BullyingOct 18, 2023
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Today on Become A Calm Mama, we’re diving deep into the topic of bullying. Bullying can be a difficult and painful experience for kids and parents alike.
None of us want our kids to be the bully, and we also don’t want them to be bullied.
Today, I’ll describe what bullying actually is (and what it is not) and help you learn to spot the risk factors and signs that your kid is being bullied or that your kid is doing the bullying. And, of course, I’ll help you figure out what to do about it if you find your kid in either situation.
What Is Bullying?
StopBullying.gov explains bullying as unwanted and aggressive behavior among school age children, middle schoolers and teenagers that also involves a real or perceived power imbalance.
There are really three parts to bullying: the behavior being unwanted, the imbalance of power and repetition of the behavior.
We know how to recognize when a behavior is unwanted. The kid being bullied doesn’t like it. They ask the other person to stop or try to get away from the behavior.
The imbalance of power is a little trickier. It can be physical strength, access to embarrassing information or social status. Some of these are easy to see, while others are not obvious. Whatever the advantage, it is then used to control or harm someone else.
The power dynamic is also not permanent. Kids go through growth spurts, social circles change and it can be different from one setting to another.
Repetition tells us that bullying is not a one-off thing. It has the potential to happen more than once, because the other person is vulnerable in some way. In order to stop the bullying, we need to change something about the circumstance.
4 Types of Bullying
Within this definition, there are four main types of bullying .
Verbal Bullying involves saying or writing mean things. Teasing can become bullying if it’s paired with an imbalance of power and repetition. Name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting and threats are all examples of verbal bullying.
Social Bullying or relational bullying involves hurting someone's reputation or relationships. This can look like intentionally leaving one kid out, telling other kids not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors, calling attention to differences or embarrassing someone.
Physical Bullying involves hurting someone’s body or their things - hitting, kicking, punching, spitting, taking or breaking someone’s things, making mean hand gestures, etc.
Cyberbullying is any type of bullying that happens digitally on phones, computers, texts, social media or other devices or online forums. Cyberbullying is really hard to get away from and can be even more persistent than other types. It’s a 24-hour a day risk. It’s also more permanent because there is a digital footprint. These, combined with the fact that we often aren’t seeing it happen makes cyberbullying especially scary for parents because it feels harder to protect our kids.
Early Childhood and Bullying
At some point both of my kids were accused of bullying other kids. I also see this come up with my clients, especially when their kids are younger.
Around preschool, ages 3 through 5 or 6, we often start to hear about bullying. But that’s not actually what is happening in most cases.
At this age, kids are learning how to cooperate and share. They're learning how to understand their feelings. And in that process, they might be aggressive or act out and get angry when they don't get what they want.
But that is not bullying. It is normal developmental stuff.
Our challenge here is to continue teaching them how to manage their emotions and how their behavior impacts others so that we prevent them from becoming bullies later on.
We don’t ignore the behavior, but we also don’t need to start labeling them. Instead, help them regulate their emotions, set boundaries around what’s allowed at school or home and let them deal with the impact of their behavior.
Children At Risk of Being Bullied
Unfortunately, kids who seem different from their peers are a bit at risk. Perceived differences like being new to the school, looking different or not dressing the same as their peer group can create a risk factor.
However, kids who are really confident in the way that they’re different are a lot less at risk because they aren’t perceived as weak or vulnerable.
So it’s really a combination of factors that put a kid at risk, including perceived difference, not defending themselves, low self esteem or inability to read social cues.
The solution is not changing the way kids look to help them fit in. The real solution is helping them to love themselves and feel good about who they are and how they show up in the world…whatever that looks like for them. That confidence is almost like a shield against being bullied. And if they do experience some bullying behavior, being able to stand up for themselves is likely to shut that behavior down.
Children More Likely to Bully Others
There are typically two scenarios in which kids participate in bullying behavior.
The first is a kid who has a lot of social power and wants to keep it that way. At the core, this child doesn’t feel secure in their social standing, so they push others down in order to protect their position. This looks like a popular kid who is bullying.
On the other end of the spectrum is a kid who feels very isolated from their peers. This child has likely already experienced some bullying themselves and has felt separate from their peer group. They might struggle with anxiety, low self esteem and be less involved in school and other activities. They‘re trying to show that they don’t care about being left out by being mean and trying to get some power over others.
Some of the signs that your kid might be bullying others are that they are aggressive or easily frustrated. They may take that anger and dump it onto another kid. Or they might hold it inside, which leads to poor self esteem.
Kids who don’t know how to handle their big feelings might put down other kids, not follow rules or think the rules don’t apply to them.
Bullying is often an emotional regulation problem. They don’t know what to do with their anger and frustration. Bullying isn’t a character defect. It’s a sign that the child is struggling.
Signs a Child Is Being Bullied
On their own, many of the signs on this list are normal kid behavior. If you’re seeing several signs grouped together, though, it might indicate that your child is experiencing bullying.
- Loss of friends or avoiding social situations
- Frequent headaches, stomachaches, feeling sick or faking illness (anxiety showing up in the body)
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares or night waking
- Declining grades of lack of interest in schoolwork
- Not wanting to go to school, sports or other activities
These types of insecure behavior might point to social bullying.
You might also notice signs of physical bullying, like:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Destroyed clothing
- Lost or damaged books, jewelry, electronics or other items
Tips for Dealing With Bullying
If you notice some of these signs or feel in your intuition like something is off, the first step is just to be curious and wonder what could be going on. Then, you can try some of the tips below.
Talk about bullying with your kid
Let them know that bullying happens sometimes. Talk about what to do if they see it and how they can help a kid who is being bullied.
One way is to walk over next to the person who’s being bullied and say something like, “I’ve been looking for you. Come over with me.” or “The teacher sent me to find you. Come with me.”
And they don’t have to go it alone. A bystander can gather a group of kids to walk over, say, “You’re being mean. We don’t like this,” and all walk away together. Of course, they can also ask a teacher or parent for help.
Practice responding to bullying
Talk about what would happen if they were the one being bullied. What would they do? What would they say? It can be as simple as saying, “I don’t wanna talk to you right now,” and walking away.
Not engaging or showing emotion is the best way to respond, because the person who is bullying is looking for a reaction (which only fuels the situation further). Have your kid practice staying calm, looking you in the eye and saying what they’d say.
Teach your child respectful self-assertion
You can also teach your child that they can be assertive and stand up for themself. They don’t have to always be nice. Teach them to say, “Hey, stop that,” or “Hands off my body” or “I don’t like being called that.”
Teach your child basic social skills
Kids who bully often prey on kids who are perceived as vulnerable. We want to teach them lots of social skills, which will give them more confidence.
You can role play and practice lots of scenarios. If you see a group playing and want to join in, how do you ask? How do you want to introduce yourself to new kids at a party? How do you want to invite a friend over to play?
If your kid is being bullied
Go to the supervising adult in the situation, like their teacher or coach. Talk about what’s happening, how you can protect your child and separate from the other kid until everybody is safe.
Ultimately, there are a few things that can make a huge difference when it comes to bullying: Your child having a good relationship with themself, a good relationship with you and emotional regulation skills.
Help your child develop a positive self concept (the collection of thoughts they have about themself). Use Kind External Parent Talk (KEPT) to offer them thoughts like, I am strong, I am capable, People like me. I belong.
Nurture a good relationship with your child so that they feel safe enough to share with you what's happening.
Teach your kid emotional regulation skills. My programs are designed around raising emotionally healthy kids of all ages. When a child feels good about themself and can see the impact their behavior has on others, they’re much less likely to bully. We’re inoculating our kids and boosting them from the inside out so they don’t fall into the traps of being bullied or bullying others.
- 4 types of bullying and what they look like
- Why I don’t like the terms “bully” or “victim” for kids who are bullying or being bullied
- The role of the bystander in a bullying situation
- Why your kid might not want to talk to you about it if they’re being bullied
- 5 tips for dealing with bullying
- The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to HighSchool--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle (Updated Edition) by Barbara Coloroso
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