|Almost 10% of school age children are the victims of a bully. Bullying is most common by the second grade and then supposedly declines by the high school years. Bullying can be either physical or verbal, and can range from mild teasing to pushing and hitting.
Victims of bullies are usually stereotyped as being loners, passive, quiet, sensitive, anxious, with low self esteem and they are often smaller and/or weaker than other children of the same age and may come from an overprotective home. More importantly, they usually react to bullying by crying, acting out or withdrawing. Some victims may actually bring on the bullying attack by teasing or provoking a bully. Being the victim of a bully can lead to your child avoiding school, and developing fear and anxiety about going to school. It can also cause your child to feel insecure and have feelings of low self worth and poor self-esteem and can ultimately lead to depression and/or violence, either against himself or against the bully.
Because victims of bullies often do not seek help or confide in anyone about the bullying, either because of shame or embarrassment or fear that it will be worse if the bully finds out, it is important to look for signs in your children. School avoidance behaviors, especially chronic nonspecific complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches, or they may have trouble sleeping. Also, if your child seems afraid or anxious about going to school, has a change in his personality or his behavior, or a change in his grades, you should consider that he may be a victim of a bully at school, especially if he fits the stereotypes described above.
If you suspect that your child may be a victim of a bully, you can ask him if he is being teased at school, or ask more open-ended questions, such as 'What do you like to do at recess?' or 'at lunchtime?'
Children are most often bullied at school, usually on the playground or at lunchtime when children are more likely to have minimal supervision, or it may occur in the hallways between classes or on the school bus. In any situation, the better supervised children are, the less likely that bullying will occur.
Children who are bullies may have problems with low self-esteem, but newer theories argue that bullies are driven more by a desire to have power over others and to be 'in control' than because they have poor self-esteem and that they have little empathy for their victims. They may also be aggressive, bossy, controlling, have a low level of self control, and have difficulty making friends. Bullies are also more likely to develop criminal behaviors as adults.
While this may help you understand why a bully acts the way he does, this doesn't necessarily help your child deal with the problem. Things that you should avoid include teaching your child to fight back, since he may get hurt and it may also get him in trouble at school, but that doesn't mean that you can't teach your child to be assertive and to show self-confidence.
Parents often turn to enrolling their children in a martial arts class, and while this can be helpful to build his self-esteem and help him be more assertive, the aim of the classes should not be so that he can fight back.
It may also help to talk with school officials about the problem (so that they can better supervise your child, observe the bully and intervene when necessary) and teach your child to not respond too strongly to the bully (either by crying or giving in to demands), because the bully is more likely to continue bullying your child if he knows that he will get a response.
It may also help to schedule a meeting between the parents of the children involved and school officials.
You can teach your child to walk away (but while staying calm and not running), tell the bully to stop and leave him alone, or to use humor and come up with a good comeback when a bully teases him. It can also help if your child has high self-esteem and if he has some strong friendships, so that he is less of a target. Teaching your child to make eye contact with others (especially the bully) and to talk with a strong voice may also help. Role playing situations where he is bullied may be helpful in teaching how to respond.
It is also important for the bully to understand that bullying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. If the bullying behavior or other aggressive behaviors persist, then he may need to see a child psychologist for further help.
Also keep in mind that while bullying most often involves boys (both as the bully and victim), girls can also be the victim of bullying and they may bully other children (usually with gossip or isolating someone socially, instead of physical bullying).
It may also help to educate all children about bullying and its consequences. Even if your child is not a victim of a bully, you can teach him to inform an adult if he sees a child being bullied.