Preface: Before I start I want to say that this is a very personal issue for me because I was the victim of severe bullying from 5th to 9th grade. I have also worked with students who were bullied and students who bullied others. Additionally, I have worked in schools where I felt the bullying policy was not very solid. The suggestions in this article are a combination of what I feel would have helped me, what makes sense as being helpful for all, and what the anti-bullying experts recommend. You may not agree with all these suggestions and I know there are other avenues we can take to attempt to end this very unfortunate part of life for so many kids. I also realize that this is a very sensitive issue for many and I don’t have all the answers. Please share your own suggestions below so we can all come together on ideas for what might help.
This is Part 1 of a series. How to End Bullying Part 2: 15 Tips for Kids gives several strategies kids can use to handle bullying!
What is Bullying?
Bullying is aggressive behavior by a person or group of people, that is unwanted by the victim(s). To be considered bullying, the behavior has to be repeated, or have the potential to be repeated, over time. Actions such as spreading rumors, making threats, intentionally trying to scare someone, physically or verbally attacking someone, and purposely excluding someone from a group, are all forms of bullying. Bullying can occur face to face, behind someone’s back, or on the internet. Many parents and educators ask the questions “How do we keep our kids from being bullied and how do we talk to kids about bullying?”
How Does Bullying Feel?
When a child is bullied it takes a huge toll on his/her self-esteem, particularly if that self-esteem is already low. Here are some common thoughts of a child who is being bullied:
- What is wrong with me?
- Is this ever going to stop?
- I am too embarrassed to tell anyone about this
- I don’t want to go to school tomorrow (or ever again)
- I can’t have one day in school that I enjoy
- Am I going to get seriously injured?
- I wish I was never born
- What is the point of even living if I have to go through this every day?
- I feel so alone
- Why do I live in such a cruel world?
- No one can help me
Victims of bullying have felt so hurt that they have committed suicide.
19 Tips for Parents and Educators
1. Talk to your children about bullying before they enter school and talk to your students when they enter your school/class. Let them know that it is a common thing that happens to many children (so if it happens to them, they are not alone), and that adults are working hard to make sure it stops.
2. Let your children know that they can always talk to you if they are being bullied, you will never judge them, and you will try to help them make the bullying stop. Remind them that if they tell a trusted adult about a bullying problem, the bully does not need to know they told. We can address a bullying situation without indicating the person who reported it.
3. Periodically ask your children if anyone is bothering them at school (or online) or if they feel they are being bullied by anyone.
4. Notice signs that may indicate your child is being bullied such as a drop in grades, not wanting to go to school, feeling sick more that usual, seeming unusually sad or depressed, loss of appetite, not wanting to hang out with friends anymore, or not being interested in things they once enjoyed. If you notice these signs talk to your child to see how you can help. If nothing changes or if you are still concerned, talk to your child’s school and doctor to see how they can help.
5. Let your children/students know that kids who bully need help too. They feel a loss of control in their own lives, so they try to control others through bullying. It probably means that inside they are hurt about something too. Also let them know; however, that there is no justifiable reason for anyone to be bullying them and that any bullying must be immediately addressed.
6. Tell your children/students that it is not their fault if they get bullied and it does not mean anything is wrong with them. The bully is the one who needs help to change, not them.
7. Tell your children/students that children who bully want to see their victims get upset. If they get a child upset, they will often continue bullying because they got what they wanted. Also tell your child that children who bully like to control others emotions and actions by scaring them or making them feel bad about themselves. Tell your child not to let his emotions or actions be controlled by the mean actions of someone else.
8. Work with your child to build his confidence. Focus on his strengths, believe in your child, help him learn to love himself and be proud of himself. Allow him to explore his interests, feel productive, and feel like he has a purpose. Listen to him without judgement. Children who believe in their value are less likely to be affected by bullies.
9. Let your child know that she is not alone because you are always there for her.
10. Teach your children/students (and show through your own behavior) how to be kind, help others, and treat others with respect.
11. Notice and praise children who are kind and helpful to others.
12. Make it clear in your home and school that bullying and being mean to others is not acceptable. Students who are found to be bullying others may need to be provided education in an alternative environment if it is determined that they are continually being cruel to classmates.
13. Let your children and students know that they have certain expectations they must follow in order to earn fun privileges. Being kind to others is one of those expectations.
14. Teach about tolerance and accepting differences. Share stories about unique people. Talk about how their differences make them special. Have your child/students think of someone they know who is different or unique and say good things about that person.
15. If you are an educator, find out your school’s bullying policy and what you are supposed to do if you see or find out about bullying. Make sure you follow it.
16. If you are a parent, find out exactly how your child’s school handles bullying, make sure you are comfortable with the policy, and that the policy is followed if your child gets bullied.
17. Remind your children that even if things seem really bad now, it will not last forever and they will get through this.
18. If your child/student is bullying others let him know it is not acceptable, tell him exactly what changes you expect to see. Ask him if anything is bothering him and how you can help. For parents, keep in contact with your child’s school for updates on his behavior. Get counseling for your child if he continues to bully or if you have concerns about your child that you feel you can’t handle on your own. For teachers, let the guidance counselor and administrator know if a child is bullying.
Administrators, parents, and counselors should encourage children who bully to talk about their own life and situation to help them get to the bottom of anything that may be upsetting them. However, children also need to know that, just like in the adult world, bullying will not be tolerated.
19. Role play scenarios with your children/students so they are familiar with what to do if/when faced with a bully. Here is an amazing video that gives great practice scenario ideas.
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them.