Q. My teenage daughter was bullied in grade school by a classmate. Luckily, he went to a different middle school. But yesterday, my daughter learned they both attend the same high school. I’m wondering if I should speak with his parents or a school counselor. How can I help my daughter overcome her fear being bullied again?
A. I wonder what kind of bullying your daughter experienced? Bullying can be physical, verbal or relational. Physical bullying involves behavior like kicking, hitting, pushing, threatening, stealing or ruining another person’s belongings. Verbal bullying includes name calling, insulting and hurtful teasing. Relational bullying includes refusing to talk to a person, excluding a person, humiliating a person or spreading lies and rumors. Sometimes children and adolescents— and even adults—engage in verbal or relationship bullying and don’t realize they are being a bully.
Depending on the situation, here are some things a young person can do to discourage a bully:
1. Walk away. Don’t react. The bully wants to see the victim’s emotions, such as fear or anger.
2. Make friends with the bully, and walk and talk with him or her at school.
3. Report the bully to an adult.
You mentioned some things you might do, including talking to the bully’s parents. If you do this, I suggest you not use the word “bully,” but simply report the past behavior. Parents often don’t know when their child is bullying and may become defensive on hearing the word. Let them know that their son’s behavior was in the past, and your daughter fears it will start again.
You can work with the school to make certain students are educated about what bullying is and what the consequences are. You can help the school develop policies about bullying, if they aren’t already in place.
In addition, you can ask your daughter if she has any interest in a martial art. Often, kids who are bullied feel afraid, helpless and hopeless. They may develop depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and want to skip school or drop out. The martial arts teach impulse control, self-control, discipline, ethics, self-confidence, coordination and calmness. The martial arts help reduce negative feelings and states. I enrolled my daughter in karate in grade school. It gave her the confidence to deal effectively with bullies without physical contact. She even stood up for some of her male friends against bullies.
For kids who are repeatedly bullied, it takes time to recover. Bullies tend to target kids who are different. They pick on kids who are smaller, weaker or different in some way because bullies themselves feel insecure. They pick on others as a way to feel stronger.
A study published in the British Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology found that kids with ADHD are 10 times more likely to be targeted by bullies. This increased risk of being bullied is said to be due to the child with ADHD having trouble reading facial expressions and being less socially and emotionally mature. A child with ADHD may seem strange or annoying to bullies.
In dealing with bullies, it helps for a child to practice. You can help your daughter by role-playing the bully and teaching her to calmly and firmly say, “Stop that,” and turn away. It also helps to find new afterschool activities, new friends and things to look forward to.
For kids who have been traumatized by repeated bullying (and bullies often tend to bully over and over again), it is helpful to arrange for therapy with a professional.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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