Definition of bullying
Experts agree that bullying is defined as the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate someone. In order for it to be considered bullying, though, the behavior must be aggressive and also include the following:
- Intentional act to cause harm or hurt someone
- Imbalance of power
- Actions are repeated
Types of bullying
There are several forms of bullying. Here are some of the ways that people will bully someone:
- Verbal: Inappropriate sexual comments, name calling, teasing, and taunting
- Social, psychological, or emotional: Starting/spreading of rumors, embarrassing someone in public, humiliating someone, or excluding someone from an activity or group
- Physical: Beatings, hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, tripping, or destroying someone's property
- Electronically: This is also known as cyberbullying, and includes threats, hate messages and any other form of digital abuse that are transmitted electronically by social media, text messages, voice mail, email, or websites.
Warning signs of bullying
The most effective way to help your child handle a bullying situation is to be aware of when it is happening and deal with it immediately. Keep in mind that child can have an off day and also remember that not every child bullied will show these warning signs. Communication with your child daily is key. But, you will still need to look for an atypical behavior pattern in your child. Here are some of the red flags that indicate that your child may be bullied:
- They avoid school situations, such as after-school activities, walking to or from school, or riding the bus
- There seems to be sudden loss of friends
- A substantial and rapid drop in their academic performance (homework/grades), not wanting to go to school (attendance), wanting to transfer to another school, or asking to be home schooled
- They are experiencing destroyed or lost personal items (electronics, phones, money, school supplies, books, jewelry, etc.)
- Complaints about physical issues like stomachaches, headaches, nausea, or faking illness (going to see the nurse to avoid class or activity where the bullying may be occurring)
- Trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, frequent nightmares, bed wetting, or crying themselves to sleep
- Changes in their appetite such as skipping meals, binge eating, or increased appetite after school (which may be due to their lunch money or lunch be stolen, or they are avoiding the cafeteria), or the food may be comfort food as a way of dealing with the stress related to bullying
- Regularly waits to use the bathroom until they arrive home from school (as to avoid being bullied in the school restroom)
- Sudden loss of weight
- Low self-esteem, or they have feelings of helplessness
- Acting very clingy, or a fear of being left alone
- Seem distressed after being online, texting, or talking on the phone
- Injuries like bruises, cuts, scratches, or scrapes that they unable to explain
- They have talked about or have run away from home, talked about committing suicide, harmed themselves or any other kind of self-destructive behaviors
Here is what to do if your child is being bullied
Should your child be bullied, it is very likely that they may not tell you. Your child may feel weak, helpless, ashamed and embarrassed. They may fear that you, other members of your family, or others will be punished by the bully(ies). They also may be concerned that they will be judged negatively or that you, or others may be angry with them. They may be concerned that you will confront the bully or that you will tell them to do so. They may also be afraid that you won't understand, care, or believe that it's really happening. They are often told by their bullies that if they do tell anyone they they will harm their family, or they will have someone else harm them. They may be told that no one will believe them.
So, you really need to take this situation seriously. Talk with your child about the bullying, and let them know that you are not angry with them, and that they, nor you will be harmed by the bully. Ask your child direct questions in a calm manner. Find out who is involved, what has been done, if anyone else witnessed the bullying, as well as when and where it happens. Ask your child if they have done anything to stop the bullying, such as report it to a teacher, staff member, or another parent. Record the details and facts in an objective manner. The more details your child will provide, the better.
It's important that you listen to your child in a very loving, calm manner, showing them your support, expressing your concern, and being understanding. Reinforce the fact that the bullying is not their fault regardless of what has been said to them. Give positive reinforcement to your child for sharing the information about the bullying. Reassure them that you are there to help them and that you will help to resolve the problem the bully has caused.
Should your child not open up yet, look for opportunities to discuss bullying. There may be a television show, a movie, or even your own experience or that of a friend. If your child will not share with you, set up a meeting with a trusted adult, be it a teacher, family friend, or relative.
You will need to reach out first to the school, starting with your child's teacher, principal, or counselor. Find out what the school teaches their students about bullying, and also what the school's policies are on bullying. Ask them for their help in addressing the situation. Don't be afraid to reach out again if the bullying isn't immediately stopped. Check with your child daily to see if the bullying is still happening. After you speak with school officials, you may consider contacting the police department where the bullying occurred, or an attorney, if you believe that your child or your family has been threatened or attacked physically or harmed in any way.
If you are certain that bulling has occurred, contact your child's teacher and the school principal immediately. Ask about the school's policies on the definition of bullying and the specific plan to stop and prevent it from recurring. Some schools will have peer mediation programs, which can be a good way to model and experience nonviolent conflict resolution. If the school does not have this program, there are many free resources, starting with the U.S. Department of Education.