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​Anti-Bullying email series - issue​​​​1234

What Is Bullying?

Being bullied is an all-too-common problem for school-aged children. ​And for every bully, ​there is a victim. Simply put, bullies want to control ​people, and they quickly learn that violence or the fear of violence will allow them to do just that. They often choose to pick on kids who are alone and don’t have a strong network of friends. These victims usually are kids on the fringe who have been rejected by others in their peer group, making them easy targets for bullies.

Because bullies like to win, they pick on kids who won’t or can’t fight back. Bullying takes many forms, including threats, violence, intimidation, destruction of property and theft.

Why Do Bullies Exhibit This Behavior?

A bully wants control over another person. With control comes power. Bullies are antisocial; they are rude and hostile on purpose, and they think bullying is a cruel but fun game. Bullies feel justified in picking on others and are probably even proud of it. In their minds, weaker or smaller kids deserve to be picked on.

Picking on someone else does not necessarily make bullies feel better about themselves because they don’t typically have low self-esteem. Contrary to popular belief, bullies usually have high opinions of themselves. Typically, bullies have the following traits:

  • Are impulsive
  • Lack empathy
  • Need to control and dominate others
  • Value aggression
  • Are usually strong and physically mature
  • Are driven by accomplishment

Inside, most bullies are not happy and they struggle to control their anger. Although they often are physically overdeveloped or ahead of others their age, bullies need help maturing socially and emotionally.

Who Is a Typical Bully?

Bullies learn how to intimidate and torment. A family that uses force or aggression for punishments or to settle relationship problems sets an example that bullying is an acceptable way for a person to get what he or she wants. When toddlers learn that temper tantrums — and yelling and screaming — get results, it sets the stage for possible bullying behavior later in childhood.

Bullies who don’t change their ways in adolescence are headed for an adulthood filled with violence and aggression. These antisocial behaviors often result in employment problems, difficulty maintaining healthy relationships and even criminal behavior. That’s why it is in a bully’s best interest to receive strong, negative consequences for his or her harmful, antisocial behavior.

Teaching Activity

It’s Hard to Fix a Wrinkled Heart

  • Help your child cut out a large paper heart.
  • On the heart, write, “Before you speak, think and be smart. It’s hard to fix a wrinkled heart.”
  • Ask your child to share some mean things he or she has said or has heard others say to someone. For each mean thing, wrinkle the paper heart to demonstrate the other person’s hurt.
  • Once the heart is all wrinkled up, ask your child to try to unfold and flatten the paper.
  • Even unfolded, the heart will remain wrinkled. Explain to your child that this is what happens to the hearts of people who are bullied or treated with meanness.
  • Post the heart on the refrigerator, in your child’s room or somewhere he or she will see it often as a reminder to think before speaking harshly to others.

Social Skills

Tolerating Differences

Tolerance is an important quality for children to possess and helps prevent bullying. If your child can accept ​differences in people, then he or she is less likely to demonstrate intolerant or bullying behavior. Here are the steps for the skill of “Tolerating Differences”:

  • Identify the similarities between you and another person.
  • Make note of the differences.
  • Emphasize the shared interests, tastes and activities you and the other person have.
  • Express appreciation and respect for the other person as an individual.

Warning Signs of Bullying

Do you suspect your child is being bullied at school, but you’re just not sure? Maybe your child becomes sad or cries when you ask how school was. Maybe your child, who is usually agreeable, has suddenly become grouchy with you all the time. These are just two of the warning signs of bullying. Here are some others:

  • Your child’s behavior has changed.
  • Your child seems to be withdrawn, worried or easily upset.
  • Your child constantly finds reasons to stay home from school. This could be a sign he or she doesn’t want to go to school.
  • Your child complains of stomachaches, headaches or other pains. This could be a sign he or she is under stress and the stress is showing up as physical problems.
  • At school, your child frequently goes to the nurse’s office or another place away from other children.
  • Your child normally does well in school but has started doing poorly.
  • Your child has abruptly stopped doing things he or she enjoys or has stopped hanging out with friends.
  • Your child avoids telling you anything about his or her school day.
  • Your child suddenly is having trouble sleeping or suffers from nightmares.
  • Your child is suddenly missing property or coming home with damaged property.
  • Your child or teen becomes anxious or worried when checking text messages or using social media. This could be a sign of cyberbullying.

If you recognize one or more of these warning signs, talk to your child’s teacher or a school administrator to get more information and let them know what you think may be happening. Avoid talking to the parents of the child who may be bullying your child. Rather, make sure the school is aware of the issue and is addressing it. Ask if you can do anything to assist with the issue at home.

Sometimes children who are bullied believe that changing schools and getting a fresh start will fix the problem. Changing schools is not the answer. It won’t be an option for your child to change things that are equally important later in life, such as a job or the community where he or she lives. It takes strength and courage, but your child must learn to face this situation.

Teaching Activity

Speaking Up for Yourself

Learning to speak up when something or someone is bothering them is an important lesson for children to learn. Sit down with your child or teen and make a list of things they can say or do when something is bothering them. For example:

  1. I can say, “Please stop doing that.”
  2. I can say, “It makes me mad when you . . . ”
  3. I can say, “That makes me angry.”
  4. I can walk away.
  5. I can go talk to someone else.
  6. I can write down how that person made me feel.
  7. I can talk about it later when I’m calm.

Social Skills

Responding to Teasing

Let’s face it: Most children are teased at some point in their lives. That’s why it’s important for them to know how to handle teasing when it happens to them. Here are the steps for the skill of “Responding to Teasing”:

  1. Remain calm, but serious.
  2. Assertively ask the person to stop teasing.
  3. If the teasing doesn’t stop, ignore the other person or leave the situation.
  4. If the teasing stops, thank the other person for stopping and explain how teasing makes you feel.
  5. Report continued teasing or hazing to an ​adult.

The Many Forms of Bullying

Bullying: Different Problems at Different Ages

It’s an unfortunate fact that bullying occurs, and it may surprise you to know that it occurs among every age group. The only things that really change are the tactics bullies use to torment their victims. From preschool to high school, bullying can take a toll on a child who is victimized. One way to help is to learn what bullying behavior you need to watch for in children of various ages.


You might hesitate at the thought of calling a toddler or preschooler a bully, but the fact is these are the ages when bullying begins. Antisocial behavior begins early in life, and without intervention, it can easily snowball into a much bigger problem.

Young children show signs of bullying by biting, intimidating smaller or younger children, and consistently behaving badly at daycare or school. When this happens, it’s crucial for parents and other adults to monitor, teach and model for a child better ways of handling his or her emotions and behavior.

Now, some bullying behavior is part of normal development. However, if your child is frequently using bullying behaviors, then you should teach him or her positive replacement behaviors. For example, several times each day, have your child practice being considerate to others. Teach him or her to say "Please" and "Thank you," instead of grabbing things and running away. You also can let your child earn privileges when he or she practices or interacts well with others.

If you want to teach your child to stop biting, bullying and exhibiting other bad behavior, these strategies can help:

  • Stop the problem when it's small.
  • Use swift and meaningful consequences.
  • Train your child to do something else instead.
  • Reinforce your child's positive efforts.
  • Model leadership skills, and change the play environment.
  • Be firm with your child without turning into a bully yourself.

Elementary School

Around ages 8 and 9, physical and verbal attacks become a bully’s favorite forms of torment — basically what comes to mind when you think of schoolyard bullying. Hitting, kicking, tripping and pushing are common types of physical bullying, as is destroying or damaging a victim’s property. Verbal bullying includes name-calling, insults, teasing and intimidation. In the higher elementary school grades, social bullying may begin with gossiping or spreading false rumors and grow into humiliating a victim.

Your child may be the victim of bullying if he or she shows the following warning signs:

  • A drastic change in behavior
  • Making excuses for why he or she can’t go to school
  • Stomachaches, headaches or other pains that could signal stress
  • A dramatic change in school grades or participation, or other difficulties in school
  • Avoiding friends or certain people
  • Nightmares or trouble sleeping
  • Unexplained bruises, cuts or injuries
  • Missing or damaged property

Middle School, Junior High and High School

Middle school and junior high are typically the time when social bullying — spreading gossip and rumors — peaks. It’s bad enough when rumors run rampant through the halls of your child’s school, but today’s bullies have even more sophisticated ways to torment their victims: text messaging, instant messaging/chat, and internet and social media sites.

Ages 12 through 17 are a tough time for any child, and the fact that cyberbullying occurs most often among this age group means that parents need to be aware of their children’s online activities and watch for signs of cyberbullying. Kids everywhere use the internet, and not just as a benign modern distraction. Preteens and teens are using the web as a blunt weapon of relational aggression and mass destruction. It is tailor-made for aggression, and kids are drawn to its power for spreading gossip quickly, anonymously and to an infinite audience — a thriving environment for cyberbullying.

This type of bullying is worse than verbal rumors; at least rumors eventually die out. On the internet, kids can cut, paste, print or forward conversations so malicious tales can live on forever. Here are some signs of cyberbullying to watch for:

  • Your child been on the receiving end of mysterious rumors.
  • Your child suddenly is having friendship troubles.
  • Your child is moodier than usual.
  • Your child has stopped hanging out with certain people.

Teaching Activity

Learning to Make and Keep Friends

Making and keeping friends are important to a child’s development. The ability to form friendships enriches your child’s school experience, improves self-esteem and builds social skills. Here’s an activity you can do with your child to teach him or her how to be a good friend.

  1. Sit down with your child and discuss what behaviors make someone a good friend. For example, depending on your child’s age, he or she might say:
    1. Sharing
    2. Enjoying the same activities
    3. Playing fairly
    4. Listening to one another
    5. Sharing the same interests and/or values
    6. Being honest
  2. Also, discuss with your child what behaviors make someone a bad friend. For example:
    1. Not sharing or being selfish
    2. Teasing or name-calling
    3. Lying or spreading rumors
    4. Hitting, punching or kicking
  3. Ask your child what he or she does to be a good friend. With younger children, have them trace their hand on a sheet of paper and write one good quality on each of their paper fingers.
  4. Ask your child what he or she could do to be a better friend. Again, younger children can trace their hand on a sheet of paper and write one way they could improve on each of their paper fingers.

Social Skills

Ignoring Distractions by Others

Bullies often try to disrupt classroom and social situations by causing distractions that involve their victims. You can teach your child to not contribute to a bully’s behavior by ignoring the distractions. Here are the steps for the skill of “Ignoring Distractions by Others”:

  1. Try not to look at people who are being distracting.
  2. Stay focused on your work or task.
  3. Do not respond to questions, teasing or giggling.
  4. If necessary, report this behavior to a nearby adult or authority figure.

How to Prevent Bullying and Get Help

As a parent, the last thing you want for your child is for him or her to be bullied or rejected by peers. Unfortunately, bullying is all-too-common among school-aged children. The good news is that you can take steps to prevent bullying.

If your child is being bullied despite your best efforts at prevention, you might be tempted to react out of protectiveness and anger. But this is never a good idea. Instead, teach your child how to handle bullying behavior, report bullying to school officials and seek the help of school officials to stop the bullying.

How Can I Prevent My Child from Being Bullied?

Bullies look for certain qualities and traits in their victims. Of course, if your child is bullied for being small for his or her age, there’s nothing either of you can do to change that circumstance. However, you can teach your child the following ways to prevent being targeted by bullies:

  • Make friends and get other kids to help. Bullies tend not to pick on kids who are self-confident or have friends who will back them up. Bullies don’t want to look bad in front of someone they respect, and friends can equal physical and emotional support for your child.
  • Avoid the bully. Although this won’t be possible all of the time, your child should try to minimize his or her exposure to the bully.
  • Don’t act like a victim. Weakness attracts bullies. Teach your child to stand up straight, look people in the eye, speak with a firm voice and act confident, even when he or she does not feel confident.
  • Be firm with a bully. By learning how to stand their ground, children can discourage bullies from targeting them.
  • Identify the situations where bullying is likely to happen, and avoid them.

As a parent, you also can do some things to help your child:

  • Teach your child how to change unlikeable traits that prevent him or her from forming friendships, and teach skills for developing friendships.
  • Work on friendship skills together at home. Practice and role-play different scenarios, and teach your child how he or she should respond.
  • Monitor your child’s online activity and look for signs of cyberbullying.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher regularly to find out if bullying behavior is occurring. You also can get involved in your child’s school through organizations like the PTA and by volunteering in the classroom.
  • Protect your child from bullying by teaching him or her ways to protect other students, such as reporting bullying to teachers; gathering other bystanders to tell the bully to stop; or helping the victim get away from the situation by inviting him or her to participate in a new activity.

What Can I Do to Help My Child If He or She Is Being Bullied?

If your child is currently being bullied, you can teach him or her some strategies to keep the situation from escalating. In addition, be sure to alert your child’s teacher and school officials about the bullying. Schools have a zero-tolerance policy against bullying, and they can take steps to protect your child.

  • Take the time to talk to your child every day about his or her day at school. If you talk regularly, your child is more likely to open up and tell you when there is a problem.
  • Take a solution-focused approach. Brainstorm possible solutions to the bullying situation, consider the pros and cons of each option, and share them with your child.
  • Teach your child not to return insults from a bully. Instead, your child should deflect the bully’s comment with an “I” statement. For example, if a bully calls your child a wimp, he or she might respond with, “Yeah, I’m working on that.”
  • Tell your child that if a bully is aggressive, then he or she should leave the situation if possible and talk to a trusted adult.
  • Teach your child that becoming visibly upset only feeds a bully’s appetite for more bullying.
  • Encourage your child to talk to someone about the problem. This is not tattling; your child is reporting violent behavior that needs to stop for his or her sake as well as the bully’s.
  • Suggest some responses your child can make to the bully. Teach your child to stand up for himself or herself and to feel more in control of the situation. The more children stand up for themselves, the more empowered they feel.
  • Talk to your child about specific situations that are occurring. After he or she tells you what happened, role-play how your child can better handle the situation in the future. Play the role of the bully and have your child practice telling you assertively to leave him or her alone or even walking away. Practice every day so these skills become natural and comfortable to your child.
  • Teach your child to be strong. Crying excessively or playing up the victim role only attracts more attention from bullies. Teach your child to use humor or positive self-talk to prevent emotional reactions. When victims stop giving bullies emotional responses, the bullying often stops.
  • Avoid telling your child to “Toughen up” or “Stand up and be a man.” In addition to the shame and embarrassment many bullying victims feel, they also experience guilt because they feel they’re not living up to parental expectations. Your child can interpret glib remarks like these as confirmation that you consider him or her a failure.
  • Communicate your love. Tell your child you are proud of him or her and that he or she always has your support.

Teaching Activity

Talking to Your Child about Bullying

Take some time to discuss the subject of bullying with your child. Teach your child how to identify bullying and what to do if he or she or another ​child is being bullied. And, teach your child to always report bullying, whether it happens to him or her or another child. Here are some questions to keep the discussion moving:

  1. What are some things a bully has done to you or someone else?
  2. How did you respond to that?
  3. Do you think you responded the right way? If not, what would you do differently?
  4. If someone says something mean to you, what are some things you can say or do?
  5. What are some ways you can avoid the bully?

Social Skills

Appropriately Resolving Conflicts

Bullying is a type of conflict, but your child doesn’t have to engage in that ​conflict with the bully. Use these steps to teach your child the skill of “Appropriately Resolving Conflicts”:

  1. Approach the situation calmly and rationally.
  2. Listen to the other people who are involved.
  3. Express your feelings appropriately and assertively.
  4. Acknowledge other points of view.
  5. Show that you are willing to negotiate and compromise.
  6. Help arrive at a mutually beneficial resolution.
  7. Thank the other ​person (or people) for cooperating.

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