By Linda Gilden
Autumn was going down the steps one morning before school, looking for her friend. She heard footsteps. Hoping to see her friend, Autumn turned to come face-to-face with the class bully. Without giving Autumn time to move, Heather ran straight into Autumn. Autumn’s feet went up into the air and her head hit the concrete floor with a thud. The resulting concussion affected her life and activities for almost a year. By the way, Autumn was only 7 years old.
Autumn is not alone. According to nobullying.com,
7 out of 10 children face bullies in some way at some time. When a child is bullied, the whole family is affected.
What’s a parent to do?
Parents need to understand what bullying is to help their children understand. The stopbullying.gov website says bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” If children understand bullying, they can identify it. If they have tools to counter it, they can stand up for themselves.
In the past, the bully stereotype was the big, bad boy in class who physically threatened everyone to do his bidding. But these days bullying has expanded to include not only physical bullying but verbal, emotional, social, and cyber bullying.
“Bullying is about control,” said Seth Buckley, a student minister in South Carolina. “Often the bully does not have control at home and can’t control his or her own emotions. So he or she looks for someone who can be controlled.”
Many children endure physical advances from others. Autumn’s experience was not limited to the one incident. Heather had pinched, pushed, and verbally ridiculed Autumn for almost a year before intentionally knocking her down the stairs. Bullies also kick, break other people’s stuff, or make hurtful hand gestures.
Many bullies look for ways to harass their victims unnoticed—in a lunchroom line, in the bathroom, or during gym time when the teacher is not looking.
Verbal & Emotional Bullying
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This childhood chant sounds good but is not true. Words can hurt deeply and leave emotional scars that may never completely heal.
When children or teenagers want to hurt their peers, often they resort to words—teasing, taunting, threatening, name-calling, or inappropriate sexual remarks. They do this in front of their friends and the hurt is multiplied.
Gretchen and Patrice were trying out for the same part in a school play. With tryouts a week away, both girls spent extra time practicing lines. Competition was strong. Gretchen tried many ways to distract Patrice. She teased and talked ugly about Patrice to their friends. Gretchen even asked a mutual friend at the newspaper where Patrice worked to give Patrice extra assignments for the days leading up to tryouts. These things exhausted Patrice and made her feel uncomfortable.
Social or relational bullying involves hurting someone’s reputation or damaging relationships. Methods include intentionally embarrassing someone in public, excluding, or spreading rumors. Social bullying is sometimes the most public of all bullying methods.
Everyone wants to be liked. Social bullies know public shame hurts in a way that may never be forgotten. The resulting low self-esteem feels insurmountable.
Bullying does not end at school. With the fast-moving wave of technology, opportunities abound to bully in cyberspace. Comments on social media can be anonymous and become viral in a matter of minutes. Parents should know who their children chat with online and what sites they are visiting.
Texting can also be a form of humiliation. For example, an embarrassing photo can be quickly sent far and wide to belittle a teenage classmate.
Here are some important things to do to prevent or address bullying:
DO keep the lines of communication open.
If your children feel comfortable talking with you, they will come to you when a problem arises. Parents need to know their child’s personality, friends, and normal demeanor to give them a base to determine if there is a problem. Try to have conversations every day that will give you a glimpse into your child’s life. If you don’t know where to start, ask questions such as: What did you do at school? Who did you eat lunch with? Listen to the answers. Don’t expect your child to automatically open up if you are not used to having detailed conversations. However, don’t ask questions every day as if it is an interview. Be creative in starting conversations to keep communication growing.
DO build your children’s self-esteem.
Emphasize their strengths and teach them how to operate in those. Find extracurricular activities where your children can excel. This helps them find friends with similar interests.
DO have positive, fun family times.
Play games, go on hikes or road trips together, start a family project. This strengthens your child’s safety net.
DO encourage them to seek help if they are ever bullied.
Many children think if they tell someone that another child is bullying them, they will get in trouble and be labeled a tattletale. Explain to your children that tattling is when you tell something for the purpose of getting someone else in trouble. Telling an adult what is going on because you need help is not tattling.
And here are some things to avoid:
DON’T always rescue your children from every difficult situation.
Children need to learn how to respond to those who are unkind to them. Sometimes being kind can stop mean behavior. Go over with your children ways to respond to unkind words from friends and also to mean practices from a bully. Role-play and talk through situations.
DON’T allow a bullying situation to go on and on.
Pray for wisdom to know when to step in.
DON’T go it alone.
If your child is being bullied at school, enlist the help of school administrators and teachers. If bullying happens at an activity, talk to the activity director. At church (yes, it happens) talk to a minister. Ask your friends to pray for you, your child, and the bully. No child should feel unsafe.
DON’T forget to encourage the Golden Rule.
“Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
Even if the bully is physically out of the picture, your child will have to heal emotionally and mentally. In severe situations, you may need to seek professional help to completely heal.
Autumn, now age 10, said, “Be patient with your child if he or she has been bullied. Even if the bullying issue has been resolved it will take your child a long time to get rid of the ‘bully-leash.’ The bully-leash, (anger, withdrawal, sadness, depression) will hold your child’s mind and emotions until his or her confidence is restored.”
Linda Gilden is a freelance writer living in South Carolina who enjoys spending time with family and friends.
Signs of Bullying
Loss of appetite
Headaches and stomachaches
Change in attitude
Doesn’t want to go to school but won’t say why