How To: Deal with Bullying
Kit Richert, Ph.D.
It would be difficult to find a school without any history of bullying, but statistics show that bullying in public schools is a serious epidemic. Studies report that 10% of students in the K-12 grades have been the victims of chronic bullying, and that 75% described being the victim of at least one incident per year.
Many bullying victims experience physical and mental health problems, depression, and suicidal ideation. Victims may miss significant numbers of school days, and may even bring weapons to school to protect themselves.
It is a fallacy to conclude that bullying is an unavoidable part of growing up. It is a clear problem that mandates attention from both teachers and parents. Prevention is the best strategy and exercising strict policies against bullying is most effective.
About the Bullies
Bullying may be defined as being harmed either physically or psychologically by one or more students. Many teachers do not recognize certain situations as bullying, especially when the harm is primarily psychological. The forms of bullying seen in schools may include physical aggression or assault, verbal threats and name calling, or more passives forms such as threatening gestures or expressions, spreading gossip, and exclusion from a group.
Boys typically engage in physical and verbal bullying, and girls tend to use more passive aggressive methods of bullying such as gossip and exclusion (although physically aggressive behaviors are on the rise in girls). Bullies are less likely to achieve academically, and are more likely to engage in criminal behavior or become abusive adults.
Is My Student Being Bullied?
Watch out for the following warning signs by asking these questions:
Does the student…
• Seem afraid, anxious, or depressed at school?
• Frequently complain that they feel sick and need to leave school?
• Have strange bruises? What do they say about them when I ask?
• Complain that nobody likes them?
• Have friends? Who are their friends?
• Seem submissive and withdrawn?
• Seem to have low self-esteem? Have trouble being assertive?
How can I Help a Bully Victim?
Remember that it may be difficult for your student to admit that they have been bullied. No one wants to be a tattletale. Here are some tips:
• Don’t force your student to disclose anything, talk to them about what you’ve noticed and ask them to verify what you’ve observed. (Ex: I’ve noticed that you and Jimmy seem a little hostile toward each other….is that true? How come? What happened?).
• When a student’s physical safety has been threatened, you must inform administration. Make sure they help you monitor and address bullying behaviors.
• Role-play with your student (or whole class) to practice ways they can respond to a bully. Responses may include, verbal intervention, walking away, ignoring, telling an adult, or asking peers for help.
• Teach your student (or whole class) that telling on those who bully should not be considered tattling, since it ultimately is a safety issue. Let them know that you and the school staff will always help them if they report bullying.
• Encourage them to stick with friends or a safe group during unstructured times like lunch and recess, since bullies almost never approach kids in groups.
• Seek outside help from your school’s psychologist or counselor when appropriate. They may be able to help your student cope with feelings of fear or school anxiety, or offer more support in dealing with bullies.
• Sometimes parents have encouraged victims to fight back physically. If you suspect this may occur, set up a meeting or phone call with your student’s parent. Try not to pass judgment on their advice but kindly explain that you are concerned that their child will be suspended if they use violence to solve their problem. Collaborate with them to support your student in coping with the situation without resorting to violence.
How Can I Stop the Bullies?
If there are not clear-cut or effective policies and consequences in place regarding bullying, get involved in establishing policies at your school. Many states have imposed policies and you may want to explore your state department of education website for information. www.bullypolice.org is also a great resource.
If a child is a bully it suggests that they have deep insecurities and a need for power and control. Many have been victims at one time themselves and have become bullies as a response. Although you may feel anger toward them due to their behavior, try to forgive, embrace them, and get to know them on a deeper level. Find out more about what is going on at home and if they are feeling angry about something. Firm boundaries are critical, but you can be much more influential if you are caring rather than punishing.