October is National Bullying Prevention Month where communities across the nation try to bring awareness to this persistent and pervasive problem. By now, kids are fully back into the swing of school and that can mean they are back at a place where they can be bullied or are taking part in bullying. I, along with many fellow colleagues, try to make it a point during each well-child check to ask about bullying and ways to prevent it. Despite that, if your kids are generally healthy, your child’s primary care practitioner (PCP) only sees them once every one or two years and that is not often enough to be screening for bullying. This should be done regularly because things can change in an instant. It is important as parents that we know what bullying is, how to recognize it, tangible ways to tackle it, and, heaven forbid, what to do if your child is the one doing the bullying.
In order to identify if your child is being bullied, you have to first know what bullying is. Many people have varying definitions of bullying and situations that may seem like innocent teasing to some are actually bullying to others. Which one of the following scenarios could be classified as bullying?
If you answered that all of these scenarios could be considered bullying then you are correct. Some of the scenarios listed are even instances of assault, but that goes beyond the scope of this post. Bullying is when a person picks on another person, over and over again. Typically, children who are bullied are small and weak, they often are shy, and they often feel like they have no control over the situation. However, these are by no means the only criteria. Bullying differs from teasing in that the person doing the bullying has control of the child being bullied and this is often done by scaring them, making them feel like the victim, especially because this is often done in front of other children.
There are three different kinds of bullying: physical, verbal and social. Physical bullying is using actual force by hitting, kicking, pushing, punching or choking. Threats, taunting and teasing comprise verbal bullying. Social bullying can be anything from, 1) not including someone in social activities on purpose, 2) posting something negative about someone on social media and 3) spreading rumors about someone around school. Bullying can happen anywhere, but more often than not, it takes place at school, often when adults are not around, and through electronic means via texting, email or social media.
So how do you get your child to open up about possible bullying? Well, try open-ended questions. These are questions that make your child respond by saying more than yes or no, or, if you currently are raising a teenager, more than a grunt or an eye-roll! Try asking them how things are going at their school? Or, what do they think about the people at their school? Better yet, get to the point and ask them if they’ve witnessed any bullying or teasing at their school? This gives your child an opportunity to really open up about their school life in general, and, even if you don’t discover your child is being bullied, you may find out other information such as your child is struggling with a certain class or feels nervous about an exam that’s coming up.
If you do find out that your child is being bullied, make sure you teach your child how to stay safe (see here) and how to handle a bully if it happens again. Now, just teaching your child what to do or say often isn’t enough. These things often require practice and role-playing. Furthermore, they are often things that don’t come naturally to the child being bullied, so practice until it becomes second nature. For example, teach your child how to be confident physically (i.e. look the bully in the eye, stand tall, be calm, stand their ground, and if needed, how to walk away). Teach them what to say and how to say it (i.e. “I don’t like what you’re doing” or “Please do NOT talk to me like that” or “Why would you say that?”). Many times, just the fact that the person being bullied stood up to the aggressor is enough to make the bullying stop. Again, bullies often prey on those who appear weak, so if your child show strength and evens the playing field, it can stop. It is also important that your child knows when to seek help and you should always alert school officials that bullying is going on. They can’t fix the problem if they aren’t aware anything is happening in the first place.
So what to do if your child is the aggressor? First, don’t blame yourself, but make sure you take it VERY seriously. You don’t want to ignore this behavior and hope it goes away on its own. Things often get worse if not dealt with as soon as the behavior is discovered. You want to be sure to that your son or daughter knows that bullying is never OK and make sure that all aggressive behavior is limited and dealt with on a consistent basis. Make sure your child knows that he or she can get what they want by being respectful to others. They never to need to resort to coercing or threatening someone. Be a positive role model for them and discipline them by using effective, non-physical means and/or loss of privileges. Work with the school, teachers and other adults, to develop ways to prevent these instances happening in future. Finally, try to have your child put themselves in another person’s shoes. Showing them that bullying hurts is often enough to make them stop what they are doing. Also, make sure they know that they should stop bullying if they ever see it happening to another person. Burger King got this SO right with a recent bullying prevention ad-campaign. Honestly, you could start the conversation by just having them watch this. Please contact us at ABC Pediatrics if you have any questions or concerns regarding bullying or any other health concerns. We are happy to help!
Information presented adapted from:
Mary-Faith Fuller, CPNP
I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has worked at ABC Pediatrics since January 2014.