As health care providers, we see many children and adolescents suffering the consequences of bullying.
The initial signs sometimes present with physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches. At other times it may be school avoidance, progressing into other serious symptoms such as negative talk or self-harm. We often hear from parents questioning if their child has depression or anxiety issues.
Bullying can take many forms, including the most commonly thought of — name-calling/verbal abuse, taking items, being cast out from a peer group, and physical harm. Although, in the technology age, bullying can take a more emotional path of hurt through social media sites, including online name- calling/commenting, “unfriending”, and highlighting the exclusion of a child or adolescent from social activities.
As they have been in the past, school and the bus/bus stop remain a main place where bullying occurs. We sometimes see parents who drive their kids to school to avoid the bus stop or bus; however, bullying still happens inside the school building. Home used to be a safe place, but with social media and cell phones, bullying can take place inside of your own home, without parents even knowing about it.
How do you know if your child is being bullied, or being a bully?
It is important for parents and all adults who interact with children and adolescents to be alert to the signs of bullying, some of which are subtle. Examples may be a drop in grades, little pleasure in activities, sleep disturbance, and emotional outbursts. It is also important to identify those who are causing the emotional trauma. Bullying usually happens when other children are watching, so other children (and maybe even adults) may be aware of what is going on.
Listen to your children. The best time to talk to children is during a quiet time at home or when you are driving (when you are not making eye contact with them.) Turn the music down and ask a few starter questions about what they enjoyed/did not enjoy that day at school or during an activity. Allow some silence for them to think and fill in the space.
Learn your school’s bullying prevention policy. School buses are one of the top places that children are bullied. School buses are an extended part of the school, so they are often covered in your school’s bullying policy. Follow the proper chain of command when communicating with school staff – the bus driver, teachers and your school counselor.
Talk to other parents. Form relationships with other parents at school or in the neighborhood. Ask them to keep a look out for behaviors, as you will do for them. If your child frequents another families home, keep an open communication with the parents so you will be aware if any forms of bullying occur.
What to do if your child is being bullied?
• Teach your children that bullying is not okay.
• Teach your child how to respond to a bully. Practice appropriate responses and what to do if a bullying situation occurs again.
• Teach your child when and how to ask for help. Your child should know that they have a safe place to tell an adult about what is happening.
• Encourage your child to make friends with other children. There are many adult-supervised groups, in and out of school, that your child can join. Invite your child’s friends over to your home. Children who are loners are more likely to get picked on.
• Support activities that interest your child. By participating in activities such as team sports, activity groups, or social clubs, your child will develop new abilities and social skills. When children feel good about how they relate to others, they are less likely to be picked on.
What to do if your child is the bully?
• Set firm and consistent limits on your child’s aggressive behavior. Be sure your child knows that bullying is never okay.
• Show children that they can get what they want without teasing or hurting someone. All children can learn to treat others with respect. Now is the time to change your child’s behavior.
• Use effective, nonphysical discipline, such as loss of privileges. When your child needs discipline, explain why the behavior was wrong and how your child can change it.
• Help your child understand how bullying hurts other children. Give real examples of the good and bad results of your child’s actions.
• Talk with your resources – the school principal, teachers, school counselor and your pediatrician to come up with a plan and to find positive ways to stop the bullying.
What can we do as parents and caregivers from an early age to prevent our children from bullying?
Children are not born to be bullies. It is a learned behavior which parents can help prevent by teaching acceptance and empathy at an early age.
Verbalizing pain (physical and emotional) to your children, even as early as 9 months old, will help children understand how their actions can cause pain. For example, in the book “Raising Cain” by Dr. Michael G. Thompson, it is explained that when a baby pulls on his mother’s earring she could say something like, “ouch, that hurt mommy.”
Dr. Thompson also discussed the importance of older children caring for younger ones. In these situations, the older child learns empathy when the younger child cries due to a fall or other injury. He mentioned that camp counselors learn to be empathetic as they attend to campers who are homesick and lonely.
It is also so important for parents to model behavior in front of their children. Refrain from negative talk about other people in front of children, use positive ways to describe friends and family, be excepting of others in your own social community, smile and wave or say hello to those who may be shyer or who may be different from yourself. Children are always watching and will pick up on these behaviors and begin to model in their own lives and situations.
Listen and engage with your children. Try to remain calm and patient with children; aim to diffuse anger with words and understanding rather than immediately punishing.
Educate and Encourage:
Go places where different types of people are, participate in multi-cultural events and activities, talk to your children about the differences in people and how everyone is an individual with unique qualities. Just the animal kingdom, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and we all play an important role in society.
Kindness matters and goes a long way. Let us all be part of a community to raise caring, happy and successful children.
Visit these webpages for more tips on bullying and bullying prevention.
Article by: Anita Weissburg, CPNP
About Annapolis Pediatrics:
For 70 years, Annapolis Pediatrics has provided superior healthcare to infants, children, adolescents, and young adults in Annapolis and the surrounding communities. In some cases, we have cared for three generations of families. We strive to provide high quality medical care, from excellent clinical care to a positive customer experience for our patients and their parents.
We have over 30 physicians and nurse practitioners in 5 locations: Annapolis, Crofton, Edgewater, Severna Park, and Kent Island. We also offer Monday through Friday walk-in hours at our Annapolis office for short sick visits.
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