How To Tell If Your Child Is Being Bullied

Nobody wants to be bullied. And no one should have to be, especially your child. StompOutBullying.org defines bullying as intentional, aggressive and repeated abusive behavior by one or more people that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Although bullying can happen at any age, it seems to be more prevalent during the elementary and middle school years. Also, children with disabilities may be at a higher risk of being bullied than other children.

At Westchester Health, we take bullying very seriously and do everything we can to help our young patients and their parents learn ways to stand up to it and stop it. If you suspect that your child is being bullied, please contact us. We’re here to help.

Maryann Buetti-Sgouros MD, FAAP

Bullying can take many forms but typically includes:

  • Physical (hitting, punching, beating)
  • Verbal (teasing, name calling, threats)
  • Emotional (intimidation using gestures, social exclusion, threats)
  • Sexual
  • Racist Bullying
  • Cyberbullying (online harassment, hate messages, threats, impersonation and other digital abuse)

Why do kids bully?

Girls who bully usually do so in emotional ways, while boys can bully both physically and emotionally. But whether they are male or female, bullies seek power at someone else’s expense.

Bullies are typically driven by:

  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Domestic violence, emotional and/or physical abuse, and anger and hostility at home
  • No consequences
  • Media and video games
  • Low impulse control
  • Low tolerance of frustration
  • A need to control or dominate
  • Trouble with authority
  • Extreme aggressiveness

Parents are often the best role models for their children’s behaviors

If parents demonstrate behaviors that teach respect and tolerance, it is less likely that their children will become bullies. Respect begets respect; respect for one’s differences means there is a respect of what makes someone unique. Respect for one’s feelings means there is empathy for what someone is going through. An eloquent poem by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D., entitled Children Learn What They Live is a beautiful lesson for all to review:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Warning signs that your child is being bullied

  • Comes home with torn, damaged or missing clothing, backpack, books, shoes or other belongings
  • Has unexplained cuts, bruises and scratches
  • Has few if any friends
  • Seems afraid to go to school, walk to and from school, ride the school bus, or take part in organized activities with peers
  • Finds or makes up excuses to skip school or group activities
  • Takes an out of the way route when walking to or from school
  • Has lost interest in schoolwork or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
  • Appears sad, moody, teary or depressed when he/she comes home
  • Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments
  • Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
  • Loss of appetite
  • Appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem

Questions to ask to determine if your child is being bullied

When you ask children directly if they’re being bullied, they often won’t admit it. Instead, here are suggestions from StompOutBullying.org for how to approach the subject with your child:

  • “I’ve heard a lot about bullying lately. Is that going on at your school?”
  • “How is school going? Are there any kids who pick on you or tease you in a mean way?”
  • “Are there any kids at school who leave you out or exclude you on purpose?”
  • “Do you have any special friends at school this year? Who do you hang out with?”
  • “Who do you sit with at lunch and on the bus?”
  • “Are there any kids at school who you really don’t like? Why don’t you like them? Do they ever pick on you or leave you out of things?”

6 ways you can help your child stand up to bullying

1) Talk with your child about bullying. Many children who are being bullied will open up in the right environment, such as the car or a similar place where you have little eye-to-eye contact. The most important thing is to listen. Don’t promise that you won’t tell anyone, because you may need to become involved. Assure your child that you will do your very best not to make the problem worse.

2) Practice role-playing at home. Help your child react calmly and confidently to taunting. For example, your child can practice saying “Leave me alone” and then walking away. Help him/her understand that responding with physical aggression or insults will usually only make the problem worse.

3) Help build your child’s self-esteem by encouraging new activities or clubs. This can be a good way of making new friends (and avoiding the bully/bullies). Plus, having several friends and interests can boost a child’s confidence and make him/her less likely to be bullied.

4) Suggest to your child that he/she join activities that are supervised by a responsible adult. NOTE: Bullying is less likely to occur near adults.

5) Encourage your child to talk to a teacher, school counselor or you. Many children are too embarrassed or afraid to tell an adult about bullying. They may think that involving a grownup will only make the problem worse, but actually, silence only favors the bully. Telling someone about what’s going on is the first step to stopping it.

6) Most important of all, assure your child that you love them, that this is not their fault and that you will help them in any way you can to stop the bullying and make things better. Also, make sure your child knows that they can talk to you about anything, that you are there for them.

Read our other pediatric blogs

We’ve written a number of informative blogs about a wide variety of issues and conditions affecting children, which you can read here.

If your think your child is being bullied, please come see us

If you suspect or know for a fact that your child is being bullied, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment to see one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. We’ll talk with you and your child, listen to your concerns, answer all your questions and together, come up with strategies going forward so that your child can be happy, self-confident and safe. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

By Maryann Buetti-Sgouros MD, FAAP, a Pediatrician with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital.

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