Dr. Ashley McClary, a pediatrician at McDowell Pediatrics in Marion, offers expert advice on bullying, as seen in WNC Parent.
Bullying, or unwanted aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived difference in power, has become a serious health issue for our children. According to National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, approximately 18-31 percent of students have experienced bullying.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released an article in 2016 stating bullying happens every 7 seconds in the United States. With social media apps such as Instagram, SnapChat, Whisper, Yik Yak and YouTube, bullying not only happens at school but 24/7 in the form of cyberbullying.
This is scary when children who experience bullying may suffer from disrupted sleep, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drugs abuse into adulthood. Further, researchers have observed a variation in the stress response for victims of bullying, affecting cognitive function and self-regulating emotions. These effects can be severe and, in fact, those bullied as well as those bullying may contemplate or attempt suicide.
Three questions that have been useful in identifying bullying:
- Do you ever see kids picking on other kids?
- Do kids ever pick on you?
- Do you ever pick on kids? (And tell the truth; you’re not in trouble.)
It’s important to remember that there are different types of bullying including physical, verbal, cyberbullying and social bullying. Cyberbullying can be particularly difficult to identify. Signs include not wanting to go to school or an activity, becoming upset after being online, being more sad, withdrawn or moodier and avoiding questions from you about what is happening.
If you find that your child is being bullied, encourage your child to ignore the bullying. If that doesn’t work, empower your child to be firm with the bully by practicing at home. For example, have your child stand tall and firmly say, “Please do NOT talk to me like that.”
Create opportunities for your child to form close friendships by joining a club or team and having peers over to play. An environment where children feel that they belong is more effective than punishment. Finally, if bullying continues, encourage your child to discuss with an adult or peer support. Adults who are aware of bullying should raise awareness among children, parents, teachers and school administrators in order to reach victims, bullies and bystanders.
If you find that your child is bullying others, he or she may have low self-esteem, need support with social skills, or even suffer from depression or conduct disorder. If this is the case, counseling can be helpful. You can also help your child by setting limits and establishing firm expectations that bullying is not OK. Limit exposure to violent or aggressive behavior. Be a positive role model and develop practical solutions or alternatives for your child to communicate what he or she wants. Remember that changing behavior takes time, so remind your child of the positive changes he or she is showing and assure your child that you love them.
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