October is bullying prevention month and a time to raise awareness about the harm created by bullying.
Matthew Witham, Director of Child and Family Services at Gillette Children’s, says it’s important for parents to know when teasing crosses the line into full-blown bullying. “Bullying is not always easy to identify,” Witham explains, “there’s a continuum that goes from gentle teasing to bullying. It is important to seek to understand your child’s experience if they talk to you about their interactions with their peers.”
Witham is pleased anti-bullying campaigns are getting attention and adds that curbing bullying is crucial for a child's overall success at school. "Bullying often goes beyond a single event," Witham says. "In many cases it is repetitive and can lead to a child being hypervigilant, preoccupied with avoiding bullying situations and fearful. Fear is never a good ingredient for successful learning and development."
He says teamwork between parents, teachers, and other meaningful adults in a child's life is the key to really helping kids feel safe so they can explore, learn and be creative. "It's important for the adults to act in a responsible, thoughtful way when a child tells them they're being bullied," Witham cautions. "If a parent or teacher decides to confront a child's bully directly, the situation should be monitored to ensure things improve."
Bullying is more calculated and intense
Bullying is more calculated, intense and persistent than teasing. In some cases, it can be a learned behavior—from TV shows, computer games, or family members. If there are concerns about possibly bullying, adults shouldn't hesitate to intervene. Here are some strategies that may help.
Take charge: Your child can’t control the teasers, but can control his response. Advise your child not to engage with the teasers—and if possible, walk away or stay away from places where they have been bullied. If staying away is not possible, encourage your child to tell the bulling to stop by using a clear, strong voice.
Stay calm: Kids who tease want to see that they’re bothering your child. Encourage her to take some deep breaths or count to 10.
Reject the teasing: Just because someone says something in a loud voice doesn’t mean your child has to accept it. Acknowledge that words can be hurtful and remind them how valuable they are to you and others.
Stay in a group: Bullies tend to pick on kids who are alone. Encourage your child to stay away from kids who tease and stay near kind adults and kids. Most bulling happens when adults are not around. If possible, help your child find people who share his interests. Having even one good, supportive friend can help.
Play it safe: Emphasize that it’s okay to ask for help. If your child has told the teaser to stop, and the teasing continues or worsens, or if it becomes physical, she should tell an adult right away.
Be smart on social media: Tell your child to always think before posting something online. If they see something that makes then sad or scared online, this could be cyberbullying. Let your child know they should tell an adult about these types of messages.
Talk to an adult you trust: Help your child know they don't need to keep their feelings inside. Let them know you are there for them. A trusted adult can help them feel less alone and can help make a plan to stop the bullying.
Want more tips?
The website StopBullying.gov has several more suggestions for actions children can take if they are being bullied.
A book can help
Parents never want to see their children struggle with teasing or bullying. Instead of feeling helpless, use the issue as an opportunity to start a classroom conversation about friendship and kindness. A book for elementary-aged students, called “It’s Okay to Ask,” is an ideal tool to begin a positive discussion that will empower you and your child. The book is published by Gillette Children's Healthcare Press, written by experts at Gillette Children’s and illustrated by Twin Cities artist Nancy Carlson.
Request an appointment to connect with Gillette providers.