Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear a story about bullying: from television reports, to pending legislation, to our own children coming home with tear-streaked faces. For most, school is out for the summer and while our attention to this pressing health issue may wane during the next few months, the problem of bullying doesn’t disappear.
Today, we released a report on the health and developmental impacts bullying has on kids in our communities.
We know that kids and parents struggle with how to address this issue. From a developmental perspective, it’s important for children to learn how to resolve conflict independently. The trick for all of us is to understand when a conflict is no longer healthy and to intervene appropriately. We discuss this idea in the paper and offer some developmentally appropriate guidance to parents (see below) to monitor for and address bullying-related activity with their children.
So how do you do that? Here’s adapted guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts on how to address conflict resolution and bullying.
Preschoolers (ages 5 and younger)
Parents can help their child handle conflict by teaching them to:
- Use language rather than action to express anger or feelings, and
- Respond to physical aggression by another child by saying, “That hurts. Don’t do it.” Seek the help of an adult.
Grade school (ages 5-12)
To assess whether a child has been involved in bullying, parents should ask and consider enlisting others to help if the answers reveal that a child is experiencing bullying:
- Have you been involved in any fights?
- How do you avoid (or not avoid) getting into fights?
- Are you afraid of getting hurt or bullied by other children?
- How would you react if you saw a fight or bulling incident?
If responses to these questions are concerning, consider some of the following as next steps:
- If the child is reluctant to talk about bullying, it may make sense to get a counselor or pediatrician involved.
- Once the child talks about what happened and identifies the bully or bullies, contact the relevant teacher and/or administrator to develop an approach that works in the school setting and is comfortable for the bullied child.
- Explore methods for providing the child skills he/she needs to respond to future situations.
Parents also need to stay on top of these issues as the child gets older. When their child is in second grade, parents should:
- Assess if their child has a regular group of friends.
- Ask what happens when friends disagree.
- Be familiar with those friends, and
- Observe what happens when your child is with those friends.
By fourth grade, it’s especially important that children develop self-esteem and feel good about themselves. Parents should observe if their child is:
- Unhappy or withdrawn,
- Unable to listen or do homework, or
- Engaging in destructive behavior.
Middle school (ages 12-14)
Kids need to be encouraged to talk, but may be reluctant to be open and honest if parents or pediatricians come on too strong.
What parents can do:
Some questions for older kids might include:
- How are things going at school?
- What do you think of the other kids in your classes?
- Does anyone get picked on?
There are a number of actions parents can take once they determine their child is a target of bullying. These actions range from teaching kids social skills and building their self-confidence to knowing when and how to contact the school or law enforcement authorities.
We hope this report will contribute to important ongoing discussions happening in our state on how to best address bullying. If you’d like to learn more about our in-depth review of how bullying impacts the health of Minnesota kids, visit childrensmn.org/bullying.