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Ask an Expert: What causes one child to be mean to another?

Q: What causes one child to be mean to another? What is behind all of this bullying? It seems to be different than when I was a kid.

A. There is no one cause of bullying and harassment among children and youth. Bullying takes many forms, such as hitting, kicking, threatening others, teasing, name-calling, excluding from a group, or sending mean notes. In today’s world, it now involves e-mails, texts, and even sexting.

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional, repeated over time, and involves an imbalance of power or strength. It involves individuals, or sometimes involves groups of children. It can be verbal, physical, or relational. It is different from the normal conflicts of children and it has been found to have long-lasting effects on children. Sometimes certain groups of kids are singled out for harassment, such as those who get targeted because they look or act differently, or may have other differences, such as children with disabilities or gay and lesbian youth. Children are often reluctant to report bullying and harassment to adults.

There are many factors that can contribute to this type of behavior. The good news is that schools and parents can work to create a culture and climate in a school and at home that discourages the behavior and can learn to respond appropriately if it does occur. It is about creating an environment where there is respect for all people and differences. Here are some tips:

  • Parents should listen and observe their own child for concerns they may have.
  • We should encourage our children to talk about their problems. If a concern arises, parents should focus on their child, be supportive, gather as much information as they can, and make clear that bullying is wrong and that it takes courage to talk about it. Be sure to ask your child what they think might help.
  • You can also discuss with your child how they might safely and effectively intervene if a friend or other classmate is the focus of the bullying. The intervention of bystanders can be enough to stop the bullying behavior.
  • Contact the child’s teacher or principal to share the concerns, as bullying may not stop without the help of adults. Even if you do not agree with how your child handled the situation, it is best not to criticize or blame.
  • Finally, do not encourage physical retaliation, as it is likely not to end the problem and may make things worse.

There are also good suggestions for helping a child become more resilient to bullying. Many excellent resources now exist for parents to get information on this topic. Or read this prior post from EdNews Parent expert Finessa Ferrell on how to bully proof your child.

I would encourage all parents to inform themselves more about this behavior in order to recognize signs that may indicate your child, or another child, is being bullied, or even a bully. Be aware that the Internet and texting availability has changed the way in which many kids now communicate. Talk to your kids about it and let them show and teach you. Bullying should NOT be considered a “fact of life”.

Two excellent resource websites that include tips for parents and kids are Stop Bullying Now! and BullyingInfo.org. More resources can also be found at the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.

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