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.
Have you or your child been the victim of a bully?
What are some additional effective ways to handle the situation?