Meanies: How to Deal with Kids Who Bully Other Kids
I know, I know. At some point most kids are tormented about something—their weight, their hair, their "dorky" jeans or nerdy glasses. I was one of those: a vulnerable 10-year-old in glasses who desperately wanted contact lenses. I remember the ridicule. It stung. And "four-eyes" taunts still go on. Cliques haven't gone away either: The "in" crowd regularly shows its cruel side by excluding kids who yearn to be accepted. So it's no surprise that three-quarters of kids say they've been teased or bullied, verbally or physically.
But if your 7-year-old is suddenly afraid to go to the playground or your middle kid is having unexplained headaches, diarrhea, upset stomachs, or is just acting odd—or your teenager starts doing anything to avoid going to school (dreading school is a big tip-off)—it's time to do what smart parents do: probe.
If you get an "Everything's fine," keep at it. Kids often hide bullying. They're ashamed of being picked on. Or they're afraid if they "tell," things will get even worse. Or both.
- If your gut tells you your child is being bullied at school, ask questions like "What do you do at recess?" or "Who do you sit with at lunch?" Quietly ask your child's teacher if your kid is the butt of mean jokes. (Most schools now have no-tolerance policies.)
- If you suspect your child's in trouble online, ask "Is anyone bugging you over the computer?" Go over the rules for safe surfing and chatting: "Remain anonymous. Create an alias. Never give out personal info. And never send any photos you wouldn't want me to see."
- Set up the computer your kid uses—which should be in the family room, not the child's bedroom—with child-friendly search engines that filter out junk or worse. It's up to you, but in the name of digital hygiene, I'd keep that filter on and spot-check which sites your child visits. I think it's more than okay for parents to see where their kids spend virtual time.
- Teach your son or daughter not to use their nickname, birthday, address, phone number or any other information that bullies might guess as their personal password.
- Encourage all your kids to tell an adult if they're being bullied. It doesn't have to be you. It could be a coach, teacher, aunt, any adult.
- Encourage kids to join clubs or teams where they'll be part of a group that sticks together. It's a good way to avoid bullies.
- Teach kids that if they're ever bullied in a public place that feels safe (like a busy mall or park), it's okay to stand up for themselves, yell "Stop it!" and walk away.
- If your child is threatened in any way by one bully or a gang of 'em, online or in person, report it to the police.
If you have any inkling that your son or daughter is bullying other kids, have a "that is not acceptable" conversation. Ask if your child is angry or frustrated about something. If you get a yes, spend alone-time together and talk about the problem and why he should feel good about himself. Enroll him in a class or sport he's good at. Do some role-playing: Have your child play the victim while you be the bully—it's a potent way to show why bullying is so horrible. Even bring in an older brother or sister to help brainstorm solutions.
At the same time, make it perfectly clear that there will be consequences if the bullying doesn't stop. What would I do? First, I'd make my child apologize in person or in writing, and I'd let the bullied kid's parents know I'm all over the situation. If I found my child was being mean through texting or online, I'd pull the plug on using that electronic device, probably for an extended period of time.
Also, spend some time at stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov. The site has good examples of anti-bullying programs all over the country. If you have a young child, you can watch webisodes together that explain why bullying is unacceptable. The Cartoon Network just announced it's planning a major anti-bullying campaign next fall aimed at middle-school "bystanders" who could help curtail bullying. If you need help, talk to your child's school counselor, teacher or, yes, your pediatrician. We're there to help.
How do you talk to your kids about bullying? Leave your comments below.
Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg—or Dr. Jen—is RealAge's pediatric expert and the author of The Smart Parent's Guide to Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents and Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children. Get more of her advice at RealAge.com.
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