Dealing With Bullies (page 2)
If you've ever watched a TV sitcom, this should be a familiar scene.
A new kid moves to town and attends the neighborhood school. He's bigger than Johnny and the other boys and scares them into giving up their lunch money or answers to tests. Soon Johnny's dad finds out what is going on, and he sits his son down for a "man-to-man" talk.
He convinces Johnny to stand up for himself, and when he does, the bully never bothers Johnny again. The conflict is solved and life goes back to normal, all within 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, conflicts and power struggles among children are not this easy to solve. Today's bullies victimize children through physical, emotional and verbal abuse and leave scars that may never go away. Bullies are in every school in every city -- there may even be one living in your home.
Getting to the Bottom of Bullying
Who are the bullies? Who are the victims?
As cruel and insensitive as some of their antics may seem, bullies are still just children. Often bullies come from homes where they are bullied or abused by their own parents or an older sibling. Bullying other children is a way for them to regain some of the control they've lost.
Other times, teasing and intimidating other kids serves as a cover-up for the bully's insecurity. She may be sensitive about her weight or height or the clothes she wears and bullying other kids allows her to attack them before they attack her.
Likewise, most victims of bullies share some common traits. Many have low self-esteem or are insecure about their appearance. They lack social skills and the ability to communicate well with other children or adults. Many victims of bullying are also emotionally sensitive or cry easily.
Both bullies and victims come from all types of homes and from all sorts of economic and ethnic backgrounds. They can be boys or girls. A "successful" bully can be found wherever there is an imbalance of power.
How Can We Stop Them?
It takes more than just understanding the psychology of bullying to stop the cycle. Someone -- the victim, a school official or a parent -- must take action to put an end to what can be a terrifying and scarring event for a child.
The U.S. Department of Education offers a free booklet called "Preventing Bullying: A Manual for Schools and Communities," to help parents and teachers become more aware of bullies in our midst. The 18-page guide suggests things teachers and other adults can do to curb the problem at school.
If Your Child Is Being Bullied
The booklet points out the best way to avoid a problem with bullying is to foster your child's confidence and independence. But it is also important to know when to step in and take action.
Here are some things to keep in mind if your child is being victimized:
- Never make your child feel that the abuse is his fault. Stress that the bully is the one who has a problem, not your child.
- Offer support to your child but do not encourage dependence on you. Try not to make decisions for your child that she is capable of making herself. This will teach her independence and self-respect.
- Do not encourage your child to be aggressive or to hit back. While some parents may view this as self defense, it promotes the idea that violence can solve problems.
- Teach your child to be assertive and ask the bully to leave him alone.
At some point you may want to contact the bully's parents. Be cautious in your approach. Don't accuse. Rather, ask why they think their child is behaving this way and explore positive solutions.
What If Your Child Is the Bully?
The news that your child may be a bully is difficult and confusing. It's natural to react defensively or deny your child is capable of that kind of behavior. It is much more productive, however, to take a deep breath and really listen to what the teacher or other parent has to say.
Try to keep things in perspective and search for a solution:
- When talking to the parents of the victim, discuss the issue in a mature, respectful way. It is appropriate to say, "please don't label my child or call her names. Just explain to me what happened." Remember that this discussion is about the well-being of the child, not an attack on your parenting skills.
- Your child's aggressive behavior may come from feeling vulnerable, as ironic as it seems. Watch your child interact with other kids, and consider what might be going on internally that causes him to behave as a bully.
- When you confront your child about his behavior, do not blame or get into a discussion of "who started it." Emphasize that everyone is responsible for his or her own behavior. Anger is a feeling we all experience, but one we must control. Teach your child alternative ways to deal with aggression, like spending some time alone listening to music or riding a bike.
Expect Schools To Take Action
The best way to prevent bullying is to show children that intimidation and aggression are not acceptable ways to obtain power. Look for schools and teachers who reward children who are kind and follow classroom rules, and make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated.
Children need to think of themselves and their peers as a community of people that take care of one another. This means enlisting the help of an adult when someone is being hurt.
As adults begin to see that bullying is more than a case of "kids being kids," they will be more capable of teaching children to treat each other with the kindness and respect we all deserve. In this way, we will take one more step toward the goal of making every child feel valued and safe.
Reprinted with the permission of EduGuide. © 2008 EduGuide.
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