Stop Schoolyard Bullying
If this widespread problem touches your child's life, take action
As your kids head back to school this fall, many will face a threat as old as the three Rs: bullying.
"Just about every child experiences some form of bullying at some time; even the gifted athletes and the popular boys and girls," says psychologist Loretta Jantos, director of For KEEPS (Kids Empowered and Embraced through Psychological Services), an acute partial-hospitalization short-term stay program at Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ for children ages 5 to 17. And today there's a new wrinkle-kids sometimes use the Internet and camera phones to "cyberbully" classmates.
But even though no youngster is immune, a bully's most frequent target is often "the child who might be a little different, or who doesn't go along with the thoughts of the masses," Dr. Jantos says.
Don't think of bullying as a benign, "boys will be boys" situation. Bullies come in both sexes, and there's nothing harmless about true bullying. The regular targeting of a youngster for abuse is a form of emotional violence that can have serious consequences. Fortunately, parents can take some concrete steps to help children deal with bullying
Explain the problem.
Talk to your children about bullying when they are very young. Says Dr. Jantos: "Tell them they need to let you know if someone ever physically hurts them, tries to humiliate them, takes their belongings or spreads gossip about them or their family."
If you suspect your child is being bullied, inquire about it, and listen for a reply that may be given reluctantly because of hurt pride or fear of retaliation. Then take the child's report seriously.
Tell the school.
If your child complains of bullying, call the school's principal or safety administrator. If they don't respond, next try the school board or district office. "It's the school authorities' responsibility to ensure a child's safety at their facility," Dr. Jantos says.
Suggest comeback lines.
Children should be counseled to deny bullies the reaction they're seeking. "We teach children things to say to a bully that may help," says Dr. Jantos. "For example, a child might say indifferently, 'Here we go again. Tell me when you're done.' Or, in response to a verbal taunt, simply say, 'Who cares?'"
Don't call the bully's parents.
A child who is aggressive may have learned that behavior at home-or may even be a victim of parental abuse, says the psychologist. Arguing with another parent who is defensive accomplishes little.
Don't advise fighting back.
In the movies, bullies tend to be cowards who fold when confronted with a determined fist. In real life, says Dr. Jantos, "most likely the bully has already had a few tussles-that's something he or she knows how to do." Still, it's important not to cower-and even laughing at a bully can be effective if a child can pull it off.
Seek professional help.
Bullying others may be a symptom of deeper issues, such as depression and anxiety. Being a frequent victim can also reflect (and/or trigger) depression or low self-esteem. If your child has a pattern of involvement in bullying, whether as bully or victim, bring it up with your pediatrician, who may suggest a mental health practitioner if the problem persists.
At For KEEPS, says Dr. Jantos, "we have bullies and other children who have been bullied. With the counseling techniques used here, it is interesting to observe how they learn to respect one another."
Related Read: Online Help for Bullying