Dealing with Bullying – Tips from the Teacher (Part 1)

By Nature M. Sargent

Greetings beautiful people!

What’s up with all the bullying?  For the purpose of this article, we’ll use Dr. Dan Olweus’ definition of bullying.  Dr. Olweus, a psychology professor at Norway’s University of Bergen, defines bullying as an accumulation of negative actions, occurring repeatedly and over time, directed toward one student by another student or students.

There are many myths about bullies and their victims that parents, students and even teachers believe.  Dr. Olweus has identified through his research 10 specific myths I will outline and hopefully you can add this information to your parenting tool box.

Myth #1 Bullies suffer from insecurity and low self-esteem. They pick on others to feel more important.

Research suggests bullies have average or above average self-esteem.   The real issue is lack of compassion, empathy, neglectful parenting and uncorrected aggressive behavior.

Bullies must have aggressive behavior patterns stopped through effective classroom procedures, enforced discipline at school, and attentive parents who teach children how to deal with disappointment.

Do not allow a child’s circumstances to dictate whether or not you will discipline them.  All children require discipline, no matter their home situation or ability level.  It is inappropriate to give a bully a pass because they are in a single parent home, have a parent in jail or living with a disability.

Curtailing aggressive behavior is essential!  A favorite saying of my mother’s is, I can discipline you now or the police will later.  Bullies only grow more aggressive over time.  Do not allow your sense of empathy to blind you to their real need for boundary setting.

Myth #2: Bullies are looking for attention. Ignore them and the bullying will stop.

Bullies are interested in controlling others, physically and socially.  Ostracizing is a very popular, emotionally devastating social bullying practice.  Often, one girl will get angry with another and convince all the other girls in the class to ignore her.

I have witnessed a class of girls drive a peer to hysterical tears because they won’t speak to her.  She was unable to eat her lunch and she wanted to go to the nurse.  Needless to say, she was in no way able to focus on learning.

If it is difficult for adults to ignore a bothersome peer, how much more difficult is it for a child?  During the school day they must interact in a thousand different ways.  Moreover, getting hit in the back of the head isn’t something one can ignore.

Do not tell children to ignore a bully.  It sends the message you in some way believe what they are experiencing is their fault.

Myth #3: Boys will be boys.

Research says bullies grow in their aggressive practices and redirect them.  Approximately 60 percent of middle school bullies will commit a criminal act before the age of 24.  Bullying behavior you don’t correct may lead your child to at least one criminal act.

Also, in Why Kids Kill: Exploring the Causes and Possible Solutions, Dr. Sylvia Rimm identified one constant among the children she worked with, “All of them [children who expressed anger violently] had been teased by others more than what is typical.”    Victims may eventually respond to bullying by acting violently.

There is no way to prevent all bullying, however, once a parent or teacher is aware of the harassment, it is essential to respond firmly.  Bullies may grow to be criminals or make choices with far reaching consequences at an age when boundary setting by adults could make all the difference.

Victims may grow increasingly frustrated and bitter.  They may begin to view adults as powerless, stupid individuals who seem to look the other way or be uncaring.  An inability to successfully resolve the problem can lead to a violent and unexpected response to something small, such as teasing or name calling.

Children do not understand a proportionate response.  After years of bullying, one more incident is just too much.

Myth #4: Kids can be cruel about differences.

Most victims of bullies tend to be sensitive children who are unable to retaliate.  Peer response to bullying makes it clear that picking on obviously handicapped children and use of racial slurs are unacceptable.

I have witnessed children setting boundaries as it relates to ethnicity, but not as it relates to skin color.  What is the difference?  They do not allow slurs, but will tease about dark skin.  They have been taught about other cultures and the changes in America over time; they can identify prejudiced behavior and will challenge it.

However, appearance, clothes, hygiene, family circumstances such as jailed or absent parents and academic struggles are all reasons to tease.

Myth #5: Victims of bullies need to learn to stand up for themselves and deal with the situation.

Bullies choose weaker, younger and less socially capable children to harass.  None of those qualifiers lead a child to stand up for themselves.   Suggesting a child stand up for themselves is on par with telling a runner with a broken leg to shake it off.

It is essential to give your children tools on the best way to deal with aggressive behavior, tactics include defusing, deflecting, distancing and reporting.  Teach your child how to change the subject, calm down an angry peer, remove themselves from a situation and to get help from adults.

Give them what if scenarios and let them practice.  The best way to learn is to practice.   Prepare them for difficult circumstances and discuss ways to handle it.  Practice social skills for the same reason schools have fire and tornado drills.

An emergency is not the time to discover no one in the portables can hear the siren.  You should know the building will be empty in 2 minutes because you have done it!  It is never too early to learn how to deal effectively with uncooperative and mean people.

Nature Sargent is a native of Dallas, Texas.  She graduated from Skyline High School, and attended Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University, of which she is a graduate with a BS in Family Studies.  She holds an EC-4 certification in the State of Texas.

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