Bullying is a widespread problem that affects millions of people everyday – online and in person.  It happens among children as young as 4 years old, through young adults (at which age, this behavior often results in legal consequences). As a mom, it’s highly important that you are informed about this common and harmful behavior, and know how to combat or prevent the bullying of your child, or interfere if you suspect your own child is being a bully (which no mom wants to think, but must be prepared to deal with).

First, the basics. What is bullying? According to www.StopBullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. 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.”

Signs that your child may be bullied:

  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Decline in school performance
  • Trouble eating or sleeping
  • Few friends or close contacts
  • Speaking of another child with fear
  • Showing fear when it is time to go to school
  • Noticeable decline in how he/she sees him or herself
  • Signs of physical altercations, such as bruises, scrapes, and other marks
  • Missing or damaged clothing or other personal belongings

How to approach the situation:

  • Encourage your child to share his or her thoughts and concerns. Remember that this is your turn to listen. Don’t lecture or interfere with their verbal expression.
  • Learn as much about the situation as possible. Ask your child how and when the bullying occurs and who is involved. Talk to other adults and children who may have witnessed bullying incidents.
  • Teach your child how to respond to bullying.  Encourage your child to maintain composure when approached by a bully — not to cry or fight back. Suggest that he or she say “I want you to stop this now,” and then walk away, and go to a teacher or school official for help, if necessary. Tell your child it might be best to stick with a group of friends in the places and during the times when the bullying tends to happen.
  • Contact school officials and follow up. Talk to your child’s teachers and school principals to inform them about the situation, gain more information, and determine the next step. Keep in contact with them, especially if the bullying is persistent.
  • Boost your child’s self-esteem. Remind your child that you love them the way they are and that the bullying is not acceptable and will be ended. Praise your child for being brave enough to talk about the situation, remind them that it is not their fault, and tell them that you will come up with a solution together. Help your child get involved with activities that raise self-esteem, such as sports, music, and art. Arrange fun get-togethers, outings, and other activities that help to develop your child’s social skills and social network.

Now, here are some signs that your child may be a bully:

  • Views violence positively as a solution to most problems
  • Shows little sympathy to those who are being bullied, or are having problems
  • The need to dominate others and control situations
  • Shows aggression toward adults and other children

How to approach the situation:

  • Make sure your child understands that bullying will not be tolerated anywhere. Tell them about the consequences of bullying.
  • Teach your child about diversity, and about treating others with respect and kindness. Let your child know that it is wrong to ridicule differences (whether it’s appearance, race, religion, special needs, socio-economic status, etc.), and that there are consequences for being disrespectful. Consider signing them up for an activity or club where they can interact with a diverse group of people and form new friendships.
  • Encourage good behavior. Praise them with they handle situations in positive ways. Positive reinforcement can be more effective than negative discipline.
  • Set a good example. As you know, it’s best to lead by example, so think carefully about how you resolve conflicts and problems. Your child will most likely follow your lead.

For more information on bullying, visit www.bullyingstatistics.org and www.stopbullying.gov.  Also, check out the new documentary, Bully – now in theaters: www.thebullyproject.com.