Making threats, spreading rumors and attacking someone physically or verbally all count as aggressive behavior. When this behavior is repeated over time, it can turn into bullying. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, one in seven children is a bully or the target of a bully.
A generation ago, bullying was considered a normal part of the childhood experience. Saying that your child was a victim of “bullying” was not a part of our vernacular, and many parents did not take an active role in educating their child about what it means to bully others.
Unfortunately, bullying has now become a serious issue that has been making headlines in recent years due to the rise in children using social media platforms. Countless studies correlate unwanted aggressive behavior or verbal harassment from peers with low self-esteem, underachievement in school, depression, withdrawal, and even suicidal thoughts. It doesn’t end there: bullying doesn’t just affect victims. Perpetrators are also at risk, as bullying others often leads to more violent behavior later in life and can result in serious consequences.
Even though younger children don’t face as great a risk of being harassed online as older children and adolescents do, bullying is still a cause for concern in preschool and daycare centers. The good news is, bullying can be prevented through education and children can be protected from making poor choices before the situation escalates.
Whether your child is the one displaying bullying behavior or on the receiving end, there is a way to end the cycle. Parents and teachers can help put an end to bullying before it starts by following these five tips:
1. Notice aggressive behavior
Adults must do their best to be vigilant and keep a look out for signs of physical bullying (hurting a person’s body or possessions) and verbal bullying (saying or writing mean things). Even if the aggressive behavior itself does not occur when an adult is watching, they can discourage this kind of behavior from taking place by creating a safe environment where children aren’t afraid to speak up. Encourage your child’s school to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to violence and work to build a trusting relationship between your child and their teacher.
2. Teach children empathy
Even if a child comes from a wonderful, stable home environment, they could still lash out at others due to a lack of empathy. Fortunately, sympathy and compassion for others are things that can be learned. Teach your child to care about others’ feelings and explain the many benefits of being kind over being aggressive. After all, it’s much easier to make friends and get what you want by being nice to other people.
3. Help your child tame their temper
Some children may resort to aggression due to a hot temper, or learn to do so from watching others. While violence is never the answer, some kids just don’t know how else to deal with their feelings. If your child is having a difficult time controlling their emotions, start by teaching them to step back and take a break from a situation when they start feeling upset. It’s important to teach them that it’s alright to walk away from a conflict and find a safe, healthy way to express themselves using their words instead.
4. Make sure it isn’t a cry for attention or control
In her article What Causes Your Child to Become a Bully?, Gail Gross explains that children who feel invisible at home can act out as bullies at school. “That feeling of invisibility may turn into anger, resentment and then bullying others,” says Gross. “Sometimes, the child that bullies is the child who feels completely powerless at home…this child may attempt to gain back power by bullying others at school.”
5. Lead by example
“Our children are our greatest mirrors.” –Anonymous. This old saying holds true, and as adults we must be mindful that children model what they see. If a child sees aggressive or disrespectful behavior at home, they are far more likely to imitate this behavior at school, which is all the more reason for us to treat each person we meet with dignity and respect.
If you notice your child becoming more withdrawn or acting out in aggression, visiting a pediatric psychologist or therapist may be helpful to examine the pattern of behavior and determine if bullying is the cause. Only when parents and teachers work together in the best interests of our children can we effectively stop bullying in its tracks.
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