Bullying is an all too common issue among school-aged children. We, as parents, are often ill prepared to recognize and intervene when faced with bullying in our own children, whether they are being bullied or the one doing the bullying.
Bullying can have many different facets. It can be physical with hitting, kicking, pinching or spitting. It can be verbal with teasing, taunting or threats. It can also be social with spreading rumors, leaving someone out on purpose or embarrassing someone in public.
With social media, social bullying is much more prevalent and easy to accomplish. According to stopbullying.gov, 20 percent of school-aged children report being bullied. Unfortunately, there are likely many more kids who may not report bullying out of fear or simply because they view bullying as a “normal” part of their lives at school.
Is my child being bullied?
Victims of bullying often are viewed as different among their peers. Bullies tend to find kids they perceive as weak or with low self-esteem. But kids don’t have to fall into these typical categories to be bullied. Sometimes the bully views the victim as a threat and thus wants to be in control.
Look for these warning signs that your child is being bullied:
- Physical injuries
- Missing or damaged belongings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor school performance
- Decreased self-esteem
- Negative self-talk
- Frequent excuses for missing school
Is my child a bully?
The other side of this equation is being able to recognize when your child is the bully. We often don’t want to see this in our children and may refuse to accept it. If you see that your child constantly needs to be in charge or dominate their peers, this can be a warning sign. Also look for children who are aggressive, easily frustrated or talk negatively about others.
Look for these warnings signs that your child is a bully:
- Frequently getting into fights at school and/or home
- Getting sent to the principal’s office often
- Blaming others for their problems
- Aggressive behavior
The root of the issue
For both the bully and the victim of bullying, self-esteem can be a core issue. Feeling the need to control others implies feeling out of control in some aspect. The key to addressing your child and their role in bullying is open communication. Try not to immediately react severely to the child who is bullying but rather try to get to the root of the issue. Most children don’t have an innate tendency to be mean to others.
On either side of this issue, encourage your child to make a list of the things they like about themselves and review it often. Building confidence starts with feeling you are good at something. Impart that not everyone has to be the same or enjoy the same things. Embrace and celebrate being different.
When your child is a victim of bullying, give him or her the tools to mitigate the problems. Encourage them to walk away from a bully, tell an adult immediately and resist the temptation to retaliate against bad behavior.
Knowing when to step in as a parent is important as well. Bullying can quickly get out of hand. Keep open communication with school administrators and know their stance on how they handle bullying in and out of school. Be careful of labeling another child a bully. In approaching another parent about a child’s bullying behavior, being kind but direct can go a long way in conflict resolution.
Even if your child isn’t involved in a bullying conflict, it’s imperative for parents to discuss the issue. Every child should be encouraged to stand up against bullying when it is witnessed. I’m reminded of the quote: “What is cool isn’t always right and what is right isn’t always cool.” Promote strength of character in your children and encourage them to help others by standing up and telling an adult any time they see bullying behaviors.
Dr. Erica Faulconer is native to Oklahoma City, a wife, mom of three beautiful children and pediatrician at Northwest Pediatrics. She received her bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Oklahoma State University, completed medical training at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and spent her residency in pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, completing her training in 2013.
Editor’s note: This column is the fifth in a year-long series on family mental wellness, written by local experts on topics pertinent to parents and children. Columnists include Dr. Faulconer, Thai-An Truong, LPC, LADC, in private practice as a postpartum therapist and mom of two; Stacey Johnson, LPC, (@staceyjohnsonlife) in private practice at The Purple Couch and mom of eight; Jeanae Neal, registered behavior therapist and mom of one, and Dr. Lisa Marotta, a psychologist, writer, speaker and mom in private practice in Edmond.