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Mom's Talk: Why are Children Bullied and What Can a Parent Do?

Royal Oak school district is developing a pilot program with Beaumont Hospital to deal with bullying.

Why are some children (and adults) singled out as targets for bullying and what can be done to prevent it?

According to the National Education Association Nationwide study on bullying, hundreds of thousands of children become victims each year, affecting nearly 30 percent of school-aged kids on a monthly basis.  The acts of violence take place verbally, physically and within the cyber world and can create life-long damage.

Royal Oak Schools is looking to reduce those numbers by developing new procedures and programs that will increase awareness of the problem and effectively intervene when bullying is witnessed or brought to their attention. 

"Bullying is strictly prohibited in this district" says Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin. 

The district has recently begun working with Beaumont Hospital in a pilot program to gather data for creating community and school board based strategies against bullying. 

What makes a child a target?

Lori Lipten, psychotherapist and intuitive empowerment coach at the Center for Creative Living in Royal Oak, suggests there are many variables that contribute to creating a target for bullying:

  • Children who appear to be vulnerable by standing out from the majority in some way can easily become the focus of bullying. 
  • Children who are especially susceptible to bullies are those with special needs, learning disabilities or are socially awkward.
  • Children with non-mainstream cultural attire and habits.
  • Children who are physically small, highly sensitive and not assertive. 
  • Children who may not be as good at athletics or coordination as others.
  • Children who are new to the school or may not socialize as easily and have fewer friends.
  • Children who excel academically and are perceived as having things come easily. 

Bullies can control a situation because bystanders rarely take action for fear of being attacked themselves.  In many cases adults minimize the harm being done, says Lipten, a former parenting facilitator for parents and children at Beaumont Hospital.  "Boys will be boys" or "those are just mean girls" are common excuses given to bullies.

Lipten's own child was bullied at a young age and administrators told her daughter to "shake it off"  and to "avoid the girl" who provoked her.  Lipten says the problem was not brought to her attention until after it had been going on a while. 

What can a parent do to help a child? 

Parents can work with their children to build skills and inner strength to prevent them from being targeted and to know how to respond in cases when bullying occurs, Lipten said. 

  • Skills include relationship building, conflict resolution and assertiveness. 
  • Deep breathing and relaxation techniques can be helpful to both the victim and the witness for calming. 
  • Parents and administrators  can encourage open discussions about peer dynamics.
  • The child needs to be validated by adults.  Mirroring techniques are useful with comments like, "That sounds upsetting. How did you feel when that happened?  Tell me more about that." 

Once a child shares what happened and how he or she feels about it without being judged, the parent and child can work cooperatively to develop strategies, says Lipten.  From then on, practicing what your child will say and do in various situations can create a safer environment for your child.

The Royal Oak School District's goal is that every student has a trusted adult within the school system whom they can count on for guidance and support with any situation, including bullying, said Lewis-Lakin.

For more information or to connect with Lori Lipten, visit LoriLipten.com or call the Center for Creative Living at 248-414-4050.

Have you or your child been the victim of a bully?  

What are some additional effective ways to handle the situation?

Preston True September 14, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Thanks to Royal Oak Patch for bringing attention to a frequently overlooked and underappreciated topic. I appreciate Ms. Lipten’s suggestions, but believe we are missing key points in the matter: First, there are TWO victims at play in a “bullying” situation: a) person being bullied, and b) the bully. It’s easy to see the person being bullied as victim, but consider bullying is actually a response to being victimized in another area of life. In other words, most bullies I grew up with were victims of bully parents – harsh, critical, judgmental adults who are more interested in getting their way than actually being responsible adults. Second, answer this question – who are the most influential teachers/trainers in a child’s life? “Mom & Dad” is the only correct answer. My 10 yr old and 6 yr old model my behavior 90% of the time – good or bad. It is 100% my responsibility to manage myself so as to raise compassionate, committed and responsible children. Unfortunately, I witness adults bullying one another in both the workplace and public community more than I do on my kid’s playground. Great work Royal Oak Schools and Beaumont Hospital for taking this step. But the bottom line is this – if we want our children to stop being a victim to bullying, the change starts with parents. I challenge all of us to create more awareness, education and support to help ADULTS first.
Barbara Mitchell September 14, 2011 at 03:56 PM
I agree with you. All children are clean slates when born, innocent and void of all corruption and prejudices. It starts at home! Parents, do your job!
Kimberly Middlewood September 14, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Keep in mind that your primary goal should be to get the school's cooperation to get the bullying to stop. Knowing your own child is being victimized can evoke strong feelings, but you'll get much more cooperation from school personnel if you can stick to the facts without becoming overly emotional. While you may want assurance that everyone involved is punished severely, try to focus on putting an end to the bullying.
Thomas Gagne September 14, 2011 at 04:37 PM
But isn't that the $64,000 question, how to put, ".. and end to the bullying?" How many complaints are required before the school acts? What actions should the school take? How long should the school pursue action before expelling a child? What is the district's responsibility to parents to alert them of a child predator? Not all bullying is psychological, some is physical and sexual. When the district becomes aware there's a predator on the playground, what actions should they take to protect other children? How can it take action without jeopardizing the risk of the predator? What limits should be placed on age? What if you found out that children younger than the official "age for discipline" action where capable of harming children? None of these issues are contingent on the "type" of victim, nor are they contingent on whether the bully is a victim themselves. Which should be the district's primary concern, the safety of other children or the bullies?
Kimberly Middlewood September 14, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Excellent questions... I wish I could answer them all. Or someone could.

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