Big blue eyes stare at me with huge tears falling down his cheeks. It surprised me and then made my heart sad. What started off as watching a new movie for the family, turned into a sad little boy telling me about something that had happened last school year, and now worries him for the future. So I asked what had happened. He called him his arch enemy, the biggest bully he’d ever seen. He would follow him and push him down time and time again. When he finally told the duty, the bully said that he was lying, and guess what… She believed him. He then said he spent the rest of the year trying to avoid him, and when things did happen the duty would still not believe him.
Is this hard to hear? Yes! Is it something that I wish he had told me before? You bet!
My son has a big heart. He is the kid that will watch the movie and hope for the bad guy to turn good. Hence his love for Darth Vader and the celebration that he turns back to the light. He prayed for the Denver Broncos to make one touchdown (even though he’s a total Hawks fan), because Peyton Manning looked sad. When they did, he stood up and hollered and said “Yes, I prayed for that!” Even though his father and I looked at him in shock, we were proud that he was looking out for the other team.
He’s one of the youngest in his class and gets easily excited, over energized, easily distracted, loves to hug, and forgets his size is intimidating, and he wants to be everyone’s friend. He can be easily razzed which I know is not a good trait to have around other kids. Which is why I have always feared for him having this problem, and bummed when I find out that he has. However, as his ever adoring parents our biggest fear is him feeling that he is alone in all this and not letting us know.
After he told me the whole story, I assured him the best that I could. I talked to him about the things I encountered as a kid, and then said how many people also have experienced being bullied. I also talked to him about things that we saw in this particular movie was a made up story, and the chances of the exact thing happening to him wasn’t likely. I can’t promise him though the particular experience wouldn’t happen again, so it made me think what I need to do to help him through the years. Be there, listen, support, give advice, and step in when needed.
This particular topic is probably fresh in many parents minds this month, and being that Discover! wants to help relay information that can help, here we find ourselves. October is an official month to become aware of bullying, therefore we plan on doing a mini series on it. So let’s get started!
What is Bullying?
Most people know the answer to this question. Everyone has been teased by a family member or friend in their life. This teasing is usually not harmful because it’s meant to be playful or funny and both or all parties are enjoying it. However when the teasing is done to hurt a person, or becomes constant, and needs to stop… then it is bullying.Bullying is when a person targets another by either physically, verbally, or psychologically attacking them. Pushing, name calling, forcing a person to hand over money or other items, threatening, ganging up on, and spreading rumors are all ways that we have witnessed this nasty process taking place. Now children don’t even need to be around each other. The internet has broadened the playground in a virtual way, causing the same emotional damage, allowing bullies to pick on people they may know through school or perhaps perfect strangers. However, there are no duties or fences to limit their reach, and unfortunately the boundaries are endless and supervision is almost nil.
Don’t Brush it Off
Bullying is to be taken seriously though. Many parents look at it as something that kids just go through. In many ways that is true, however children today deal with it and are exposed to it far differently than we ever were.
When we were young we were around our bullies at school every day. We got breaks from them though! We didn’t see them at the end of the day after school or sports, nor did we see them on the weekend or when we were out for school breaks. Now there are kids on social networks, they have cell phones, and they are able to talk or communicate with their friends all year long.
Those that may not be on social networks are not any less likely to be exposed to it. They may be in a neighborhood, daycare, live with, or be involved in another group setting where they find themselves in the proximity of a bully all the time as well. No matter the method, we have seen tragic things come about in some incidents, where children have taken their own life or lives of others in a desperate attempt to escape it.
What are the Signs
If your child doesn’t let you know, then here are some things to keep an eye out for.
- Your child may start acting differently. They may have a loss of appetite, become anxious, lose sleep, and stop enjoying the hobbies or activities that they usually enjoy.
- Their attitude may have changed. They may seem more easily agitated or depressed, and start to avoid situations like saying they are sick and can’t go to school, or not want to ride the bus, or want to quit a sport or club.
- You may notice it yourself when you see them interacting. A bully may try hiding often from your child. They may purposely break, hide, or take your child’s toys. You may notice your child asking them to stop and the other won’t listen. Your child may start to stop play and seek you out, either for help or act as if they don’t want to play with them any further. You may also notice that when in a group setting that your child’s typical best friend starts to exclude them while playing.
Why do Kids Bully?
It can be very hard to understand why kids do this to each other. Child development researchers have said this. Some children look for other kids that are weaker or different so then they can feel important, cool, or more powerful. In some cases, they also may be bullying because they are mimicking how they have been treated themselves. They may live in an environment where it is common to argue or call each other names. It’s also common to see bullies on television. They can see how people are treated or talked about, which in-turn promotes them to do the same.
Why Do Kids Not Tell Us?
- Children often feel guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed. They may worry that you will be upset or disappointed in them.
- Sometimes kids think that it is there fault. They may feel that if they started acting differently the bully would stop.
- They may be afraid to talk, because if the bully gets confronted or in trouble, they think the bullying towards them will get worse.
- It’s also possible that they may think that you won’t believe them or you won’t do anything about it.
- They may also be afraid that you would urge them to fight back when they are too scared to do so.
What do I do?
- Tell your child that is is okay to let someone know what it happening. That they can tell you or another adult they trust. Like a teacher or counselor, family member, or a family friend.
- When they are telling you what has happened, listen calmly and comfort them. They may fear that you have a bad reaction, and even if you react angry with the bully, they may think you are angry with them. So be calm.
- Let him/her know that you are so grateful that they shared what happened with you.
- Tell them that they aren’t the only ones going through this and that everyone goes through something similar at some point.
- Make sure to point out that what the Bully is doing is very bad behavior and that it’s not your child’s fault.
- Assure them you are there for support, and that you will help them in any way to figure out how to get through the situation.
- Contact the school, daycare, or club about the situation. Depending on the age of the child, and the extent of the bullying, your actions may be different. Working out a solution with someone, such as a principle, counselor, or teacher is advisable.
- Some parents may want to speak to the bully’s parents, as tempting as that may be, it’s better to have the school officials do so or have them present if you decide to contact them.
What Kids Should Do
It’s tempting to tell kids to defend themselves. However this can lead to more trouble for both your kiddo and possibly yourself. So what should you tell them to do? I know I’ve told my son to avoid them, and to make friends with other kids that are nice and hang around them all the time, you know the term “you are more safe in numbers.” I know I have also told him to let someone know.
So here is what you can tell your little ones.
- Use the buddy system: If your child finds that it’s common for the bully to always approach them in a certain place try to find ways to avoid those situations, or have a friend that can come with you. Also tell them to do the same for their friend.
- Don’t give a rise: It’s natural to get worked up when something is happening that you don’t like, but chances are that is exactly what the bully wants to see. Seeing your child upset makes them feel like they are more powerful or cooler then they are. Help your child to not react by crying or looking upset. Suggest that they walk away, breath, count, or find a calm quite place to sit and write down how they are feeling. These are all ways to help not show the bully that their feelings are hurt. This may be a time that you also teach them about the “poker face,” where they just walk away with a face that looks like nothing happened until they have been able to get away from the bully.
- Ignore and walk away: Let your kiddo know that it’s okay and that they are allowed to firmly tell the bully to “Stop!” and then walk away. However, if that method does not work they can pretend that they didn’t hear or are uninterested in what they said. When they ignore the bully, they are basically conveying that they don’t care what the bully does or thinks. Eventually the bully will get tired of being ignored and hopefully become uninterested.
- Tell someone: In order for something to be done, they need to know that it’s okay to tell someone. Teachers, principles, counselors, parents, and many other staff workers can all help stop bullying.
- Let’s talk: It’s okay to talk about it to an adult you trust, sibling, or other family member. They can help you with advice and help you feel better.
Make them Feel Strong Again
As mentioned before, the emotional damage that happens from bullying can be deep and hard to recover from. You can help them by letting them know that true friends are ones that are kind to them and make good choices. Also encourage them to take part in extracurricular activities like sports, clubs, church groups, or other activities they may enjoy.
Most importantly listen! Find out what happened in their day, both good and bad. Discuss ways that they can tell you something is going on without explaining, like a code word. When I was growing up my mom always told me that I could say that I wasn’t feeling well when something was wrong and she’d come and get me. Believe me I used this when I felt out of place on a few occasions, and I was grateful for knowing that I had my mom to bring me home. This will help them to learn that you’ve got their back, and knowing that they have a strong relationship with you, helps make a strong foundation for their well being.
Here’s our first article on bullying. We know that it’s a lot of info to process and we hope that it has helped. Hug your kiddos tight Discover! parents!
Rescources National Association for Child Development, Helpguide.org, and Kidhealth.org, and PBS Kids