The end of summer and the beginning of fall has several meanings to children and their parents. This time of year may mean back-to-school shopping, homework, the anticipation of new teachers and friends, transitioning into new school settings, and the inevitable bully.
I am willing to bet that 99.9% of the adults reading this will have no trouble remembering the name of the classroom bully who tortured them at one time or another during their academic career. I have trouble remembering my senior-year high school English teacher, but I'll never forget "Doug." "Doug" used to bully me relentlessly in the fifth grade for being the "new kid in school" and that I was, of all things, "too tall." "Doug," mind you, was vertically challenged and maybe weighed 70 pounds soaking wet. "Doug" obviously had a lot of power over me, being that I can remember his ridicule like it was yesterday.
Chances are that if you have kids, either they have been bullied, they are being bullied or they have bullied another kid themselves. The point is that everyone has been bullied at some point. However, most people keep bully problems a secret because they feel ashamed or scared to talk about what's really happening. Kids may even go so far as to blame themselves for being bullied. Is it because of how I look, how I dress, where I live, something I said? Absolutely not!
Bullies tend to crave power and the need to be in control. They usually like to hurt and frighten people they perceive as smaller or weaker (despite their actual size). Bullies are able to harm people physically, mentally and emotionally. By having you under their control, a bully feels superior and invincible as well as being in charge, while you feel like a wimp, a failure, afraid and angry. The worse you feel about yourself, the better the bully feels. Bullies often see another person's success as their own failure. Then they become mad and jealous, and they want to punish the person who is making them feel that way. If they would only stop and realize that each person is responsible for what happens in their own life and stop blaming others!
Bullies tend to come from homes where the parents yell a lot, pay little attention to them or use physical force to consequence their children. As a result, these kids tend to have a lot of anger inside them with no healthy way to let it out except on the people around them or in school. Bullies tend to pick their targets carefully. They usually set their sights on the kids who are shy and less likely to defend themselves. They also may target children who are smaller and younger, or, in my case, taller!
Parents, don't think for a second that your child will always run to tell you that they are being bullied. Remember the shame, embarrassment and fear. They may even feel that they have to handle the situation on their own. However, there are some signs that parents should be aware of that may indicate that their child is being bullied.
Does your child:
•Skip school or often claim to be too "sick" to attend?
Have unexplained bruises or come home in dirty clothes, possibly from fighting?
Show a decline in grades?
Turn out to be missing belongings?
Frequently request lunch money to replace "lost" money?
Now, after doing a little investigating, as parents tend to do, you realize that your child is being bullied. What kinds of advice can a parent give their hurt child? "Ignore him/her and he/she will go away." "Punch him/her out and you won't be bothered anymore!" This is the sound advice that my dad told me. By the way, it didn't work. "Doug" proceeded to tease me on the school bus despite me ignoring him, and when I went to "punch him out," I got suspended for fighting and "Doug" got away scot-free.
There are several options that parents have that may be more effective than the advice my father offered me.
First, communicate with your child. Let your child know that they are not alone and that it is not their fault that they are being bullied. The teasing really has nothing to do with your child. It has everything to do with the bully's need for power and control. Validate your child by encouraging them to talk with you about how they are feeling. Let your child know that you understand and that you care.
Second, teach your child the skills to be assertive and confident to verbally stand up to the bully or to seek the help of an adult. A child always has the power to tell a bully that they don't like what the bully is doing and to leave them alone. Do not give the bully your power by being silent!
Third, your child may feel comfortable telling his/her friends about being bullied. A bully is less likely to harass you if you're with a group of your friends. Plus, your friends can verbally support you by telling the bully to "leave our friend alone."
Lastly, you, as a parent, have the option to get in touch with your child's teacher and inform them of the situation. Of course, you would do this after school or on the phone to protect your child's privacy and not enable a bully to further target your child for being a "tattletale."
Being bullied is an experience that, sadly, we can all relate to. However, there is hope. Parents need to have open communication with their children to have a clear understanding of their feelings and what exactly is going on in their lives. Parents can encourage their children to be confident in themselves and to have a voice in stopping bullies. The support and guidance a parent can offer a child is the key to sustaining a trusting and healthy relationship between parent and child.
ADAM GRINDLINGER is a licensed psychotherapist with private practices in both Long Beach and Huntington Beach. He can be reached via cell at (562) 833-8185 or at http://www.adamgrindlinger.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun