Bullying, the act of willfully causing harm to others through verbal harassment (teasing and name-calling), physical assault (hitting, kicking, and biting) or social exclusion (intentionally rejecting a child from a group) used to be an issue parents didn’t encounter until the “tween” years (between the ages of 10-12). Unfortunately, bullying is now becoming a growing problem for very young students as well. In fact, some research suggests that tormenting has actually become more common among 2- to 6-year-olds than tweens and teens. “Young kids are mimicking the aggressive behavior they see on TV shows, in video games and from older siblings,” explains Susan Swearer, Ph.D. and coauthor of Bullying Prevention & Intervention.
If your child has a learning disability (LD) or condition such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), he may be more vulnerable to bullying. As a parent, being alert and observant is critical since victims are often reluctant to report bullying. If your child normally struggles in school or is teased because of a learning disability, school could become a place that feels uncomfortable and even unsafe.
A child who is a victim of bullying may:
- Come home from school with clothing that’s torn or in disarray, or with damaged books. The child may have bruises, cuts or scratches, but may be hesitant to give a logical explanation for them.
- Appear afraid or reluctant to go to school in the morning.
- Complain repeatedly of headaches or stomach pains.
- Have bad dreams or cry during sleep.
- Lose interest in school work and grades may suffer.
- Appear sad or depressed, or show unexpected mood swings, irritability and/or sudden outbursts of anger.
- Request money to meet the bully’s demands and might even resort to stealing money from family members.
If your child is a victim of bullying:
- Be supportive and listen carefully to his report of being bullied.
- Be sympathetic and take the problem seriously.
- Be careful not to over or under-react.
- Do not blame your child. When a child finally works up the courage to report bullying, it isn’t appropriate to criticize him for causing it or not handling the situation correctly. For example, don’t ask, “What did you do to bring it on?” Remember that for a child who is being bullied, home is the safest refuge.
- Expect and allow your child to have some difficulty dealing with victimization.
- Encourage your child to keep talking to you about the situation and try to spend extra time with him.
- Provide constant support and encouragement and tell him that you love him often.
- Keep a close eye on the situation. If you feel that the bullying is seriously affecting your child’s well being and security, it is important to seek professional help from your child’s school or another support system.
Related article: Teaching Children about Special Needs and Disabilities
Has your child experienced bullying in school? How did you handle it?
Amy Bontempo is the Manager of Family and Community Engagement at Penfield Children’s Center. She supervises the Community Outreach Educator, Volunteer Coordinator, Parent Mentor Program, and Family Programs of which Penfield host over 60 per year. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association (DSAW) of Wisconsin since 2011 and previously served on the Volunteer Respite Committee for Children’s Service Society now part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Family Resource Connection of Milwaukee Co.
Black, Rosemary. “My Kid’s the Bully?” Parenting. Web. 1 November 2013.
Carpenter, Deborah. “How to Handle Preschool Bullies.” Parenting. Web. 1 November 2013. < http://www.parenting.com/article/how-to-handle-preschool-bullies>.
“Dealing with Bullies.” KidsHealth. Web. 1 November 2013. <http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/emotion/bullies.html>.
Swearer, Susan M., Dorothy L. Espelage and Scott A. Napolitano. Bullying Prevention and Intervention: Realistic Strategies for Schools. The Guilford Press, 2009. Print.
“What Parents Can Do.” National Crime Prevention Council. 1 November 2013. <http://www.ncpc.org/topics/bullying/what-parents-can-do>.