Bullying is physical or psychological intimidation that occurs repeatedly, is intended to inflict injury or discomfort on the victim, and creates an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse. It typically includes behaviors such as hitting, name-calling, social exclusion, teasing, taunting, and threatening. Bullying involves a power imbalance. Bullies are often stronger, bolder, and more confident than their peers and pick on children who are weaker, more timid, and hesitant to retaliate. Bullying can even occur without face to face contact by using the internet or other digital communication devices such as email, text message, web pages, or chat rooms. This form of bully behavior is referred to as cyber-bullying.
Many people feel that bullying is just a natural part of growing up, but this is not true. Victims of bullying can suffer psychological and sometimes physical scars that last a lifetime. Recent studies suggest that as many as 1 in 10 children are regularly attacked either verbally or physically by bullies. Children who are bullied often exhibit symptoms of greater fear and anxiety, feel less accepted, suffer from more health problems, and score lower on measures of academic achievement and self-esteem.
As a parent, one important factor in reducing the incidence of bullying is being aware of the warning signs such as avoidance, coming home from school with bruises, scratches, torn clothing, or missing/damaged property, lack of friends, losing interest in favorite activities, sleep disturbance including bad dreams, and an increase in generalized fearfulness.
If you believe that your child may be the target of bullying, contacting the school to discuss the situation and explore interventions is an important first step. At home, parents can help by giving praise and encouragement for talking about the problem with adults. Helping your child make connections with classmates outside of school is especially important. Teaching your child to find humorous ways to view and respond to bullies, to be appropriately assertive with peers and to avoid certain vulnerable situations can all contribute to being able to deal with bullying behavior successfully.
If your child is bullying others, it is important to deal with it right away. Whether the bullying is physical or verbal, if it is not stopped it can lead to more aggressive antisocial behavior, thus interfering with your child’s success in school and ability to form and sustain healthy and satisfying friendships. Although it can be very upsetting to discover that your child is exhibiting bully behaviors, it is very helpful to try to understand the reasons behind your child’s behavior. In some cases, kids bully because they have trouble expressing strong emotions like anger, frustration, or insecurity in acceptable ways. In other cases, children have not learned cooperative ways to work out conflicts or deal with differences. Let your child know that bullying is unacceptable and that there will be serious consequences at home, school, and in the community if it continues.
Whether your child is the bully or the target of bullying behavior, keeping the lines of communication open and providing support, assistance and clear behavioral expectations can help your child overcome the bullying issues. However, even when parents intervene appropriately, bullying may continue and your child can continue to experience significant distress.
Our child and adolescent clinicians can provide a variety of services to meet your child’s needs if bullying is an issue. Treatment for bullying can incorporate both individual and group therapy. Individual therapy can be helpful to focus on improving a child’s coping skills and treating secondary symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. At Silber Psychological Services, we also run a variety of social skills groups which can assist a child in learning and practicing the skills required to cope with bullying and help develop more successful peer relationships. Parent consultation is frequently needed to achieve the best results in treatment.