Four Things Every Child Should Learn to Combat Bullies
Bullying is a pervasive problem among children and adolescents. Reports indicate that approximately 160,000 children stay home from school every day because they’re scared of being bullied.1 About 4,400 young people commit suicide each year, and bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.1 To help address this important issue, a growing number of schools, colleges, and universities are adopting bullying prevention programs—often led by school counselors and psychology professionals.
While all children face conflict, it can usually be resolved in some manner. But the repetitive nature of bullying, experts say, is what can cause such harm. Many believe it’s a community problem that needs to be widely addressed by students, parents, health professionals, and educators. Consistent and early intervention both at school and at home can help lead to decreased mental health issues in adulthood as a result of bullying.
Teachers and parents can be the first line of defense by recognizing the signs of frequent bullying, which include depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities a child used to enjoy. There may also be a decrease in academic achievement and participation.
Long-term effects of bullying during the tween and teenage years include anxiety and/or depression and even considering self-harm and suicide later in life. One study has shown that adolescents who are bullied by their peers actually suffer from worse long-term mental health issues than children who are physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by their parents or are exposed to severely inadequate parenting.2
Contrary to previous research that suggested that bullying behavior went hand-in-hand with popularity,3 the latest study from Princeton, Rutgers, and Yale universities reveals the opposite. The study found that the kids with the most influence who take a public stance against bullying actually make more of an impact in curbing bullying at schools than the faculty and administration who impose blanket rules and regulations against it.4
Young people are already practicing this, and it is critical to teach children some bullying prevention strategies by empowering them to stand up to bullies. Here are four things every child should learn:
- Simple interventions. Children need to understand they have a responsibility to say something if they see bullying behavior. Give kids simple interrupting sentences and encourage them to avoid physical intervention by finding a responsible adult and reporting the behavior.
- Positive reinforcement. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for others, and children appreciate the positive reinforcement. Be specific with praise when you see them stand up to bullying.
- Other kids are doing it. Share stories about others who are standing up, such as the students who raised money for a deaf student in Omaha, Nebraska, after his backpack was thrown in a toilet by bullies, or the girl who developed the Sit With Us app so students wouldn't have to eat lunch alone. Tell them these are the people they should look up to and emulate.5
- Parents should be involved. While kids may think it’s annoying or embarrassing, parents need to be involved in their kids’ lives—in person and online—so they can look for signs of their child being bullied or bullying others.
Preparing kids with the right tools and knowledge to peacefully engage with their peers can help curb bullying. Parents play an important role, as do psychology professionals and counselors who specialize in child and adolescent development. These professionals can guide children on how to deal with tough situations that can have a critical impact on their lives and development.
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