Bullying is a top concern among parents of school-age children. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, one out of five children reported being bullied during the school year. One in five tweens (ages 9 to 12 years old) report that they’ve been cyberbullied, cyberbullied others, or seen cyberbullying online. Parents hope that their child will never be subjected to such torment. Perhaps even more importantly, parents hope their own child doesn’t become the aggressor and want to understand the reasons children bully.
Both children who bully and targets of bullying are at a greater risk for mental and behavioral health issues, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement and dropping out of school. Words can hurt. We see the impact of that as bullies and those they bully are twice as likely to self-harm and experience suicidal behavior. Students who have been bullied also report that it negatively affects how they feel about themselves, their relationships with their friends and family, schoolwork and their physical health. For example, students who are bullied are more than twice as likely to report feeling sick, even if there is no obvious physical explanation. Headaches, stomachaches, backaches, and neck or shoulder pain were the most commonly reported symptoms. Mental and behavioral health are tightly linked to physical health and when one is negatively affected, it impacts the other.
How can you prevent your child from becoming someone who bullies? It’s important to understand what defines a bully and typical reasons children bully.
What Defines a Bully?
A bully is someone that deliberately acts out verbally or physically in an aggressive manner towards others with the intent to cause harm, fear, or distress. Not only does it cause harm to those who are being bullied, but it can also spark bullying among other students or peers. The bully’s attempts to antagonize another child or person can come from a variety of motives.
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Why Do Kids Bully?
The reasons children bully can be difficult to pinpoint. It may stem from one specific factor or several elements. Some of these may include:
- Lack of attention at home: Children are very receptive to what is going on in a family household. For example, if parents are going through a divorce or are constantly arguing, a child might feel neglected. A separation may be hard for the child to cope with. He or she may seek attention through different outlets.
- Need to control: This often sprouts from the need to feel popular at school. Some children who bully their peers want to dominate their classroom and feel like the leader of the pack.
- The domino effect: Children who see bullying around them, or perhaps have fallen victim to bullying, may then become an aggressor. Bullying is a learned behavior, and kids may mimic what they see. Some youth may bully to fit in with their peer group. Others may go to a school where these behaviors aren’t properly addressed.
- Siblings: How siblings treat each other at home plays a significant role. Siblings may bully their younger brother or sister, which could affect the way a child treats his or her peers. It becomes a learned behavior that is carried on into the classroom.
- Unaware or unaccepting of their peer’s differences: The reasons for being bullied cited most often by students were physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, and sexual orientation. Some youth engage in bullying behavior due to a lack of understanding differences in backgrounds, cultures and other identity markers.
What Can You Do To Prevent Bullying?
People who experience bullying report that supportive actions are the most helpful things a peer can do. These include talking, spending time together, or helping them get away from a bad situation. In addition, it’s vital to engage in bullying prevention efforts to keep these destructive actions from taking place at school. As a parent or caregiver, it can be difficult to know everything that goes on in the classroom. Here are some helpful suggestions to help prevent your child from bullying their peers:
- Give positive attention at home: It’s important to be aware of the type of attention your child receives at home – from both parents and siblings. Make sure your child receives positive, encouraging attention that praises his/her strengths and builds healthy self-confidence.
- Educate your child on peer differences: Exposing your child to different ways of life can help them better understand the diverse world we live in and will make them less likely to lash out against those who are different than them.
- Model kindness and inclusion: Young children are just learning how to have healthy relationships with others. It’s important for parents to show examples of treating others with dignity and respect, and to model empathy for others.
- Participate in bullying prevention campaigns: Introduce your kids to bullying prevention concepts at a young age. By exposing your child to this early on, we can help end bullying in schools. Stand for the Silent and Stomp Out Bullying are just a few organizations that aim to teach our kids what bullying is and about the harmful effects it has on all members involved.
Are you concerned your child is being bullied or may be bullying others? This free download, Quick Assessment: Does My Child or Teen Need Professional Help?, will provide you with 10 questions that will help you decide if your child would benefit from counseling or therapy.