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Help stop bullying

I was bullied in elementary school. For some reason, in the area in which I grew up, political parties were a “big deal,” and my parents were members of the “wrong” party. I can recall to this day being made fun of on the playground because of that fact. It hurt. In fact, I also remember a day—I believe there was a presidential election underway at the time—on which the elementary-school band director asked everyone in the assembled band to raise their hands as to which political party they belonged to—this was in fourth or fifth grade! What he meant was: to which party do your parents belong? I was the only one, out of probably 50 or so children, who raised my hand for the one party.  I remember that scene even today, some 50 years later. Think bullying doesn’t have an effect? —A Diakon staff member

Does bullying concern you? Is your child being bullied? Is your child perhaps bullying others?

Bullying is an important topic these days, particularly for schools, children and their families. So what, by definition, is bullying? And what do we do about it? Brooke Brown, clinical director at Diakon Family Life Services’ Mechanicsburg center, answers our questions.

Bullying, she notes, citing information at www.stopbullying.gov, is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

How do you know if your child is being bullied?

Here are some signs that your child may be experiencing bullying:

•    Injuries that cannot be explained or the explanation is not feasible.

•    “Lost” or destroyed items such as clothing, school supplies, iPods/MP3 players, other electronics, items that your child would not typically lose.

•    Negatively affected self-respect.

•    Physical symptoms or the faking of the symptoms of illnesses to avoid school, practice or other social situations.

•    Changes in eating habits.

•    Difficulty at times in falling asleep or maintaining sleep.

•    Nightmares.

•    A loss of interest in things that had been a source of fun and enjoyment.

•    A sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

•    In some cases, depression or anxiety; they may even do things that are harmful to themselves or become suicidal. Please don’t ignore any of these signs. Seek information and help for your child.

What are some of the signs that your child is bullying?

There are a number:

•    Initiating fights both verbally and physically.

•    You are aware they have friends who bully others.

•    They seem to have new belongings or money and you are not aware of how they obtained them.

•    Potential increases in aggression toward siblings or peers.

•    You receive notifications from your school about behaviors, detentions or your child’s having been sent to the principal’s office.

•    More-than-typical worry about reputation and popularity.

•    An overly competitiveness.

•    Difficulty in accepting responsibility for problems they have.

Of course, no one wants to believe his or her child is bullying, but ignoring the signs will not make it go away if it is happening. Often, something is going on in the bullying child’s life that is precipitates the bullying; it is important to address that issue.

How do I respond if I think my child might be getting bullied?

It is important to have open lines of communication with your child or children, so that they know it is safe to talk to you about difficult things not only limited to bullying. Touching base with them on a daily basis about normal day-to-day topics, as well as talking openly about difficult issues, will help your children to know it’s always safe to talk to you. They need to know they can count on you for support.

Often, there is a sense of shame associated with being bullied. For many reasons, children may have a hard time letting an adult know. They may fear retribution by the bully or bullies. They might believe they will be perceived as week or unpopular. They may fear that whatever they are being bullied about is true and that situation will have a negative effect if their family finds out.

What are key first steps?

First, get the facts. Find out if bullying is occurring. Talk to school administration, teachers, or coaches or whoever would be “in the know” about the instances and involve them in the plan to help the child feel and be safe.

It is also important to involve the child or children who are bullying. Helping them to understand the impact of their behaviors—and holding them accountable—are important steps in the process to end bullying. Strategies that involve the “bully” in reconciliation rather than punishment tend to be more successful. It is also important to engage bystanders of bullying.

Teach children:

•    To be more than a bystander.

•    To tell a trusted adult.

•    To become friends with kids who are the targets of bullying.

•    To set an example with their own behavior, not to encourage or be an audience to bullying.

In doing so, we are helping children to understand they are important members of society, while simultaneously improving their ability to navigate this very difficult—and potentially life-changing—situation.

Brooke Brown
Clinical Director, Mental Health Outpatient Services
Diakon Family Life Services

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