Is your child the victim of bullies?
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, one child in every seven is either a bully or the victim of a bully at school, on the street, in the neighborhood, on the school bus or in the playground. These bullies actually engage in psychological or physical intimidation and your child may be the victim, says Allan Beane, author of the “The Bully Free Classroom.” The bus and the playground Josie is a quiet, sensitive 9-year-old in an education therapy program. She became moody, cried frequently and refused to go out on the playground at school. When she had bad dreams, she woke the whole family with her night terrors and withdrew from social events and even avoided going to her friends’ homes. Her mother asked about her behavior but got little response from Josie. When she refused to go to ride the bus and begged for rides from her mother, her parents voiced their concerns that she might be developing a serious case of school phobia. Her fears didn’t extend to the classroom however and a quick check with her teacher suggested that things seemed normal except for her hesitation on the school playground. Was she the victim of a bully on the school bus? Did this fear extend to the playground?Playful teasing seemed to be a possibility and her parents wondered how they could separate that from a true case of bullying. Playful teasing can have the positive effect of teaching youngsters how to handle minor disagreements with their peers. When youngsters socialize with each other there are often moments when a sensitive child finds verbal comments difficult to handle. On the other hand true bullying can be a cruel kind of abuse based upon prejudice and other negative emotions for the average child. Embarrassment is one reason youngsters won’t admit to being the victims of teasing. Like Josie, many youngsters feel weak and impotent in the face of personal threats.We suggested that Josie’s reactions were serious enough to warrant further investigation of the situation before she withdrew totally from social contacts. Although the person doing the teasing may think that he or she is only engaged in “playful provocation,” says Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, the thin-skinned child may take this to heart, causing him or her to withdraw and become angry at the status as scapegoat. Youngsters can carry some of these negative images into young adulthood, causing serious problems with self-esteem. Child is ventingTeasing may be a way youngsters try to promote friendships. For example, the pre-teen boy chasing the pre-teen girl may just want to get her attention. But some bullying is aggressively physical and some is simply manipulative aimed at controlling a weaker child. All youngsters need to be armed with some strategies to handle the situation.We suggested Josie keep score, listing all the nasty comments made to her or her friends. If she had a record of comments, we felt that she would find it helpful later if the bullying was carried to an extreme. Josie also needed opportunities to talk about her difficulties with her parents to vent her frustration.We also suggested Josie find a sympathetic friend to act as a witness. When bullies understand a witness can back up the victim, they are less likely to harass others.The youngster who was teasing Josie was an 11-year old named Molly whose parents were undergoing a serious marital problem. She was transferring her own anger and insecurity to a weaker, younger child who could not handle the nastiness and sarcasm. It was helpful to Josie to understand where Molly’s hateful comments about her were coming from. And once it was determined that Molly was venting her spleen on Josie, Molly’s teacher became involved in the situation. She had been aware of Molly’s frustration and depression when she saw a dramatic downturn in the quality of her schoolwork. However, realizing that it had boiled over and was now affecting others as well, she recommended some in school and out of school counseling to her parents. Molly needed some ways of reducing her own stress without letting them vent on other younger students as school. Her counselor worked with her on some stress reducing exercises. Adults need to be vigilant and intervene because what appears to be harmless teasing can soon escalate into serious trouble for both the bully and the victim.Vail, Colorado