We have a bullying epidemic in our country. A generation ago, one in seven children were involved in a bullying incident. Today that number is one in three. Equally staggering is the fact that over 160,000 kids a day skip school in our country to avoid being bullied.
But there’s some good news to follow this bad news. You, as a parent, are not helpless. There is plenty you can do to help children avoid and prevent bullying.
Every parent needs to understand that bullying can be present in five distinct ways:
- Physical (this can start at a young age)
- Verbal (the most common type of bullying)
- Emotional/relational (common in middle school and involves excluding or rejecting another child)
- Cyber (the fastest growing type)
- Sexual (most prevalent in high school and beyond)
And no matter how bullying appears, it always has three common factors:
- It’s an intentional, aggressive act.
- It involves an unequal power balance.
- It is repetitive.
Parents typically think of two parties being involved in bullying. In actuality, there are three:
- The Victim: Studies show that repeated bullying can result in long-term damage to victims, including lowered self-esteem and even depression.
- The Bully: Studies show that children who are repeat bullies by the age of eight have a 25 percent chance of having a criminal record by the time they are 26.
- The Witness: Eighty-five percent of all children will be a witness to bullying at some point. They are also one of the most important players in any scenario. Studies show that these witnesses can stop the bullying 57 percent of the time in less than 60 seconds.
The Importance of the Witness/Bystander
A long-term solution to bullying involves parents and adults teaching children, from an early age, appropriate ways to react when witnessing the act. Sensitivity to the situation helps strengthen empathy, as well as provides skills for dealing with the situation should it ever happen to them.
Here are a few steps to teach your child to take when she witnesses bullying:
- Step in and befriend the child being bullied. It can be a simple matter of asking the bullied child if he or she is okay.
- Further support of the child being bullied by asking he or she if they need help. Doing this often motivates other children to lend their support.
- Tell the child who is bullying to stop. It’s acceptable to make a statement that his or her actions are mean.
- Share experiences with adults.
Experts state that if children were comfortable with the above steps, a measurable amount of bullying would cease.
Protecting Your Child From Bullying
Sadly, most children will not report bullying because they are embarrassed. So, if you suspect it’s happening, be compassionate. And be on the lookout for signs of bullying:
- Loss of possessions, like lunch money
- Arriving home from school very hungry or with the need to go to the bathroom urgently
- Frequent headaches
If you suspect bullying, either ask the child directly, or introduce the topic by asking if she ever sees bullying at school. Sometimes, that opens the door for her to share.
When Bullying Happens
If a child shares that they have been bullied, never ask what he or she did to provoke it. Rather, show empathy and seek to find out the following:
- Who is doing it? Is it one or more people?
- Where is it taking place?
- How is your child responding when being bullied?
Without a doubt, if you feel it’s necessary, report the incident(s) to school administration and teachers.
Teach Children How to Respond
It’s important to help a child understand how to respond in potential bullying situations. Brainstorm with her. Talk about options. By doing this, you will actually help her feel safer.
According to child therapist and expert, Michele Borba, a helpful approach is to teach children the CALM method when reacting to a bully:
- C: Stay COOL.
- A: Have an ASSERTIVE comeback ready, such as, “You are mean!”
- L: LOOK the bully directly in the eye.
- M: Make your voice sound like you MEAN it.
Bullying is a tough topic to consider for every parent. But the more you teach your children, the less likely they are to become victims — and the more likely they are to be part of the solution!