Dear Ask A Therapist,
I am concerned about bullying in schools and worry about how my children may be impacted. What should I watch for?
Dear Concerned Parent,
As you have found, bullying is very real. Consequently, schools are implementing protocols to reduce bullying and create supportive environments. Still, as a parent, being able to recognize early warning signs is helpful so you can act if needed.
Here are some signs that indicate your child may be experiencing a bullying problem:
- Feeling or faking sick
- Sleep disturbances
- Not wanting to go to school or declining grades
- Changes in eating habits
- Lost or destroyed books, clothes or other personal items
- Unexplained injuries or bruises
- Lack of interest, feeling helpless or lowered self-esteem/irritability
Signs that a child may be doing the bullying behaviors include:
- Increased aggression
- Unexplained new belongings or money
- Physical or verbal fights
- Having friends who demonstrate the same behaviors
- Blaming others and not accepting responsibility.
- Behaving highly competitively or worrying about reputation-popularity
- Increased visits to the principal’s office
The current trend is to refrain from using words such as “bullies” and “victims.” When children are labeled it can send negative messages that a child’s behavior cannot change. It can fail to consider multiple roles children may play in different situations and disregard other factors such as peer influence.
The ways that children can be involved in bullying include:
- Children who bully – those who are engaging in the bullying behavior toward others.
- Children who are bullied – those that the bullying behavior is being directed at.
- Children who assist– those who may not start or lead the situation but can encourage and even join in.
- Children who reinforce– those who are not directly involved in the bullying, but may be a witness who encourages from a distance.
- Outsiders or onlookers– those who remain neutral but tend to watch even though there is no feedback from them. These are often the ones who want to help, but don’t know how.
- Children who defend or serve as an active bystander – those who actively comfort the child who is being bullied and even may come to their defense.
It is just as important to know these roles as it is to remember that any one child can exhibit these behaviors at different times and situations.
Bullying is very preventable. And we must remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
Laura Thompson, LAC, LPC
Laura Thompson, LAC, LPC, is a school based therapist in Westminster Public School District (D50). Laura works at Westminster High School. Laura came to us in 2015 from a small Mental Health Agency in Tucson, Arizona, where she worked for 15 years. Laura is a Colorado native, but spent most of her life in the Tucson area. She has worked with a variety of populations, but finds the high school students her favorite. Laura is devoted to her family and enjoys watching sports, decorating cakes and playing pool.