Source: Children's Hospital Boston psychologist
Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD
Bullying is defined by the American
Psychological Association as an aggressive behavior that is intended to cause distress or harm, and that involves an imbalance of power or strength between the
aggressor and the victim.
For every child who is or has been
bullied, it is stressful and distracting at best, and frightening, damaging to
self-esteem and even physically dangerous at worst.
Types of bullying
Types of bullying include:
Bullying can begin as early as
kindergarten and can affect children
from any socio-economic background, racial group or area (urban, suburban and rural settings). Both boys and girls can both be bullies.
- Physical bullying
Relational bullying (spreading
gossip and rumors or excluding
people in social situations)
Peer sexual harassment
Stereotyping (threats or bullying because of the victim's race,
ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity)
Cyber bullying (bullying through e-mail, text messaging or other
Why do people bully?
According to Dr. Daniel, there is no one cause of bullying. Individual, familial, peer, school and community factors can all contribute to why a child feels the need to bully.
"Bullying is a way to gain power. But
in the long run, it creates a lose-lose
situation," she says. "It's a different
philosophical stance to try to gain power over a person through bullying, versus negotiating or discussing a matter in order to come to a mutually acceptable agreement."
What kids can do:
What parents can do:
Act brave. Hold your head up and walk by as if you are not afraid of the bully. Bullies often pick on kids they think are weak because they seem like easier targets.
Ignore the bully. Bullies are often looking for a reaction so they will get more attention from their peers. Don't give them any.
Stick up for other kids. If a bully does not get approval from his or her peers, he or she may stop the behavior.
Tell an adult. It's important that kids are protected by adults who can set clear expectations of appropriate behavior.
Be a friend. Plan to be with a friend whenever you are worried about a bully. Develop new friends by getting involved in hobbies, clubs, sports or other organizations.
Listen to your child's fears and concerns.
Talk to school officials to make sure enough supervision and structure are in place.
Help your child's self-esteem by letting him know he is valued and cared for.
The latter requires more time and
patience, but the individuals involved are more likely to feel positive about the
outcome (i.e. win-win situation).
But bullies often see violence as okay, which is the problem. "There's no guilt or shame about it," says Dr. Daniel. "While some may think the bully should just be punished, the reality is that those who bully need to understand their behavior and learn alternative behavior patterns," she adds. "They need consequences, but they also need help."
How does bullying affect the victim?
When children are bullied, the result for the victim is often lowered self-esteem, high stress or fear, depression, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and sometimes
suicidal thoughts. Children who are
bullied also often have a higher rate of school absences.
"It is a challenge to be fearful in school and focus on one's school work," says Dr. Daniel. "There is not enough room in the brain for both." Some children and
adolescents have somatic (physical)
complaints in order to avoid situations where they have been bullied, such
How can victims of bullying be helped?
Research findings strongly suggest that children and adolescents need to have a positive relationship with an adult. Being a victim may generate feelings of shame, powerlessness and embarrassment. The adult can provide needed support and alternative responses to the bully.
According to Dr. Daniel, while children differ in many ways, research has shown that a positive family environment,
realistic expectations with support and the ability to cope with stress are crucial for children to be able to be resilient.
How can pediatricians help kids who are being bullied?
Pediatricians often have established
relationships with families and children, especially if they've seen the same patient over a period of several years. As a result, they may be able to elicit information about bullying.
"Pediatricians can chat with patients during the medical examination and
procedures," says Dr. Daniel. "They can ask how the child feels about being in situations, such as the school bus or the playground, and ask him if he ever feels scared or worried. Inquiring about their lives is very important."
Then if the pediatrician feels that there is reason for concern, they can talk to
the parents of the bully, who may not
be aware of the situation. The parent
can then work with the principal