Bullying and Kids - The Facts
How to prevent and stop bullying
By Lisa Murphy
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Parents play a critical role in educating their child about bullying, says Dr. Vreeman. "When we fail to recognize and stop bullying behavior, we are actually promoting violence." Bullying and cyber bullying are forms of abuse that many children don't report and feel powerless to stop. Talking about what bullying is, telling your child what to do when it happens and ensuring that your child's school has an effective anti-bullying program in place can make a positive difference. Here's how to get started.
Make it clear to your child that physical bullying, such as hitting and shoving, verbal abuse in the form of insults or threats, or social bullying in which kids spread mean rumors about another child, or openly exclude them from a group, is unacceptable. Make sure you don't model those behaviors yourself, either. Assure your child that he can tell you about bullying and that you will help.
Educate your child about cyber bullying and establish computer and cell phone rules that lower her risk of being harassed electronically.
Find out if your child's school has a whole-school anti-bullying program, and if it doesn't, volunteer to help establish one using guidelines such as "Best Practice in Bullying Prevention & Intervention" from Stop Bullying Now.
Make time to listen and talk to your children every day. Ask specific questions about what it's like getting to school and being there, particularly at lunch time and recess. Do they feel afraid or do kids call them mean names? Find out. "This will help you to understand what actions you need to take - whether it's advocating for better school rules, teaching a child to be more assertive, or offering more careful supervision for children who bully," says Dr. Vreeman. Take complaints about bullying seriously, even name calling.
Advise your child to avoid bullying "hot spots" in schools and stay with supportive friends. Outline the best response in the event that your child is bullied: not to respond emotionally (which can escalate the bullying), but to walk away and tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
Prepare your child to intervene if she witnesses another child being bullied. Explain that speaking out, either alone or with a friend, can stop bullying quite quickly. If speaking up seems unsafe, tell her to comfort the victim afterwards or include them more often in the group to avoid future incidents. "A child can tell an adult, or simply be a good friend to the kid who is being bullied, expressing to them after the fact that no one deserves to be treated like that," says Dr. Susan Limber.
If you suspect your child is being bullied, take it very seriously. Talk to her and her teacher or the school principle immediately to get more information and remedy the situation. Do not support expulsion of the bully or conflict-mediation as possible remedies, as neither approach has been proven effective over the long-term. See School Bullying Policies for more info.
If you suspect your child is bullying others, make it clear that it's unacceptable, abusive and potentially even criminal behavior. Supervise him more carefully, praise positive behaviours and enlist his teacher to do the same. Keep him busy with sports or clubs. If the bullying continues, you may want to consider individual, rather than group therapy, to help your child learn anger control and positive relationship skills.