I thought this would be a great follow-up article to the Cyberbullying 101 blog that I posted last Friday. The following information is from Tom Henderson and Colleen Egan from ParentDish.com, along with some professional advice from Dr. Michele Borba.
Children are literally being bullied to death.
There’s even a word for it now: Bullycide.
But it’s more than a word to Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist who has written 23 books on parenting. It’s a picture of an 11-year-old Canadian boy she keeps in her pocket.
He never made it to 12. Hounded by bullies, he killed himself, and his father gave Borba the photo after she gave a lecture on bullying. Borba, whose latest book is “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions,” tells ParentDish she keeps the photo with her to remind herself she is talking about the lives — and possibly the deaths — of real children.
One in three children between grades six and 10 are involved in bullying as either victim or bully, according to Cox News. That’s one reason Congress is considering the Safe Schools Improvement Act — a federal bill that would give school staffers training on bullying issues.
Parents can help, but what if they don’t know their children are being bullied?
A mother on the East Coast, who asked not to be identified for fear of her son’s safety, tells ParentDish she noticed her 9-year-old’s grades slipping. He frequently became ill and asked to stay home from school.
Yet he said nothing was wrong.
Something was wrong, of course. He never said anything because he was big for his age. In fact, that was both the reason he was being picked on and the reason he didn’t want to say anything.
“He was told time and again: ‘You’re a big kid. How could these smaller kids begin picking on you?’” his mother says.
No story is typical, Borba says, but this mother’s situation is very, very familiar.
One of the main reasons kids don’t report bullying is humiliation. Younger kids often report bullying, Borba says, but older kids are embarrassed and fear retaliation.
The mother of the 9-year-old says parents who try to help often make things worse by applying adult solutions to the child’s world.
“The kid world is not the same as the adult world,” she says. “The child world is a jungle, and adults don’t understand the jungle.”
Plus, Borba says, parents often try to fix the problem with a few quick sentences.
“The stuff we’re telling them isn’t working,” she says.
What parents need to do is recognize that bullying is a crime, Borba says.
As such, she says, it needs to be thoroughly investigated, and you need to be a detective.
“You have to play Columbo,” Borba says.
First, you have to identify the problem. Kids who are being bullied often have similar symptoms, Borba says, which include:
* Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes or torn clothing
* A fear of being left alone or going to school, riding the school bus
* Only using the bathroom at home
* Headaches, stomach aches, frequent visits to the school nurse’s office
* Increased hunger (a possible sign his or her lunch money has been stolen)
Once you’ve determined your child is being bullied, Borba says, you need to get him or her to talk about it. But don’t just ask them straight out what’s happening, she advises.
Ease into it slowly with statements such as, “Wow. A lot of kids are being bullied these days. Are you seeing any of that at your school?”
Borba suggests watching movies such as “Mean Girls” or “Dumbo” where characters are bullied as a possible springboard to discussion. The important thing, she says, is not to confront the child.
“You’re giving him an out,” she says.
Once the crime has been exposed, Borba says, it’s time for more detective work. She calls it learning the three Ws and an H. Where did it happen? When did it happen? Who did it it? How did you deal with it?
Armed with this information, Borba says, you can create a case profile and better advise your child and work with school officials to end the bullying.
One of the best things you can tell your child, she adds, is to look bullies in the eye.
Researchers at the University of Toronto did a study on bullying to find out who are the most likely targets. Bullies will pick on just about any mental or physical difference they can pinpoint, Borba says, but researchers uncovered an interesting fact.
No matter the child’s difference, bullies were less likely to pick on kids who looked them in the eye.
For parents, Borba advises them to befriend their children’s friends to learn more about what’s going on beyond an adult’s field of vision. And above all, she says, let kids know they are not to blame for being victims.
There are 10 magic words when it comes to talking to the victims of bullies, she says: “I want you to know you didn’t do anything wrong.”
How to Tell if Your Child is a Bully:
Children Who Bully Can Be:
- Impulsive, hot-headed, dominant
- Easily frustrated
- Lacking empathy
- Having difficulty following rules
- Viewing violence in a positive way
- Physically stronger than other children (this is more a characteristic of boy bullies)
How to Bully-Proof Your Child:
- Start the talk now! So start talking to your child about bullying before it ever happens. Tell your child you are always available and recognize it is a growing problem. You want your child to come to you and not suffer in silence.
- Stop rescuing. Children need practice to speak up and be assertive so when the moment comes that they do need to stand up to a bully, they can. Always rescuing can create the conditions under which a child can become a victim.
- Avoid areas where bullies prey. Bullying usually happens in unsupervised adult areas such as hallways, stairwells, playgrounds (under trees and equipment, in far corners), lockers, parks and bathrooms in places such as malls, schools, parks and even libraries. Teach your child about “hot spots” (places most likely to be frequently by bullies), and then tell him to avoid those areas.
- Offer specific tips. Most kids can’t handle bullying on their own: they need your help, so provide a plan. For instance, if bullying is happening on the bus tell your child to sit behind the bus driver on the left side where the driver can see passengers in the mirror, ask an older kid to “watch out” for your child, or offer to pick your child up from school.
- Teach assertiveness. Kids less likely to be picked on, use assertive posture. Stress to your child that he should stand tall and hold his head up to appear more confident and less vulnerable. Practice. Practice. Practice!
- Stay calm and don’t react. Bullies love knowing they can push other kids’ buttons, so tell your child to try to not let his tormentor know he upset you.
- Teach a firm voice. Stress to your child that if he needs to respond, simple direct commands work best delivered in a strong determined voice: “No.” “Cut it out.” “No way.” “Back off.” Then walk away with shoulders held back.
- Get help if needed. Tell your child to walk towards other kids or an adult.
- Find a supportive companion. Kids who have even one friend to confide in can deal with bullying better than those on their own. Is there one kid your child can pair up with? Is there a teacher, nurse, or neighbor he can go to for support? You may need to go to the teacher and principal and advocate!
- Don’t make promises. You may have to protect your child, so make no promises to keep things confidential. You may have to step in and advocate. Do so if ever your child’s emotional or physical safety is at stake.