Ask the Experts: Bullies
What's the best way to deal with bullies and how to prevent your child from becoming a bully?
To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.
Dr. Anne K. Jacobs:
Bullying involves a power imbalance exploited over time through acts of relational (rumors, exclusion) or physical (hitting, kicking) aggression. The majority of children are not frequently involved as the bully or the victim but as bystanders. These bystanders are another crucial part of decreasing bullying. They provide an audience for the bully who will assume their passiveness is support. In addition to teaching our children social problem-solving skills and building empathy, we need to equip them to intervene on behalf of others. These strategies include reaching out and comforting the victim after the incident, telling an adult, using distraction or humor to diffuse the situation or speaking up in the moment.
If you suspect your child is bullying others, supervise them as they interact with others. Increasing adult supervision is key. Do they need to learn anger management skills or ways to play without resorting to manipulation? Are they struggling with impulsivity? If you are concerned about your child's behavior, do not hesitate to reach out for a consultation with a therapist or psychologist experienced with bullying.
Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas.
Adam Zodrow: My best advice to parents actually comes less from my fatherly experience and more from how I saw my own parents deal with the issue when I was a kid. My Mom and Dad were “visible.” They went out of their way to be involved with the families in our neighborhood. Now, I know that it isn’t always possible. Lives get busy and it’s hard to have meaningful relationships with the parents of every kid in your neighborhood. My hope is that as our boys get older, my wife and I will be able to at least darken the door, once or twice, of the homes of the kids our boys play with. That way, if and when a neighborhood friendship goes south, we already have a relationship with the family.
Adam is a writer and content strategist for Traction Marketing, here in OKC. He also travels as a National Teacher Consultant for Catapult Learning, serving schools all over the world. Adam spent 11 years working in public schools as a classroom teacher, administrator and library/media specialist. He and his wife Lindsay own Collected Thread in the Plaza, and are the proud parents of Noah (4) and Finn (1).
Madison Clark: As a society, I think we throw the term “bully” around too freely. Bullying means that one child is specifically targeting another child with the intent to cause harm or embarrassment. As a mental health professional who works with young children, I see the precursor to bullying behaviors as kids develop in early childhood including unchecked and targeted aggression, underdeveloped play skills, name-calling and difficulty playing with others. I also see the development of victims who are often targeted by bullies later in life. While bullies usually get the spotlight and are noticed quickly by adults, victims are often the ones who are overlooked. We need to teach them how to be assertive early on in life. Encourage your children to use their big voices and express themselves if they do not like how a peer is treating them. A great 10-minute video by Dr. Becky Bailey can be found for free online: How to Make a Bully (From Scratch). It does an excellent job of describing the development of bullying and victim behaviors from birth.
Madison Clark is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist in private practice in Norman. She specializes in working with families with young children, ages 0-6. She has extensive training in play therapy and enjoys watching parents connect with their children through play.
Heather Pike: Children with special needs can have an increased risk for being a target for bullying. It’s so important to help all children understand what bullying is and to know they have a safe place to share if they feel they, or someone they know, are being bullied. Some of this can be prevented by creating a safe environment and building valuable peer relationships. Find activities your child enjoys and get them involved in the community. This will help foster those relationships, develop confidence and build upon creating a safe environment. We must model the behavior we expect of all children and teach acceptance of differences and respect for each other. StopBullying.gov has some valuable resources and tips.
Heather Pike is the administrative director of the Oklahoma Family Network, a statewide non-profit organization connecting families who have children with special health care needs to other families and supports in their community. She and her husband, have been blessed with two amazing adult children, one of which has special health care needs. She is passionate about encouraging other families to never lose hope.
Nichole Mentzer: I believe empowering our children to be self-aware and confident is the first step to dealing with bullies. I also think teaching empathy is important. Help your kids understand that bullies are often having a hard time too. Helping kids look outside themselves can help alleviate the situation and provide a different perspective to the problem.
Nichole Mentzer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) accepting clients for individual, couples and family therapy. She is passionate in helping women reach their full potential and assisting growing families in achieving a place of peace and gratitude. Nichole primarily practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Strengths Perspective and Trauma Focused therapies. As a mother of a spirited child, she has come to fully appreciate the transformative experiences birth and motherhood has to offer. Nichole enjoys traveling and finding gratitude in the small moments in life.
Greg Gunn: We all agree that bullying comes in several forms: verbal, physical, social and electronic. It goes well beyond the usual horseplay or kidding among friends It is abuse perpetrated by peers involving ongoing aggressive behavior that is intended to cause harm or distress in a relationship where there is an imbalance of power.
We, as adults, must be aware of this behavior. Kids often are reluctant to come forward for fear of retaliation and embarrassment. Starting at a young age, keep communication open and assure them they can tell you anything. Ask questions that express your interest and concern in their lives to keep a dialogue with them. If you see an indication of behavior out of the norm, such as injuries, torn or damaged clothes or anxiety about going out to play, ask questions and get to know the kids. If you see bullying, step in and make it known that the behavior is unacceptable.
Children take their cues from their family. Having an atmosphere of respect and kindness in the house is a good start to prevent your children from being a bully. They need to see people with feelings just like them and teach them by example. Harsh, unthoughtful words inside the family could lead to a child being insensitive to others and increase the need to perpetrate power over others.
Greg Gunn, founder of Family-iD, is a life coach, pastor, author and speaker from Oklahoma City. Married for 30 years, Greg is a father of seven kids, a father-in-law and a grandfather of two. For 17 years, Greg has led Family Vision Ministries, a ministry that helps families put their purpose on paper and pass it on to future generations.
Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: Bystanders are an often-forgotten group in the dynamic of neighborhood bullies. Do you remember Horton from “Horton Hears a Who?” It takes moral courage and persistence to move from inactivity to action. Passive bystanders are at risk for increased depression, anxiety and avoidance. Even adults admit to feeling conflicted about how to handle a bullying situation among adults. Here are the skills to help you empower your child (and yourself) when you observe bullying:
- Recognize the uncomfortable feeling you have in your gut when something “feels wrong” to you personally.
- Define the problem by affirming your own feeling.
- Seek out at least one other person who is in the crowd who is not actively participating in the bullying behavior.
- Ask that person if they are offended or uncomfortable and enlist their support. You are gathering moral courage in partnering with someone else.
- Do the next right thing. Together you can begin to develop a plan.
By teaching your child to check with their internal compass and partner with someone to do the next right thing, you are giving them a life skill that will help them resolve many complicated social situations. Be proud of yourself. Raise a Horton.
Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughters.
Trudy Ruminer: Although there are no full proof ways to ensure that your child will never bully others or be affected by any form of bullying in their neighborhood or elsewhere; there are some preventative measures to consider:
Modeling healthy, non-violent communication and behaviors is paramount. When you are with your child and observe a bullying example take advantage of the opportunity to talk about what is happening. Ask them how they think the other person is feeling if they observe someone being treated poorly. Model safe, healthy, appropriate intervention whether that be speaking up assertively (if can be done safely), calling the police, enlisting the help of another adult, or putting a safe distance between the victim and the perpetrator.
Many children do not report bullying for fear of making things worse for themselves therefore, be informed about possible warning signs that your child may be at risk and help them understand the importance of talking to a trusted adult. Partnering with others in your community to prevent bullying may also be necessary. Better yet, enlist your child’s help in setting up a neighborhood bully watch. This could be a wonderful way to teach them to stand up for themselves and others, improve self- esteem, and teach them assertiveness skills that will benefit them for a life time.
Consider setting up a buddy system so that your child is never walking or playing alone. Enroll your child in a self-defense class and /or a course on assertiveness if need be. Look for classes that are heavy on teaching nonviolent strategies first and using “self-defense skills” only as a last resort.
For more information on this topic go to: Stopbullying.gov or vetoviolence.cdc.gov. You may also want to read: The Bully, The Bullied and the not so innocent by-stander-From pre-school to high school how parents and teachers can help break the cycle by: Barbara Coloroso.
Trudy Ruminer is a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical director and owner of True North Therapeutic Solutions, an outpatient mental health agency in Oklahoma City and the owner of the outpatient mental health agency-Purposeful Play Family enrichment Center (PPFEC). Trudy is mother to four adult children and the proud grandmother to one. She draws her knowledge not only from her own personal parenting experiences, but also from her years of experience working closely with families.
To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.