Dealing with Children Who Bully (page 2)
- How can I help my child when she is bullied by another child?
Background: How to Tell If Your Child Is Being Bullied
Children who bully others do so to varying degrees. Children younger than fifth or sixth graders bully in person. Older children begin to use cell phones and the Internet to bully, harass, and intimidate. In mild cases, a bully occasionally ridicules or threatens another child. In extreme cases, a bully systematically and thoroughly humiliates another child. Fortunately, mild cases are more common. Your child will talk to you about being mildly bullied when you use the listening techniques in Chapter Seventeen. If you act quickly, bullying will not become severe.
Severe bullying is different and uglier. The usual way that bullying becomes severe is that the child who is bullied doesn't tell anyone else it's happening for several reasons:
- It's humiliating, and they are too embarrassed to talk about it.
- They feel that no one else will understand or believe them.
- They feel that if anyone tried to help, it would only make the situation worse.
- If it is happening with a cell phone, they are afraid their parents will take away their cell phone.
If you notice certain changes in your child's behavior, you will have to do some detective work to find out about severe bullying. Here are some signs:1
- Your child's school work begins to slide.
- Your child shows much less interest in schoolwork than usual.
- Your child does not want to go to school or starts having frequent stomachaches or headaches on school days.
- If your child walks to school, she changes her usual path to an out-of-the-way route.
- Your child's books, money, or other belongings are missing without explanation.
- Your child begins stealing or requesting extra money for lunch.
- Your child begins to have unexplained injuries or torn clothing.
The first three signs are general signs of distress about something at school, while the last four are specific to being bullied.
Cyberbullying has arisen with the greater use of the Internet by children. One survey found that 16 percent of children between the ages of eleven and nineteen were harassed by text messaging, 7 percent were harassed in Internet chat rooms, and 4 percent were harassed by e-mail.2
The most effective response to this form of harassment is to not respond. E-mail programs have filters that block or automatically delete messages from undesirable senders. It is also possible to trace from which e-mail account the offending message was sent. IM programs allow users to create a list of others from which users may wish to block messages.
It is usually better to have school administrators deal with cyberbullying. It has been recommended that "a provision be added to the school's acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline students for actions conducted away from school if such actions have an adverse effect on a student or if they adversely affect the safety and well-being of the student while in school."3
Solving the Problem: Neutralize the Bully
The power equation for bullying is usually on the side of the bully. That's why it is necessary for parents to take charge of this situation and act decisively so that the victim will have confidence that something can be done to improve his or her situation.
Step 1: Get as Much Detail as Possible from Your Child
Use the techniques described in Chapter Seventeen to get details from your child on times when she has been bullied. It will be easier for your child to talk about mild bullying than if she has been more severely bullied. Be careful not to make your child feel any worse; avoid addressing why she didn't tell you of the bullying. The fact that you could and would do something about the bullying that helped will get your child to confide in you more.
Responses to bullying are different for mild bullying than for more serious bullying. We start with a mild case in this example.
Seven-year-old Victor tells his mother that he doesn't want to go to school anymore. When she asks why, he says, "Because I don't want to be near Julian." Upon further questioning, Victor tells his mother that Julian demands his desserts each day. He also demands piggy-back rides and tells him what games to play.
Victor is bullied because he is very compliant. He tells his mother what's going on, and she responds by telling Victor not to listen to Julian:
Mom: Suppose another boy like Julian tells you to give him your dessert and you don't want to. Do you really have to do it?
Mom: Let's think of something you could do. Could you say no?
Victor: Yes. But what if he tries to take it?
Mom: Just say no again, and pull the dessert out of his reach. Let's try it. I'll be Julian. "I want that dessert."
Mom: "But I have to have that dessert!"
Victor: What do I do now?
Mom: Say no again only a little louder. Try it.
Victor: [In a firmer and louder voice] "No!"
Mom: [Whispering] That's great. [and then in role-playing Julian] "You need to give me that dessert."
Mom: That was great!
David, age eight, is walking home from school by the swamp when he encounters three boys playing. One boy demands that he walk across the swamp to the other side. Without a thought of doing anything else, he walks through the swamp. The water is up to his chest in parts, and he comes home with his pants and shirt muddy.
David makes the same mistake that Victor does: he obeys the bullies. Disobeying does not mean fighting; it means not waiting for the three boys to act. It is important for David not to give the bully control of the situation.
David thinks that running away is more humiliating than what he did. He is wrong. He gives the three boys the notion that they can control him. Here's how David's dad helps him refuse the next time this happens:
Dad: What could you do next time someone tells you to do something like that? Suppose there are three boys and only one of you?
David: I don't know.
Dad: Well, let's see. There are three of them. Can you run somewhere nearby where there's an adult?
David: But they'd call me chicken!
Dad: I think that would be a smart thing to do. There are three of them, and only one of you. I think they are the cowards.
This next example shows a more severe case of bullying. Elise is one of the smartest girls in her fifth-grade class. Her friendship group fluctuates between two and five girls. Their common interests are making fun of overweight people and children not as smart as they are. Elise picks on Rebecca constantly, teasing her about her parents, calling them "the stupid family." She also tells the other girls not to play with Rebecca. They are afraid not to cross Elise for fear they will be targets. She "borrows" money from Rebecca, promising to be a true friend. When Rebecca gives her money, Elise never pays her back. When Rebecca refuses to give money, Elise threatens that her big sister will beat up Rebecca.
Rebecca's mother notices that she is coming home from school very hungry. She also is refusing to do her homework because she says it's too hard. Her grades have started slipping, and she frequently complains of stomachaches before going to school each day. Here's how Rebecca's mom gets to the bottom of this:
Rebecca: I don't feel like going to school today. I feel sick.
Mom: I'm worried about you, Rebecca. You've been having stomachaches in the morning, and you seem pretty hungry when you come home from school. Is something wrong with the school lunches?
Rebecca: The lunches are okay. I'm just not hungry at lunchtime.
Rebecca's mom shows concern and now focuses on one small part of what she has been noticing in order not to overwhelm Rebecca. She continues:
Mom: So you aren't buying lunch?
Mom: What do you do with the money I give you every day?
Rebecca: Elise asks me for my lunch money.
Mom: Do you give it to her?
Mom: Why do you give it to her?
Rebecca: Because if I don't, Elise says her sister will get me.
Mom: Is she alone when this happens?
Rebecca: No. Two other girls are usually with her.
Step 2: Take Charge and Do the Tattling
This is one of the few times I will tell you to take charge and tattle on the bully. Rebecca does not want to call attention to herself, either because of what other children might think or her fear that Elise's older sister will hurt her. Mom tells the teacher in private what is going on:
Mom: [After school when the teacher is alone] Can I get your advice on something that's been bothering Rebecca for quite some time now?
Teacher: What is it?
Mom: Rebecca's having trouble coming to school and comes home hungry because a couple of girls are demanding her lunch money. She says that if she doesn't give it to them, they threaten to hurt her.
Teacher: Who is doing this?
Mom: I have trouble believing this, but Rebecca says it's Elise.
Teacher: I cannot believe that Elise would do such a thing.
Mom: I have trouble believing it also, but Rebecca usually doesn't lie. Could you do some checking to see if there's anything to this? Rebecca also says that Elise has been telling the other girls not to play with her.
Mom: Shall I check back with you in a couple days to see what you found out?
In this conversation, Rebecca's mom is asking for help, not telling the teacher what to do. In addition, she initially doesn't say who it is doing the bullying, so the teacher can more clearly hear what's going on. Elise is one of the smartest girls in the class, and the teacher may have trouble hearing negative things about her.
This is a worst-case scenario where the child who is bullying is a favored student. Mom has to be patient because it's Rebecca's word against Elise's. In Victor's case, a word to the teacher brings immediate action, because Julian's behavior is rather obvious.
Very rarely teachers will not think it is their business to become involved in cases of bullying. This is a serious mistake, because not being involved condones bullying. If your child's teacher feels this way, meet with the school psychologist or principal. Use this meeting to discuss school policy. Because of the legal liability and increased awareness of the problem, many school officials feel they have to listen when a child is being bullied. If this doesn't work, you will have to get an attorney. Usually a letter from an attorney is enough to show that you will press the issue until the bullying stops. Sometimes the issue is one child's word against another and administrators have an obligation to ask for proof. It's helpful to have other witnesses or tangible evidence.
Step 3: Protect the Victim from the Bully
Check frequently with the teacher or school officials to see how they are following up. A couple of telephone calls to them should be enough. Since your child was the victim, you have a voice in how they will protect your child in the future. Make some suggestions—for example:
- Elise writes a letter of apology to Rebecca rather than apologize face-to-face. Because Elise has controlled Rebecca by terrorizing her, she could use intimidating glances and tone of voice even if she is made to apologize in person.
- Elise is penalized if she is caught within twenty feet of Rebecca. This gives the message that what Elise did to Rebecca was wrong and Rebecca was right to tell an adult. Rebecca feared that telling people would make it worse. She needs to be shown that the adults can keep Elise away from her.
Step 4: Have Your Child Hang Out with Friends
Hanging out with a group of friends will discourage bullies. Help your child make arrangements to do this.
The Next Step
Acting decisively toward bullying is the best way you can help your child in this situation. Being bullied by a group of children has negative long-term effects on both the bullies and the victims.
Your child will be better protected from the bully if he hangs out with a group of friends during recess and while going to and from school. If your child doesn't have friends to hang out with, help him to find new friends using the steps described in Chapters Seven, Ten, and Twelve. In the meantime, take him to and from school, or make other arrangements where he won't be alone at these times. Continue to follow up to see that the school is keeping the bully away from your child.
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