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Children and Bullying: A Guide for Parents
Is There Anything We Can Do About Bullying?
Although bullying is not a normal part of childhood, it's a serious and common problem that can drastically affect the ability of children - bullies and their victims alike - to progress academically, emotionally and socially. This publication explains what bullying is, discusses the interaction of bullies and their victims, and suggests how to respond to and curtail bullying.
Bullying is a common occurrence during childhood. It is most frequently seen in school, but it also occurs in the home, at clubs, and during sports activities. As many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and 10% are bullied on a regular basis. Boys are more commonly involved in bullying than girls--both as bully and victim. Some children learn well how to control and manipulate others and begin to enjoy doing so. These actions may set a pattern for how children will behave as adults. Children who are bullied suffer emotionally or physically and usually do so in silence for fear that the bullies will get back at them.
Bullying is any kind of ongoing physical or verbal mistreatment where there is unequal power between two or more people, such as bigger children picking on smaller ones or bullying a child who is thought to be different. It occurs when a child purposely and repeatedly holds power over another with the intent of hurting another.
Who are the children who bully others?
Children who bully typically have a need to feel powerful and in control. They get enjoyment from hurting others and making them suffer. They have little compassion for those they bully, and often defend their actions by saying that their victims "made" them act as they did.
Bullies often (but not always) come from homes where physical punishment is used, children are taught to fight back physically, and parental involvement and warmth are missing. They may come from homes where there are family financial and other problems. These children may be depressed or angry or upset about events at school or home. Bullying may also be modeled by other children; children often repeat the behaviors they witness.
Children who bully appear to have little anxiety and a strong self-esteem. They work through fear and manipulation, intimidating others by threatening to harm them, calling them names if the victim tells anybody what is occurring.
Which children are likely to be bullied?
Bullies tend to pick on those who are quiet and sensitive or stand out in some way (they're taller or shorter, they wear braces, they're overweight or have a disability). Bullied children often have a hard time defending themselves because they're not confident in their physical abilities and strength. Children who are irritating and annoying and who seek negative attention from their peers also tend to get picked on.
Children who are bullied usually have few friends to help defend them in a bullying situation. (The friends they do have may be afraid to step in for fear of being targeted as well.) They tend to be close to their parents, who may be overprotective. A child who is bullied is often ashamed or afraid to tell an adult about the bullying. Many bullied children think that adults will not help them and that telling on the bully will only bring more harm.
Bullying in preschool
Bullying behavior can be seen as early as preschool. Preschool-age children may bully others to get attention, show off, or get what they want (toys, clothing, playground equipment). They might be jealous of the children they are bullying. They may also be getting bullied themselves. When preschoolers begin to call people names or use unkind words, intervene immediately and consistently to teach acceptable behavior.
Bullying in elementary/infants/junior school
Younger children are bullied more often than older children. University of Michigan researchers found that 8-year-old children who had been identified as bullies in their schools were often bullies for the rest of their lives.
Children usually bully because they are being bullied or want to show off. They may also bully because they're angry or upset or bored.
In kindergarten, children learn the power of exclusion. It may be common to hear things like, "She's not my friend and can't come to my birthday party." Adults might respond, "You don't have to be her friend right now, but it is not okay to hurt her feelings by telling her she can't come to your party." In early elementary grades, cliques may contribute to cruel behavior, and children may be cruel to one another. Children need to hear such things as, "It's not okay for you to treat others that way."
Bullying in adolescence
Many teens tease their peers to go along with the crowd but feel uncomfortable doing so. Those who report bullying others often state that they are themselves bullied. In the U.S., approximately 1.6 million children in grades 6 through 10 are bullied at least once a week. When made fun of, rejected or bullied, some teens turn to violence.
In early adolescence, especially in the sixth grade, when students are trying to fit in with others, there's an increase in teasing and bullying. Once peer groups have formed, many bullying behaviors go away. Bullying is most frequent and most severe in middle school, and declines in high school. Youth who bully are typically popular up to the ages of 14 or 15; however, when such bullies reach their late teens, their popularity typically declines.
What are the consequences of bullying?
Being bullied can have such serious short-term effects as depression, withdrawal from friends and family and declining school performance, including not wanting to go to school at all. Long-term effects may interfere with children's social, academic, and emotional development. In extreme cases, victims may be so upset that they are suicidal. The sooner the bullying is stopped, the better the long-term outcome for those who are bullied.
Children who bully tend to become aggressive adults who stand a much higher chance than non-bullies of racking up multiple criminal convictions.
Bullying may cause anxiety in bystanders. Children who observe violent behavior and see that the bully is not punished will be more likely to use aggression in the future.
What can parents do to help bully-proof their children?
When should an adult intervene?
If you observe a child being bullied, watch to see whether the child is able to handle the situation herself. Then talk to the victim and commend her for handling the situation well. You may also want to talk to the bully to express to him that his behavior was inappropriate.
However, if the victim is not able to handle the situation alone, intervene. Depending on the situation, you may want to discuss the bully's action with his parents or a school official or both.
What can we do to help our child if he/she bullies others?
Although we don't like to think that our child could be a bully, we must face reality if it happens. Here are some suggestions for parents and caregivers responsible for a child who is bullying others.
Bullying is a serious problem that can drastically affect the ability of children to progress academically, emotionally, and socially. Children who bully or are bullied often need intensive support and intervention. An intervention program that involves all--students, parents and school staff--ensures that all children can learn to cooperate in a safe and fear-free environment. When everyone works together to discourage bullying and responds to incidents, the surroundings become more positive, and everyone feels safer.
A fact sheet from About Our Kids: www.aboutourkids.org/articles/bullies.html
University of Nebraska-Lincoln (fact sheet): www.ianr.unl.edu/pubs/family/nf309.htm
The authors are grateful to the following colleagues for their contributions and suggestions.
Dede Baker Director of the Child Development Center, MSU - Bozeman
Rae Lynn Benson Lincoln County Extension Agent
Janis Bullock Associate Professor, Montana State University - Bozeman
Cameron Clark Madison/Jefferson County Extension Agent
Sheila Fredrich Sheridan County Extension Agent
Wes Gibbs Judith Basin County Extension Agent
Phyllis Hansen Yellowstone County Expanded Nutrition Education Program
Steve Hutton Pondera County Extension Agent
Harold Johns Silver Bow County Extension Agent
Sandra Osborne Associate Professor, Montana State University - Bozeman
Bobbie Roos Daniels County Extension Agent
Jane Wolery Choteau County Extension Agent
Additional resources for UK readers
My sincere thanks to Jolene Huston, Family and Consumer Sciences, Montana State University, and Sandra J. Bailey, Extension Family and Human Development Specialist, and to the MSU Extension Service, for allowing me to recreate this article. Their copyright is acknowledged and retained.
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DISCLAIMER: This information is not presented by a medical practitioner and is for educational and informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read.|
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