Managing Bullying Behavior
By Raun Melmed, MD, FAAP
In my latest book, “Marvin’s Monster Diary 4: Neighborhood Bully (But We Stand Up, Big Time!),” a character named Marvin the Monster discovers that bullying is a complex issue and proceeds to devise a role-playing game to solve it – allowing Marvin and his friends to finally have some fun at the park during summer vacation!
Bullying is ubiquitous. According to StopBullying.gov, about 49% of children in grades 4-12 reported being bullied by other students at school at least once during the past month. In different surveys, children report being bullied by others, witnessing bullying behavior and even engaging in bullying behaviors themselves. Sadly, parents might be the last to know.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development research, studies show that anyone involved with bullying — including those who bully others, those who are bullied and those who bully and are bullied — are at increased risk for mental and behavioral problems including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, difficulty sleeping, self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
Bullying affects everyone who witnesses it. Some children might support the child performing bullying behavior, which frequently perpetuates the problem. Other observers might walk away from the situation, feeling uncomfortable or fearing involvement, while others might come to the aid of the person being bullied.
Those who bully can either be popular or be socially marginalized children who may have been bullied themselves previously. A vicious cycle then ensues, where those who are bullied can be at risk of bullying others.
When Your Child Bullies Others
If your child has demonstrated bullying behavior, you can take steps including the following:
Help your child understand they can change. Bullying behavior, like any other behavior, can be altered. Referring to a child as someone engaging in bullying behavior rather than labeling them as a bully reinforces that ability to change.
Help your child understand how bullying hurts them, those who witness the bullying, and the targets of bullying behavior. Give real examples of the results of your child’s actions, and help your child to see the targets of bullying behavior as people with feelings and positive attributes.
Set firm and consistent limits on your child’s aggressive behavior. Be sure your child knows that bullying behavior is never okay.
Be a positive role model. Children almost always mimic what they see at home, so it’s important to demonstrate kind and compassionate behaviors.
Develop practical solutions with others. Together with the principal, teachers, counselors, and parents of the children your child has bullied, explore positive ways to stop the bullying.
When Your Child is Bullied
If you suspect your child is being bullied, act! This is not snitching. It is protecting a child’s civil rights — as well as their minds and bodies. Alert school officials to the problems and begin working on solutions. Good communication with school personnel, and maybe other parents and students, can help mitigate the situation.
Schedule a meeting with all stakeholders, including principals, teachers, counselors and other parents, and include your child if appropriate. Develop a plan of action that addresses the problem behaviors. Make sure your child knows what to do and where to turn if bullying behaviors persist.
How to Support Your Child
Teach your child various responses to bullying or teasing:
Ask the person bullying you, “Does it make you feel good when you make me feel bad?”
Look the bully in the eye.
Stand tall and stay calm. Breathe!
Say in a firm voice, “I don’t like what you are doing,” or “Please do NOT talk to me like that,” or “Why would you say that?”
Discuss with your child when and how to ask for help. Your child should not be afraid to ask an adult for assistance.
Encourage your child to make friends with other children. Invite friends to your home. Join team sports, music groups, and social clubs. Loners are more likely to get picked on, and friends can offer crucial support in bullying situations.
Empower your child to make their voice heard. Help them identify the specific problems encountered, and create a plan for action.
Support self-advocacy by role-playing possible scenarios with your child. Telling your child how to respond may not be enough. Lots of practice might be needed so that in the heat of the moment, these skills will come to your child more readily.
Even Marvin the Monster learned how to overcome bullying! Hopefully, when children, parents, and schools become more mindful and create kinder, more supportive, and more compassionate environments, we will too!
Dr. Raun Melmed is the director of the Melmed Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, a Cortica partner company. He is co-founder and medical director of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, and is the author of the ST4 Mindfulness Series for children. For more information, visit melmedcenter.com.