By Sarah Fudin, social media and outreach coordinator for USC Rossier Online.
According to a recent infographic from USC Rossier Online, “School Bullying Outbreak,” one in four children are bullied every month and 160,000 students miss school every day to avoid bullies. But what is really disturbing is how many children can easily become the perpetrator. Up to 42 percent of students have admitted to bullying a peer, and 43 percent of middle school students have threatened to harm a peer. Thus, not only do we need to teach our children how to deal with bullying, we also need to teach them not to engage in bullying behavior.
Several studies have shown that secure attachment to parents decreases the chance of a student becoming a bully. In a 2010 study published in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology, “Attachment Quality and Bullying Behavior in School-Aged Youth,” Laura M. Walden and Tanya M. Beran found a correlation between lower quality attachment relationships to primary caregivers and bullying behavior. Students’ sex and grade levels were not significant factors. Students that reported higher quality attachment relationships with their parents were less likely to bully others.
A University of Virginia study conducted by Megan Eliot, M.Ed. and Dewy Cornell, Ph.D., “The Effect of Parental Attachment on Bullying in Middle School,” found a relationship between insecure parental attachment and children who bullied.
Since three risk factors that are associated with bullying are impulsive behavior, previous experiences of being victimized and “harsh parenting,” it follows that parents practicing Attachment Parenting may have an advantage in preventing bullying behavior. Regardless of an identified parenting style, there are a number of things that can be done at home to help prevent a child from becoming an aggressor.
1. Be an involved parent. Stay involved in your child’s life and be familiar with his friends, social life and how he likes to spend free time. No matter how busy you and your child may be, you need to have time to talk. Not only do you need to talk, you need to listen. By showing interest in friends, social life, thoughts and feelings, you are showing that you care.
2. Teach empathy. In the Time magazine article “How Not to Raise a Bully: The Early Roots of Empathy,” Maia Szalavitz writes, “Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and educators believe that bullying and other kinds of violence can indeed be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age. Over the past decade, research in empathy — the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes — has suggested that it is key, if not the key, to all human social interaction and morality.”
The way to nurture empathy in children is by treating them with love and respect for their feelings, and by helping them to understand their own feelings and behavior. We can also assist them in seeing situations from other perspectives and encourage them to be kind to others, beginning in early social situations.
3. Talk to your kids about bullying. In order to understand exactly what is deemed unacceptable, children need to be clear on what constitutes bullying. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program defines bullying as aggressive behavior repeated over time and involving an imbalance of power. It can include verbal or physical abuse, lies or false rumors, social exclusion and cyberbullying.
If you are aware that your child has been involved in bullying, do not tolerate it, explain why it is unacceptable and have regular discussions on how to combat bullying. You can also decrease exposure to violence in your home, like television and video games.
4. Be charitable. A great way to teach empathy is by helping others in need. There are many ways you can start volunteering with your child, for example at a retirement home, with the Special Olympics or at an animal shelter. Ultimately, you want to instil in your child the value of being kind to others, and it’s best to lead by example.
5. Be a positive role model. Remember, children often replicate their parents’ behavior and communication style. Parents need to set a good example, learn to manage their emotions and try to have a positive attitude. This does not mean that you should always swallow your feelings. Be honest when you feel frustrated, and use those moments as opportunities to model how conflicts can be resolved productively.
6. Seek help. If you find out that your child is bullying, try to get to the root of the problem by talking to your child’s teachers, principal and guidance counselor for help. Try to identify any factors that may lead to the bullying behavior, and make sure that your child feels supported at home and school. Talk to her pediatrician if the behavior is significant and get a referral for a therapist if needed. Above all, let your child know that she is loved and supported.