Understanding kids and bullying

Published 1:36pm Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bullying among kids of all ages seems to be on the rise . . . just about every week more and more incidents are reported in the news. As parents and concerned adults, bullying cannot be ignored; we must take it serious, and move to take the necessary steps to put an end to this unwanted behavior.

Understanding bullying behavior:

Kids bully for many reasons. Some bully because they feel insecure. Picking on someone who seems emotionally or physically weaker provides a feeling of being more important, popular, or in control. In other cases, kids bully because they simply don’t know that it’s unacceptable to pick on kids who are different because of size, looks, race, or religion.

In some cases bullying is a part of an ongoing pattern of defiant or aggressive behavior. These kids are likely to need help learning to manage anger and hurt, frustration, or other strong emotions. They may not have the skills they need to cooperate with others. Professional counseling can often help them learn to deal with their feelings, curb their bullying, and improve their social skills.

Some kids who bully at school and in settings with their peers are copying behavior that they see at home. Kids who are exposed to aggressive and unkind interactions in the family often learn to treat others the same way. And kids who are on the receiving end of taunting learn that bullying can translate into control over children they perceive as weak.

Help kids stop bullying by:

• Take bullying seriously. Make sure your kids understand that you will not tolerate bullying at home or anywhere else. Establish rules about bullying and stick to them. If you punish your child by taking away privileges, be sure it’s meaningful. For example, if your child bullies other kids via email, text messages, or a social networking site, dock phone or computer privileges for a period of time. If your child acts aggressively at home, with siblings or others, put a stop to it. Teach more appropriate (and nonviolent) ways to react, like walking away.

Teach kids to treat others with respect and kindness. Teach your child that it is wrong to ridicule differences (i.e., race, religion, appearance, special needs, gender, and economic status) and try to instill a sense of empathy for those who are different. Consider getting involved together in a community group where your child can interact with kids who are different.

Learn about your child’s social life. Look for insight into the factors that may be influencing your child’s behavior in the school environment (or wherever the bullying is occurring). Talk with parents of your child’s friends and peers, teachers, guidance counselors, and the school principal. Do other kids bully? What about your child’s friends? What kinds of pressures do the kids face at school? Talk to your kids about those relationships and about the pressures to fit in. Get them involved in activities outside of school so that they meet and develop friendships with other kids.

Encourage good behavior. Positive reinforcement can be more powerful than negative discipline. Catch your kids being good – and when they handle situations in ways that are constructive or positive, take notice and praise them for it.

Set a good example. Think carefully about how you talk around your kids and how you handle conflict and problems. If you behave aggressively – toward or in front of your kids – chances are they’ll follow your example. Instead, point out positives in others, rather than negatives. And when conflicts arise in your own life, be open about the frustrations you have and how you cope with your feelings.

Callie Nelson is the county extension coordinator for Dallas County.

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