By Colleen Brady, Health Educator
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Several weeks ago, the United States Department of Education convened the first ever “Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit,” bringing together public and private sector organizations to develop an informed plan for preventing and responding to bullying in schools. This gathering came in reaction to several recent high profile incidents of kids who committed suicide after being targets of persistent bullying. We are glad the Department of Education is taking this issue seriously. But it isn’t only up to the schools to protect our children; parents need to step up as well.
In the “olden days,” a bully was pretty easy to spot. It was the big kid on the playground who intimidated classmates and shook them down for their lunch money. While physical aggression still exists, today bullying is usually more subtle and psychological. Bullying is humiliation, name-calling, spreading rumors, and isolating someone socially, including harassment via e-mail, texting, Facebook and instant messaging. And it should never be considered “a normal part of growing up.”
Often, parents are aware when their child has been the target of this behavior, but they are less likely to recognize or intervene when their daughter or son is the one being the aggressor. The “not my child” mind-set is so prevalent in this country. But it is important for us as parents to take off our blinders and be alert to signs that our child might be behaving in a hurtful and cruel way toward another child.
We want our kids to be popular, to be on top, to succeed – right? But at what cost? Some children use bullying as a means of demanding attention and exerting power in their climb to be the queen bee or the kingpin.
How do you know if your own child is a bully? You may hear about this from other parents or from a teacher. But you should also keep an eye and ear out for red flags, like:
- Shows disrespect for others – talking negatively about them or calling them names
- Is the dominant force among friends, the one who decides what they do and where they go
- Blames others for his/her problems
- Hangs around people who are disrespectful or act tough
- Is both a poor winner (boastful, arrogant) and a poor loser
- Shows little empathy for others
- Is hot tempered
- Craves attention
No parent wants to face or acknowledge a truth that is painful. Yet, once you know your child is a bully, it’s hard to ignore the fact. What can you do? Here are some ways you can help your child:
- First, talk frankly with your child and make it clear that bullying is not an acceptable behavior. Reinforce this by setting consequences that matter to the child (for example, no video games or sleepovers).
- Just as important, help your child understand why he or she is behaving in this way. Can she identify what she is seeking? Is he looking for recognition, more status or acceptance? Explore with your child other ways to get the same results, or better ones, without all the negative consequences of bullying.
- Look at what your child needs in order to stop the behavior. We used to think that children who bully have low self-esteem. We now know that isn’t necessarily true. Kids can bully and still think highly of themselves – especially when they receive the power and popularity which result from bullying. We should be teaching kids more self-efficacy, which is the ability to produce their own self-esteem by their actions — in other words, realizing they have a voice and can make a difference.
- Look at your own interactions and relationships. Kids observe and imitate the behavior we model. Are you short tempered? When driving or at sporting events, do you find yourself getting angry and calling other motorists, parents or coaches names? How do you speak to your spouse? Your children?
- Seek help, if needed. If bullying is part of a deeper problem, it will benefit you and your child to see a professional counselor who can help you both better understand what’s going on. Without intervention, bullies are at increased risk for depression, drug use, and antisocial behavior.
Children need to be seen, heard, and respected. They also need to be rooted in a logical world that makes sense, and they need to be taught empathy. When kids bully, they tend not to see their target as a person. Instead, the target becomes less human – like a character in a video game. Empathy puts a face on the target and “levels the playing field.” When we can really see and even know another person, we are less likely to intentionally hurt him or her. Teaching kids empathy helps to lessen the tendency toward bullying, and increases the chances of raising a child with a positive sense of self, one who is more likely to become a well-liked and respected young person.
By Colleen Brady, Health Educator, Jewish Community Services Prevention Services
Questions about parenting? Send an email to email@example.com. To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles, visit www.jcsbaltimore.org or call 410-466-9200. Jewish Community Services is an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.