Most readers when the word bully comes up visualize a stronger bigger male child tormenting a smaller child frequently with glasses or some other physical problem. However, some basic facts about bullying let us know that this is profiling in every sense. Bullies can be both girls and boys. A child can be both the bully and the victim. Bullies target children who cry, get mad or easily give in to them.
Bullying occurs when there is an imbalance of power. Usually, the children who are bullied are weaker or smaller, are shy or feel helpless. Other children at high risk of being bullied are those with disabilities or other special needs or those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
There are three types of bullying which are physical such as hitting, kicking, and choking; verbal such as threatening, teasing, hate speech or social such as excluding their victims from activities or starting rumors about them. We tend to think of bullying happening at school but it can happen anywhere adults are not watching such as playground and on the ever-present electronic devices.
Nobody wants their child to be bullied and there are a lot of suggestions about how to teach a child to cope with these difficult situations such as looking the bully in the eye, standing tall, staying calm, and walking away. Most important is not to respond to electronic messages and to cut off communications with those who are sending unwanted messages. Children also need reassurance that it is OK to ask an adult for help and to show them disturbing texts.
Many of these social skills don’t come naturally and need practice. They can practice these skills in adult-supervised groups such as sports, music groups, and social clubs. School officials should be alerted to know where and when bullying happens so they can help with teaching about what bullying is and plan how to prevent it from happening again.
Everyone wants to protect the bullied child but the bully also needs to have help. Bullying is a learned behavior. There is evidence that bullies continue to have problems which frequently get worse. As adults they tend to be less successful in work and with adult relationships. They have an increase in antisocial behaviors and may have trouble with the law.
Parents who find their child is a bully can help their child understand what bullying is and why it is a problem, how it hurts other children and is never OK. All children can learn to treat others with respect. When disciplining use nonphysical discipline such as loss of privileges. Parents can talk to the school personnel to find positive ways to stop bullying. Parents should supervise their time on line and monitor which sites they are visiting. It is strongly recommended that a parent requires them to “friend you” on social media and to share their passwords with you. Always consider asking for help from school personnel, a counselor or your doctor.
by Sally Robinson, MD Clinical Professor
Keeping Kids Healthy
Published August 2023