Parenting, Mission: Possible – Bullying

By: Caroline Taylor, M.ED

Many of you have been following the recent cases of bullying that have been in the news. Due to the recent media, the government and many schools are organizing task forces to educate children and parents of the harmful effects of bullying. After hearing these stories, it is understandable that many parents are worried and scared for their own children.

First, it’s important for parents to understand the biological aspect of peer groups. Human beings form social hierarchies as a way to organize themselves. These social hierarchies are normal for all “social animals”; a hierarchy is a chain of perceived importance in a species. Children consistently define and change their roles in the social hierarchy. Young, school age boys typically perform more physically competitive tasks such as, who runs faster, who is stronger, who is the longest jumper, to define dominance. Young school age girls define their positions through role-playing…best friends, party invitations and exclusion. Typical school age child behavior will include some form of social ladder climbing.

When social ladder climbing becomes extreme, it is in the form of bullying. If your school age child tells you they are being bullied, make sure to find out what the word “bullying” means to them and find out exactly what they perceive is the problem. Some children may not feel comfortable discussing bullying with their parents; watch your child’s behavior surrounding going to school and friends. Has anything changed, is your child more moody, anxious, not sleeping well, or not eating? If so, look for chances to talk to your child about bullying indirectly. For instance if something comes on TV that illustrates bullying, ask your child what they think about that behavior.

Realize that it takes a lot of courage for a child to report bullying to a parent. It’s important to recognize the courage and empathize with the child while gaining more information about the bullying event.

So, what do you do as a parent if you realize your child is the target of bullying at school? Studies suggest the best thing for a parent to do is approach their child’s teacher without blaming and try to understand the bullying in a broad perspective. I recommend, trying to channel your “inner reporter” and report “just the facts”, as you know them, to the teacher or the school counselor. Ask about their policies and check to see if they have any programs in place that address bullying. Research suggests, it’s most effective for schools to deal with bullying through group education; many schools have already implemented these types of programs.

It may seem counter intuitive, but do not contact the bully’s parents. The school should contact the parents if the bullying is happening on school property. Remember, children who bully at school, may be subjected to bullying at home by their parents or siblings.

What are some ways to avoid bullying? A child that has good self-confidence is less likely to become a target. It’s important to cultivate your child’s strengths to increase their confidence and self esteem. Things like; music, sports, and, art activities are good ways to grow self-esteem. Find out what your child excels at and nurture his interest. Talk your child’s teacher about connecting her with like-minded friends. Set up play dates to continue to foster strong relationships.

There are some good children’s books on the subject of bullying. Some of my favorites are:

Bully B.E.A.N.S by Julia Cook
Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Bullies by Howard Binkow
The author Trudy Ludwig’s books- Confessions of a Former Bully, My Secret Bully, Sorry, and Just Kidding

Note: Bullying can become extreme and life threatening. If you feel your child is in a crisis situation, contact your child’s school and your local crisis center for immediate help. The crisis center kid’s help line in the Birmingham area is: 205-328-5437. The main number is 205-323-7777 and is answered 24/7

For specific questions and or more information on bullying:

Caroline Taylor, M.Ed
Licensed Professional Counselor

Ms. Taylor obtained a Bachelor of Science in Child Development from Florida State University focusing on Child Life. After graduating she worked with children and families coping with terminal and chronic illness in the hospital and an outpatient setting.

She received a Master of Education in Counseling from Auburn University while working as a counseling intern at University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Counseling and Wellness Center. She worked as a counseling intern at University of Alabama at Birmingham counseling and wellness center. Before opening her private practice, Ms. Taylor worked with children and families in various diverse settings from community mental health and outpatient psychotherapy to in home intensive family restoration.

She specializes in:

  • children,
  • adolescents
  • individuals
  • challenged families
  • parent training
  • trauma recovery in children
  • helping families to cope with transitions such as divorce or death.

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