Bullying: When Your Child is the Victim
A surprising number of school children feel afraid during the school day. Some of these children avoid lunch, recess, and the bathrooms out of fear that they will be embarrassed or picked on by bullies. These are not children who are teased occasionally or who sometimes get into fights with their peers. These are children who are picked on over and over again. They cannot defend themselves against stronger, more powerful peers. This power imbalance is the heart of bullying.
The result of growing up a victim of bullying can be very severe. Victims may suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. Their school progress may be slowed. As they grow older, girl victims may become involved in relationships in which they are abused. Some victims attempt suicide out of desperation, believing that no one will help them.
What are types of bullying behaviors?
Physical bullies may hit, pinch, kick, shove, bite, or pull a victim’s hair.
Verbal bullies may insult, start or spread rumors, tease, and make threats. Cyber bullies use texting or the internet to spread gossip or make threats.
Sexual bullies may make sexual comments or threaten unwanted sexual acts. The goal is to humiliate the victim. Sexual bullying may also include unwanted touch, such as snapping a bra strap.
How to Find Out If Your Child Is Being Bullied
To find out if your child is being bullied, look for these signs:
- making excuses to not go to school
- wanting to take something such as a knife to school to protect themselves
- unexplained bruises
- torn clothing
- needing extra school supplies or money
- always losing belongings
- problems sleeping
- sudden loss of appetite
- quality of schoolwork suddenly goes down
- showing secretive or sullen behavior or temper outbursts
- being very hungry after school (ASK WHY: someone may be taking lunch or money)
- making a lot of trips to the school nurse, especially during lunch or recess
- rushing to the bathroom after school (ASK WHY: your child may be scared to use the bathroom at school due to threats).
How to Help: Steps to Bully Proof Your Child
- Teach your child self-respect.
Confident children are less likely to become victims. Help your child write positive statements about himself on cards, such as "I am a kind and caring person." Encourage your child to look at the cards several times a day. Teach your child to focus on things he is good at and things that make him feel proud. Teach your child to give himself a silent pep talk when feeling picked on.
- Encourage your child to make friends.
There is strength in numbers. Bullies tend to go after a child who is alone. Encourage your child to walk down the hall, into the lunchroom, or out to recess with others. Close friends can help protect one another. Your child should stay near others even if they are not close friends. Skills for making friends include how to share, give and take, compromise, change the topic to avoid conflict, apologize when appropriate, and use a friendly approach.
- Build social skills.
Social skills include things like active listening, praising, taking turns, and helping others. Problem-solve hard social situations and practice ways to respond during the dinner hour. Something that has been practiced is easier to use in a stressful situation. Social skill groups are available in many schools today and books for both parents and children can be found in local libraries and bookstores.
- Stress the importance of body language.
Bullies will notice a child who looks meek. Encourage your child to stand up straight and hold his or her head high. If a bully approaches, your child shouldn't freeze. It is best to walk away and join a group of children.
- Do not encourage physically fighting back.
Bullies are usually stronger and have a lot of friends. More often than not, if victims fight back, the bully will take revenge.
- Let the school know your safety worries.
Establish a relationship with the school. Report incidents of bullying. Try not to get defensive or blame, but don’t back down either. Write down what happened and how it was handled. Talk to the principal and teachers about your concerns.
- Teach your child protective strategies.
The following 6 strategies can help your child with bullies: Help, Assert yourself, Humor, Avoid, Self talk, Own it. These 6 strategies are easily remembered by children with the phrase "HA HA SO." Have your child picture an invisible shield that drops over them with the letters HA HA SO on it.
H Help. Get help. Find a friend or adult you can count on.
A Assert yourself. Use an "I" statement to protect yourself. Say something like, "I like being different" or "I am sorry you don't want to get to know me better before you call me that."
H Humor. Use humor. Do or say something funny or even something just plain crazy to throw the bully off balance. For example, if called a "chicken," start walking like a chicken and flapping your arms.
A Avoid. Stay away from bullies. If you see a bully and can take another path across the playground, do that.
S Self talk. Give yourself a silent pep talk, reminding yourself of positive things. For example, you might think of something like, "I may not be good at track, but I'm great in band."
O Own it. If the put-down is about clothing or something you can change, just agree with the bully. Say something like, "Yeah, I don't like this sweater either. It sure is ugly, but I wore it because my aunt made it and she is visiting this week." (Caution your child not to use this technique for something that can't be changed, such as skin color or ethnic group.) If the put-down is about something you can't or don't want to change, hold your head high, be proud of who you are, and tell the other child you like being who you are.
Bully Proofing Your School
There are programs to help schools called "Bully Proofing Your School". Programs cover early childhood, elementary, and middle school. These programs can help children feel safe and secure. Check with your school to see what programs they have and how you can help. You can also contact:
Creating Caring Communities
Written by Carla Garrity, PhD Kathryn Jens, PhD William Porter, PhD Nancy Sager Cam Short-Camilli, M.S.W. Copyright 1997 C. Garrity, K. Jens, W. Porter, N. Sager, C. Short-Camilli.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2011-01-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes
available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical
evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.