What is Bullying?
Bullying is an intentional aggressive behavior. It can take the form of physical or verbal harassment and involves an imbalance of power (a group of children can gang up on a victim or someone who is physically bigger or more aggressive can intimidate someone else, for instance).
Bullying behavior can include teasing, insulting someone (particularly about their weight or height, race, sexuality, religion or other personal traits), shoving, hitting, excluding someone, or gossiping about someone.
Bullying can cause a victim to feel upset, afraid, ashamed, embarrassed, and anxious about going to school. It can involve children of any age, including younger elementary grade-schoolers and even kindergarteners. Bullying behavior is frequently repeated unless there is intervention.
What Parents Can Do to Prevent and Stop Bullying?
Stay connected with your child. The more you know about her friends and the details about her interactions with classmates and peers, the more likely you are to spot any changes in your child’s social interactions. Talk with your child every day about specifics at school and extracurricular activities such as who she had lunch with or what the best or worst part of her day was. This is also an important way to establish good communication with your child so that she knows that you are someone she can go to when she has a problem.
Explain to your child what bullying is. Young children understand that hitting or pushing another child is wrong (that’s why even young bullies will try to be aggressive toward their victims when teachers or other adults aren’t looking). But you can also explain that other forms of bullying, such as excluding or ignoring someone, can also be hurtful.
Tell her what to do in case she experiences or witnesses bullying. Establish and periodically review with your child the basics of what to do if they encounter hurtful behavior directed toward them or someone else. Tell her to alert a teacher right away if she sees bullying behavior (explain that this is not tattling, which is reporting something to the teacher just to get someone in trouble, but is an important way to stop someone from getting hurt).
Teach a child the importance of empathy. Research has shown that emotional intelligence and empathy skills may be even more important for success in life than intellectual intelligence. A child who is able to understand what it may feel like to be bullied and can understand and regulate his own emotions is less likely to engage in that behavior.
Set a good example. Do you ever make fun of other people or gossip about others in front of your child? Have you ever spoken rudely to a waiter at a restaurant or to a store clerk in a shop? Even if you think your children are not listening or observing your behavior, the fact is that kids learn a lot about how to conduct themselves from watching their parents.
Look for warning signs that your child may be the victim of bullying. Does she express reluctance to go to school? Are you seeing sudden behavioral changes such as aggression or emotional problems such as anxiety or depression? Children may be reluctant to discuss a school bullying problem with parents, but there are common signs parents can look for if they suspect that their child may be the victim of school bullying.
Talk to your school about what teachers can do and about effective programs that are being used by schools to deter bullying. If you suspect that your child may be the victim of school bullying, you can tell your child’s teacher about your concerns and ask her to keep an eye out on the interactions between your child and his classmates. Ask the teacher to watch out for problems and notify the school principal and counselor about your concerns.