October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month and as a mom of three young children, (preschool, elementary, junior high), I am very passionate about this subject. I hear so many stories from other moms about bullying happening to their children, starting in elementary.
I wanted to get a professional's experience on bullying, so I spoke with Jacqueline A. Schmidt, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a private practice in Westchester, NY. She works with individuals, couples, and families. One of her specialties is in issues pertaining to pre-teens and adolescents, i.e.: school related issues, social anxiety, depression, impact of divorce, etc. Here is what she had to say...What is bullying?
Bullying is defined as "a conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile activity intended to harm, induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and create terror” (The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander, Barbara Coloroso, 2008). Bullying always includes an imbalance of power. There are three types of bullying: verbal, physical, and relational. The one we are most concerned with at an elementary school level is verbal bullying, which, accounts for 70% of reported bullying by both boys and girls. It includes name-calling, taunting, belittling, cruel criticism, personal defamation, racist slurs, and sexually aggressive or abusive remarks. Verbal bullying is often the first step towards physical and relational bullying which is why it needs to be addressed. Younger children who haven't yet developed a strong sense of self are the most susceptible to it.
The most difficult type of bullying to detect is relational bullying, which is exhibited primarily in the middle school years, although elementary school students are not immune to it. Relational bullying is often unseen and easily missed by parents and educators. Relational bullying encompasses ignoring, isolating excluding or shunning. All of these serve to gradually diminish a child’s sense of self over time. When we see children alienating peers, sabotaging friendships, rolling their eyes, sneering and snickering they are engaging in relational bullying and it is painful to the recipient. Relational bullying typically occurs at the onset of adolescence when kids are going through physical, emotional and sexual changes and it is challenging for them to know how to confront their “friends” and their feelings. What can we do?
The most effective way to tackle this issue is to increase awareness in kids, teachers and parents, establish clear school-wide and classroom rules about bullying, train all adults in the school to respond sensitively and consistently to bullying and provide adequate adult supervision during less structured times like lunch, recess, bus, etc. (Coloroso, 2008). Sadly, I have seen anxiety, psychosomatic complaints, depression, cutting and suicide as a direct result of children being bullied. Children who are bullied are also impacted academically because they invest most of their energy into avoiding harassment and have little left for learning.”
There are many resources available (stompoutbullying.org
) that really simplify it so our kids can better understand. What is bullying? What can you say when being bullied? What can you say if you see someone being bullied?
In May of this year, a 13-year-old Minnesota student committed suicide after months of bullying. The Huffington Post stated, "Rachel reportedly pleaded with her father not to mention the bullying to school officials, for fear of worsening the situation. A note that her parents found after her death read, 'I'm fine = I wish I could tell you how I really feel,' alongside a picture of a broken heart."
It's important that our children know that they are not being a snitch or tattletale for letting an adult know what's going on. We are here to help (not blame or embarrass). The adult should get as much information as they can to try and determine if it's kidding around, conflict or bullying. At that point, discussing the differences could convey a better understanding. I think it's also a good idea to let the child know that by telling an adult, they could be helping the other person as well. Maybe he/she has something going on in their life that is causing them to act this way. Maybe they don't feel good about themselves and this is their way of feeling better, or their way of asking for help. We will not accuse - we will talk. Everyone involved gets to be heard, as there are always two sides to a story. And if the situation is diffused immediately, hopefully there will be no further incidents.
School assemblies are a great tool. Even better, some schools bring it back into the classroom for further discussion. Giving specific examples of what bullying looks like and sounds like on the playground, on the bus and in the cafeteria can help kids to more easily identify situations. Informational literature sent home to parents (before/after assemblies) could also encourage the discussion to continue at home.
I'm that mom who, while driving with music and or videos blaring, will ask my kids, "Everything good? Need help with anything? All your buddies are good? Is anyone being bullied that you’re aware of? Anything happened lately that you don't want to talk about?" I always ask my children those questions and although they might be annoyed at times (they're pretty used to it now), I can usually tell if there's something on their minds. I reassure them that they can tell me anything and that we will handle it together. Together we can build an open line of communication between children, parents and educators: parents talking to their children, teachers talking to our children, and our children talking to each other.