Bullies tease, ridicule, shove and hit, taunt, isolate, undermine and manipulate somebody else’s sense of well-being. The bullies’ goal is to seize imagined power and status at the expense of the targeted victim. The children who are targets cannot hide. There is no school without bullies. Boy bullies tend to be physically and verbally abusive. They select less ‘popular’ and more vulnerable victims outside their peer group. One boy I used to work with told me his most favorite time of the school day was when “the 3:30 bell rang.” When asked why, he responded, “that’s when all the abuse stops!”
Girl bullies challenge girls in their own circle of relationships in order to seize power and status. Their style, however, compared to boys, is more indirect. The goal is to make the other girl “lose face” in the eyes of the clique. In trying to understand a broken relationship, a girl patient told me “we were best friends since kindergarten and then one day she just acted as if I didn’t exist anymore!”
How can parents help their children who bully and who are being bullied?
If your child is a bully:
- Listen to your child’s rationale for the behavior and try to understand his or her reasoning. Then provide alternative solutions. Do not condone abusive behavior.
- The child must become aware of your disapproval and the behavior cannot be dismissed as normal.
- If appropriate, communicate with the other family or school about your concerns and your willingness to be part of a solution.
- If the problem persists, seek professional help.
If your child is being bullied:
- Teach your child that responding in kind makes the problem worse.
- Teach the power of ignoring negative behavior versus reinforcing negative behavior.
- Teach non-violent self-defense strategies. For example, respond to the bully by (1) looking him directly in the eyes and firmly saying “If you do not stop, I will tell the teacher;” (2) and then, walking away.
- Teach telling an adult about abusive behavior is a form of courage and it is distinctly different from tattling.
- Provide opportunities for expression of anger.
- Enroll in self-defense class.
- Advocate for your child. Talk to the other child’s family. Contact the school. Enlist the PTA.
- Professional support can help bolster your child’s sense of self. Group therapy is an excellent approach.
BULLY BEWARE! A grown-up bully is an adult without friends!