Bullying: Understanding the Situation

Every day our children walk away from us and venture out into the world. Whether they get on a bus, step out of a car, or walk to school, it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen. Unfortunately, studies show that 28-35% of school-aged children will experience bullying, an alarming figure for any parent.

Bullying can have an enormous impact on your child in the future, and so it is imperative to be aware of what bullying is and what we can do about it. First, let’s differentiate between bullying and normal peer conflict. Conflict is an inevitable part of childhood, and not all conflict is harmful or bad. Constructive conflict occurs accidentally and both parties feel bad afterwards. It is distinct from destructive bullying.

Constructive conflict helps children to learn, grow, and change for the better. They become more open-minded and tolerant, and they learn to see things from other perspectives. We cannot, and should not, hide our children from this.

Another difference is that normal conflict usually resolves itself rather quickly. Between kindergartners and 2nd grade, students who have squabbles during morning recess are likely again BFF by the following day.

How to Identify Bullying Behavior

Elementary school students are likely to label everything that happens to them which they don’t like as ‘bullying.’ At this age, they might interpret bullying as kids not playing with them, others not sharing, or simple name calling when frustrated (such as one kid telling another, “You’re annoying!”)

Bullying, on the other hand, is highly destructive. It is an abuse of power intended to hurt or humiliate another person. Destructive conflict damages relationships, creates bad feelings, and leads to future problems.

A bully will exploit a real or perceived power imbalance to carry out their unwanted, aggressive behavior. They then take advantage of the damage they’ve caused to do it again and again and again, until their victim is completely terrorized. They also manipulate others to broaden the influence of their attack by swaying the victim’s friends and causing alienation.

Bullies may use one or more of many different methods. A few examples are inappropriate comments, serious threats, isolation from the peer group, spreading rumors, hitting or pushing, and breaking possessions, among others. These can be categorized, but the point is that a bully will exploit any opportunity to hurt their victim.

The mental and physical stress for the bullied child – or adult – is inescapable.
If you are concerned that your child is being bullied, it is important to address the problem right away. This must be done carefully so as to create an environment where our children feel comfortable talking about their problems. In a follow-up column, I’ll review the possible warning signs and how parents can help their children deal with verbal abuse.

Dr. Michelle Hintz, Psy.D.

At the Cadenza Center for Psychotherapy and the Arts, a dedicated roster of therapists, educational and behavioral consultants treat the developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral needs of both adults and children. Founded in 2001 by Michelle Hintz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and board-certified music therapist, the Cadenza Center provides general services including individual and family therapy incorporating active treatment strategies such as sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, and social pragmatics.