Schoolyard bullying is increasing, and parents and school officials wonder why this is so. Who are these bullies who terrorize the weak and defenseless? We can all remember having been confronted by the cruel taunts of childhood bullies. If such an incident did not last long, those involved probably became friends again in days or minutes. Protracted bullying, however, can have long-lasting effects and, if not dealt with, the pain felt as a child results in a loss of self-esteem that is difficult to overcome.
The reasons for being picked on can be as simple as appearance (tall, short, thin, or heavy) or can stem from behavior (silly, dreamy, serious, or shy). A child who is picked on may not be as popular as others, or, if no such child exists, the bully will pick on the person who will not resort to violence in order to solve a conflict. Bullies are driven by jealousy and envy, so it's hardly surprising that gifted children are singled out. One child development specialist articulates the peculiar problems suffered by gifted children when he writes the following:
Occasionally, exceptionally able children are targeted by a less-than-gifted teacher. Sometimes this is referred to as the poppy head syndrome, where one especially beautiful flower that stands above the rest has to be cut down to the level of the others. (Bullycide/index.htm)
Once bullying starts, sadly many children will side with, or appear to side with, the bully because they know that otherwise they themselves will be bullied. The bully is a child with whom other children associate, not through friendship, but through fear. This is normal but can result in a group of children ganging up on others.
There are three main types of bullying. The first is verbal bullying, which involves name-calling and threats. The second is mental bullying, where the bully uses abusive language, and the third is physical bullying, where the victim is pushed, punched or kicked. All are serious and immediate action should be taken in all cases.
What can be done to prevent bullying at home and at school? First, find out if the problem is chronic. Parents need to notice changes in their child's behavior. Sudden withdraw, quietness, and not wanting to go to school are earmarks of a bullied child. When the bullying is out in the open, call the school and find out if there is a policy that prohibits bullying. Schools with no such policy are places that bullying may be most common. Seek out opportunities to talk to current and former students in confidence about their experience. Inquire about children who have felt the bully’s sting. Ultimately, all children suffer in an atmosphere that tolerates bullies: the classroom is tense and learning becomes difficult, making achievement less possible.
Ann Douglas, a writer on school and family issues, has outlined specific steps to bully-proof your kids. She writes the following: Keep the lines of communication open. Many children fail to report incidents of abuse because they are embarrassed or ashamed and believe they "deserve" the abuse, or fear retribution. Make sure that children understand that it's important to report bullying problems. Teach them the difference between “tattling” (telling on someone because you want to get that person in trouble) and "telling" (reporting a problem because you're trying to help another person).
Douglas goes on to explain what a parent should do when bullying has been identified. She writes:
"When bullying occurs, help the bully and the victim come to a mutually agreeable solution. Most experts agree that saying you’re sorry is not good enough. The bully needs to make some things right for the victim. . . Ensure that the bully follows through once restitution--not punishment--has been agreed upon. . . Deal with bystanders, children who have witnessed episodes of bullying and [let them] know that such behavior is not acceptable. . . This lesson can be gotten across by role-playing and watching TV sitcoms and pointing out that so called "funny" putdowns are subtle kinds of bullying '. (Reprinted with permission Woman.com Family Channel Url Http//Women.com)
There are no easy and painless solutions to the problem of schoolyard bullying. However, excellent resources do exist and are readily available.
Websites include Bully Online and Bully cide/index.htm. One top rated book
is called How to Handle Bullies, Teasers and Other Meanies: A Book That Takes the
Nuisance Out of Name-Calling and Other Nonsense. The author of this book is
Kate Cohen-Posey and it is appropriate for children in grades 4-7. Simon’s Hook; A Story about Teases and Put-downs is a picture book written by Karen Gedig Burnett and is recommended by the National Parenting Center.
And finally Bullies & Victims: Helping Your Child Survive the Schoolyard Battlefield is a primer for parents. Help is available. Do not sit back and let your child or children be bullied.