Many kids experience bullying on a regular basis at school, on the playground, or even at home between siblings. But is there anything parents can do to change this trend? CHI St. Luke’s Health Emergency Departments encourage you to do your part to prevent and stop bullying.
How Common is Bullying?
Bullying is surprisingly common and may be physical, verbal, in person, by phone, or over the internet. More than one in every four students experience bullying at some point during their years in school. Kids who are perceived as different in some way, whether that be race, disability, weight, height, or clothes, are more likely to be bullied. This rate is much higher for kids who identify as LGBT, with over half of LGBT students reporting being cyber bullied.
Is Your Child Being Bullied?
Sometimes children are hesitant to tell parents and teachers about bullying. They might be afraid of backlash from the bully, embarrassment, or may want to handle it themselves. Watch for warning signs in case your child is being bullied, including:
- Unaccounted for injuries, torn clothing, lost toys, jewelry, or electronics
- Headaches, stomach aches, feeling sick, or faking sickness
- Changes in eating patterns, including refusing meals, overeating, being ravenous at the end of the school day (perhaps due to a stolen lunch)
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares
- A sudden drop of grades or loss of interest in school altogether
- Acting socially withdrawn and exhibiting low self-esteem
- Running away, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts. If your child is self-harming or considering suicide, get him or her emergency care immediately.
Is Your Child a Bully?
Bullies aren’t always bad kids. Some children may bully others for a variety of reasons, including low self-esteem, stress, an attempt to fit in, a cry for attention, or an inability to express themselves. Bullies often:
- Get into physical or verbal fights
- Have friends who bully others
- Are increasingly aggressive
- Get sent to the principal’s office or detention frequently
- Have unexplained extra money or belongings
- Blame others for their problems
- Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
If your child is bullying others, explain that bullying is not tolerated. Brainstorm better ways of dealing with the emotions that prompt bullying with your child. If he or she continues to struggle or is bullying others, visit your pediatrician and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist.
How can Parents Prevent or Stop Bullying?
The worst thing a parent can do in a bullying situation is promote violence. Never encourage your child to get revenge on a bully, pick a fight, or carry a weapon. Both children will often end up injured. Instead, talk with your child about bullying from a young age. Make sure your son or daughter understands the difference between harmless teasing and aggressive bullying, whether it is physical or verbal. Ask your child if he or she has seen bullying at his or her school, encouraging him or her to stand up for their classmates and tell an adult about the bullying.
This conversation allows kids to feel comfortable coming to parents if they are bullied. If your child does confide in you that he or she is being bullied, never blame or ignore them. Instead, offer advice on how to talk to the bully. Recommend reporting the bullying to a teacher, and exhibit compassion by explaining that bullies have often been bullied themselves. If the bullying persists or could cause physical harm, contact school administrators and the bully’s parents.
Your child might have low self-esteem after being bullied. Build up your child’s self-esteem with warm, sincere affirmation and praise. Encourage them to try new things and discover his or her special interests. If your child struggles with low self-esteem and seems overwhelmingly sad or anxious, visit your pediatrician and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist.
Bullying Among Adults
Though we often emphasize bullying targeted at kids, bullying doesn’t simply vanish after high school graduation. About one in four American workers have experienced bullying at work. Often, the bullies are bosses. Women are much more likely to be a bully’s target, regardless of the gender of the bully. If you experience persistent negative behavior from a coworker or employer, such as micromanaging, unconstructive critiquing, interruptions, exclusion, or undermining your abilities, take action to stop the bullying.
- Identify bullying and know this behavior is not okay no matter who is perpetrating it.
- Suggest to your employer that he or she schedule healthy communication training. During training, the whole office can learn to talk in a more compassionate and productive way.
- Check your employee handbook to see if making a formal complaint is an option.
- Talk with someone who is at a higher level than the bully and give this person an opportunity to put the bullying to an end.
- If you are being bullied at work and nothing seems to change, think about finding a new job. You deserve to be treated with respect. Bullying can be dangerous for your mental health, and your health is always a top priority.
If someone is being bullied, never stand on the sidelines. Stand up for your child, coworkers, and yourself. In some cases, bullying may escalate to physical injury or lead someone who has been bullied to suicidal thoughts. If you or your child is seriously injured or is considering suicide, call 911 and visit a CHI St. Luke’s Health Emergency Department immediately.