When I use the term bully, my mind conjures up the image of a casually-dressed, aggressive-looking middle-school kid. Did you know though, that what apparently was a middle-years problem until a few years back is trickling down to the most vulnerable age group today, that of toddlers and preschoolers?
The reason kids bully varies. They may either try to mimic a parent and/or older sibling, or aggressive behavior they are exposed to via television and video games. It could even be something as simple as trying to get attention. However, when they bully with the aim of causing harm intentionally and habitually, and derive pleasure from it, that type of bullying is a cause of concern.
No child is born a bully. As they grow and understand the concept of ‘power among peers’, the more aggressive kids of the lot consider it okay to attack those that are vulnerable: either by virtue of behavior, attitude, size or sensitivity. If bullying is suspected, parents should handle it effectively, especially since reports suggest that such behavior (on both ends of the spectrum) can lead to depression, suicidal tendencies and chances of a criminal record in later life.
It is difficult for parents to admit that their child is a bully. However, if you suspect that might be the case, watch out for the following signs in your kid.
- Aggression with siblings/having a large group of friends that are aggressive/being picked at school for behavior issues.
- Playing the blame game/feeling justified in treating another kid badly.
- Been a victim of bullying at some point.
- Spending a lot of time online, often indicative of cyber-bullying.
- Acquiring stuff or money that does not belong to him/her.
If your child is the one being bullied, it becomes way easier to identify. Certain behaviors are a major red flag.
- Frequent complaints of common illnesses such as headaches and stomach aches/trouble sleeping.
- Not wanting to interact with family/unwilling to go to school.
- Change in grades/shift in friends.
- Torn clothes/physical marks on the body/stolen belongings.
- Staying online/completely withdrawing from it.
When a child is bullied, they tend to keep it to themselves; either because they are embarrassed to tell their parents or because they do not trust them to address it appropriately. It becomes important to communicate with them to know what is going on in that head of theirs.
Who are your friends?
Who do you sit with at school?
What do you like about school?
What do you dislike about school?
These types of questions generally lead to conversations that should help you recognize a potential bullying situation. Although effective in younger children, this approach might not work with adolescents who will be more difficult to deal with.
Talking to your child’s teacher might be another solution, especially if they are unaware of it. Considering that the act of bullying is an epidemic of sorts, many schools have a specific protocol for dealing with such behaviors.
As a last resort, explore the possibility of meeting up with the offender’s parents. Often parents refuse to acknowledge that their child is a bully, in which case this might not help. However, if they are receptive and willing to meet to discuss the problem, keep the tone as diplomatic as possible.
Most importantly, give your child the comfort to talk to you without inhibitions. From an early age, teach them what healthy, empathetic behavior looks like. Demonstrate what bullying is, so they have a better understanding of dealing with it as they get older.