One girl refused to go to youth group on Wednesday nights anymore because she felt the other girls purposefully excluded her. A mom watched as an older boy walked by right in front her at a community dinner, stealing food from her son's plate and walking on by as if nothing had happened. A dad walked in on a group of teenagers mocking his son's Eagle Scout project because it was artistic. A girl with physical challenges fell off the stoop in front of the school after being shoved by a another child who often laughed at her.
Bullying runs the full continuum, whether it is hateful mocking, peers ganging up against an individual, threats of violence or actual physical aggression. Those who experience being bullied may be physically hurt, or experience emotional responses that include sadness, fear, isolation, helplessness, hopelessness, discomfort, anxiety or depression. The individual may be afraid to go to school, or no longer enjoy favorite activities that he or she was excited about before the bullying began.
There are three main kinds of bullying
that are all too common in schools. Physical bullying includes hitting, kicking, pushing, stealing or messing with someone's belongings. Verbal bullying includes teasing, insults, bad words, foul language or calling someone names. Relational bullying includes lying about someone, spreading rumors, refusing to talk to someone, getting others to exclude them or forcing someone to do what he or she does not want to do.
While no one likes a bully, perceiving oneself as a victim isn't healthy, either. It is important to teach confidence and assertiveness to children along with real life lessons such as:
Things don't always go our way.
Some people are more rough or brash than others.
Not everyone plays nice.
We still have to get along with people we don't initially like.
However, teaching kids real life lessons as a healthy part of growing up does not mean that bullying is acceptable or normal. The impact of bullying can be far more severe than what it seems externally in the moment, and not just for the one targeted. Kids who bully may feel insecure, not know what is acceptable or struggle with managing emotions like anger, hurt and frustration. They may be seeking power to help cope with other personal struggles behind the scenes. The bully may need as much help as the one being targeted, and that's one more reason that bullying must be stopped.
Model kindness and respect
More often than not, kids interact with others in a way that mirrors what they have seen from adult interaction. It is good to teach kindness and respect and tolerance, but it is better to live it. One set of parents signed their family up for a sign language class when a Deaf child moved in down the street. Another family visited the weekly service with a neighbor of a different religion.
Be involved in your child's social life
Participating in your child's activities is the best way to know who they know and be aware of the type of interactions they are experiencing. You can't intervene if you don't know what's going on, and your child will think you don't have a right to intervene if you haven't been there to experience what they are dealing with daily. One mom noticed mean girl drama happening on the cheer team, so volunteered to be one of the drivers for competitions so that she could at least help keep the peace with those traveling with her daughter. A dad signed up to help with church dances to help give his shy daughter confidence and courage, both of which helped keep the mean girls in their own corner.
Shout out some kudos
Kids are learning so much so fast and have plenty of adults pointing out their errors and correcting what they do wrong. Few adults take the time to brag on what they do right. Giving positive attention lessens the need for acting out just to get any attention. One dad brought colleagues from work to see his son's artwork in a show celebrating diversity in culture. A mom took her daughter for a surprise spa day after she volunteered her weekend for some dirty cleanup after a tornado.
Bullying must be taken seriously
Aggressive behavior at the expense of others, whether direct or indirect, should not be tolerated at school or in the home. Punishment for aggressive behavior should match the behavior itself. One mother took away laptop privileges when she learned her daughter was being cruel online to another girl from school. One father pulled his son from the team when he found out his son's locker room jokes had gone too far.
Talk about it
Most of us can think of a time we wish we would have treated someone better. Learning from these experiences will help us really do so. Many kids have witnessed or experienced bullying at school, during activities or in the neighborhood. When any of us notice bullying, we need to call it out for what it is and do something to intervene. Programs like Safe to Talk can be implemented so that students can report bullying without fear of retaliation. Each incident of bullying should be recorded by the student or parent with a copy given to the school. It's important for all of us - parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and kids - to put a stop to bullying.