School violence. The very words send shivers down a parent's spine. Does the phrase school bully evoke the same emotions? It should. As subtle as it may seem, bullying is a form of violence. Experts estimate that almost 75% of today's youth will be involved in some aspect of bullying before they enter high school. And the chances are, your child will be one of the statistics. Long gone is the idea that bullying is a natural process of youth, a coming of age. It is unacceptable behaviour and the long lasting ramifications are far too great to ignore.
Before you can prepare your child for the bully, it is important to understand what constitutes this type of behaviour. Bullying is defined as aggressive behaviour repeatedly targeted at a child of lesser physical or emotional strength. However, although a child might not be the target of a bully, bystanders are also victims.
Bullying behaviour is typically classified in three categories:
1) Physical bullying is physical intimidation, hitting, kicking, pushing, choking, and/or spitting.
2) Verbal bullying is name-calling, threats, taunting, teasing, rumour spreading, and slander.
3) Social bullying is intentional exclusion and isolation from social and peer group activities by manipulation and rumour spreading.
The characteristics of a bully include impulsive, dominating behaviour, a low frustration level, a lack of empathy, a need to be the centre of attention, and unhealthy attitudes towards violence and its consequences. Although many believe insecurity and self-loathing are at the root of a bully's problem, usually the opposite is true. Bullies tend to be over confident. They portray a fearless nature and physical strength, qualities often admired by their peers.
Many factors within a child's environment can contribute to their aggressive behaviour, including family, peers group, neighbourhood, society, and school. Children who bully are more likely to experience violence or neglect in the home and have less supervision and involvement from their parents. Children picked-on by older siblings tend to become bullies themselves. Others see bullying as a means to gain acceptance, friendship, and popularity.
The victim of a bully is typically a child who appears insecure or cautious, a child that rarely defends or retaliates when confronted, and/or a child lacking in social skills or physical strength. Unfortunately, since bullies lack compassion, children with physical disabilities are also prey, and so are overweight children, and those that wear glasses or have a speech impediment. However, any child can be the victim of a bully. Bullies will also challenge popular children in attempt to gain more popularity. Sometimes it is just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The bully needs an audience. Therefore, bulling primarily occurs on school grounds and is played out in front of a group. Lunchrooms, playgrounds, hallways, locker rooms, and bathrooms are prime areas for confrontation.
The elements of confrontation include the leader (bully), the followers, the victim, and the bystanders. Research shows that over 75% of school children will be involved in some aspect of bullying before they reach high school, playing at least one, if not more of these roles.
The consequences of bullying are many. Children will go to great lengths to avoid being the victim of a bully. If they are not prepared in a positive way, they will naturally resort to negative ways of coping such as cutting class, feigning illness, poor grades, and social withdrawal. For a child repeatedly victimized by a bully, humiliation, fear, anxiety, and depression are constant companions that can lead to harmful, shocking, and unexpected behaviour from an otherwise shy and timid child.
Victims may feel ashamed and tend to view themselves as failures. They are more prone to stress related illnesses such as headaches and stomach aches. In extreme cases, the victim of a bully can experience severe depression and entertain thoughts of suicide.
Lack of safety is a top concern to young people, and bullying is a real and constant threat. When a child's sense of security is compromised, the child usually responds by taking the role of bystander, even if the victim is a friend. This burdens a child and may cause him or her to harbour feelings of guilt because they did nothing to stop or prevent the bullying. Reasons for not reporting bullying or helping a friend in trouble include fear of retribution and exclusion as well as other personal consequences.
A lack of security deeply damages the learning environment and process. It may result in the disruption of the classroom, and preoccupy students. It can also inhibit a child's creativity and self-expression. Subsequently, this leads to poor attention spans and academic achievements suffer.
Prepare Your Child For The Bully
Teach your child to walk tall and to maintain eye contact. Body language is important in all aspects of your child's life. Portraying a positive, self-confident stature will help your child cope in many areas. Teach your child to accompany the confident posture with positive, self-affirming thoughts that valid his or her rights as a person. These affirmations will aid your child in speaking up without provoking a bully, and very well serve to defuse the situation.
The element of surprise can make the bully take a step back. Bullies like easy prey. A joke, a flip comment, or a question is an unexpected response to harassment, and might be just enough to make the bully think his actions aren't delivering the desired outcome.
Help your child to identify role models. Encourage your child to read stories that inspire. Share this time with your child and point out how strength of character and perseverance can achieve positive outcomes without resorting to violence or force.
Writing is another avenue to help your child cope. Encourage your child to keep a diary or journal. Creativity and self-expression are important and productive tools used to work through negative issues. Writing provides a safe outlet for a child. Point out the benefits of journaling positive experiences as well as expressing their feelings about bullying.
Friendships are very important. If you child has difficulties making or maintaining friends, intervene and help. Friendships are a protection against bullying. Observe and identify children that might have things in common with your child and arrange a visit. Encourage your child to join activities that will build strength and confidence.
Bullying is often considered a "kids will be kids" problem. According to the National School Safety Centre, however, bullying has become a pervasive and serious form of harassment in many schools. Dr. Dan Olweus, a professor of psychology and leading expert on bully-victim problems, reports that one child in 10 is regularly attacked either verbally or physically by bullies. Elementary school-age children are the most frequent target of bullying by older students. The best way to safeguard your children from becoming a victim of a bully is to teach them how to be assertive. This involves encouraging your children to express their feelings clearly, to say no when they feel pressured or uncomfortable, to stand up for themselves verbally without fighting, and to walk away in more dangerous situations. Bullies are less likely to intimidate children who are confident and resourceful.
Profile on Bullies
The following are traits common to bullies:
- They are concerned with their own pleasure rather than thinking about anyone else.
- They want power.
- They are willing to use other people to get what they want.
- They feel hurt inside.
- They find it difficult to see things from someone else's perspective.
Tips for Helping Children Deal with Bullies
- Teach your children early on to steer clear of youth with bullying behaviour.
- Teach your children to be assertive rather than aggressive or violent when confronted by a bully.
- Instruct them to walk away and get help from an adult in more dangerous situations. Practice various responses with your children through role-playing.
- Teach your children to never defend themselves from bullies with a gun or other weapon.
- Keep communication lines open with your children. Encourage your children to share information about school and school-related activities.
- Pay attention to the following symptoms that may indicate your child is being bullied: withdrawal, abrupt lack of interest in school, a drop in grades, or signs of physical abuse.
- If your child is a victim of bullying at school, inform school officials immediately. Keep your own written records of the names, dates, times, and circumstances of bullying incidents. Submit a copy of this report to the school principal.
- Respond to your children's concerns and fears with patience, love and support.