Dr. Kate, my 12-year-old son has had a vacation from being bullied this summer. Can you give me some advice on how to help him when he returns to school?
A: Although bullying has existed for centuries, today it seems more prevalent than ever before. According to the latest data samples (2010) from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 29 percent of children are bullied. This includes face-to-face bullying, as well as cyber-bullying.
Bullying is defined as a form of intimidation or an attempt to have power over someone who is perceived as weaker. There are two types of bullying. Physical aggression or intimidation occurs in face-to-face bullying and is stereotypically between males. This type of bullying includes name-calling, teasing, consistent shoving, poking, posturing and cutting off in lines at school. Social-emotional bullying involves the use of more covert emotional methods to bully another who is seen as weaker and is most often employed by females.
Bullying prevention must occur at a societal level with consistent involvement by policymakers, school administrators and all adults. It is also essential to work with the victims by encouraging them to speak out when they are being bullied. One important aspect is to help the victim develop his sense of self, specifically focusing on building confidence.
Here are some ways parents (and all adults) can help children deal with bullying:
Promote communication. Encourage your child to speak up when he is being bullied. Routinely ask him if anyone is bothering him and take notice of his peer interactions. This includes frenemies; friends that sometimes act like a bully, especially when they do not get their own way in the friendship.
Practice confidence. Nonverbal communication speaks volumes. Have your son practice holding his head high, standing straight up, looking the bully in the eye, and being able to walk around the bully, nodding at him and not avoiding him. Avoidance, cowering and quivering all indicate fear, and bullies love this in their targets. Part of practicing involves role-playing in which parents play the bully while the child uses the nonverbal techniques mentioned. Believe it or not, with practice you can make headway here. This involves retraining the brain to react differently than the default fear response.