peer group is doing. The only promising interventions are based on activating the bystanders.” In other words, those on the sidelines need to speak up and out. If we are silent when bullying is going on, we are complicit in the bullying behavior. Bullying can be stopped and the sooner the behavior is recognized, the sooner an intervention can occur.