It’s not easy for parents to know if their child is being bullied, and even harder yet to admit that their sweet youngster might actually be a bully.
There are always going to be some parents who see all the signs and even have people tell them that their child is bullying other children but choose to ignore it. “He’s just being a kid,” they often say. “That other kid needs to learn to take a joke.”
But bullying is not a joke. It has led to life-or-death decisions for many children as technology has taken bullying to new levels. Kids can no longer escape to their homes for refuge. Instead, the bullying follows them on cellphones and social media accounts so that some children are victims of bullying 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I loved the video that went viral this month of two girls teasing a third girl at a bus stop. The girls were all in on the experiment to see what the adults would do about the bullying in front of them. Fortunately, the adults stepped up and told the girls to stop, encouraged the bullied girl to be who she was, and even invited her to come sit by them instead.
It was awesome to see adults stepping in to help this girl, but it also made me wonder if parents would be as likely to intervene if their own kids were the ones doing the bullying. Sometimes I think parents have difficulty admitting their child is a bully because they believe it reflects on their parenting. Maybe they feel defensive that their child’s behavior is their fault or that outsiders will think they condone or model such aggressive behavior at home.
That was certainly not the case for a good friend of mine, who has two sons that attend the same elementary school. The older one was constantly bullied at school while her younger son was often in trouble for picking on other students.
She seemed to have the worst end of both sides of bullying to deal with, which became painfully obvious on the day the principal called her into his office. There sat her two sons: the eldest with a bloody nose and the youngest in trouble because he had set up a “Fight Club” beneath the playground in which his brother got pummeled.
He didn’t mean for his brother to get hurt, but the moment made my friend step back and realize she was parenting both a victim and an aggressor. She had reared them the same and yet there they were, opposite ends of the spectrum.
The most important thing she could do at that moment was not run away from the situation and make excuses for her son. She didn’t. Instead, she worked with both children to understand why such behavior was unacceptable. She cared so little about what other people might think of her as a parent and more about what she could do to help her son and end the cycle of bullying that was directly affecting his brother.
I wish more parents could see the signs of bullying in their children and not be afraid to admit there might be a problem. Bullying doesn’t have to define a parent any more than it defines a child. The behaviors can change. But they often won’t go away on their own or even with the help of parents. There is no shame in getting help from counselors.
If your child is being bullied, get help. If your child is bullying, get help. Either way, someone’s child is being hurt.
The anti-bullying campaign, stopbullying.gov, offers these warning signs to parents.
Signs a child is being bullied:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves or talking about suicide
Signs a child is bullying others:
- Get into physical or verbal fights
- Have friends who bully others
- Are increasingly aggressive
- Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
- Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blame others for their problems
- Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
Have you dealt with bullying in your home? What did you do to get help?
Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 8-year-old and 5-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.