Guest Author - Gwenn Schurgin O´Keeffe, M.D. , F.A.A.P.
Has your child ever clashed with another child? Kids struggle with other kids from time to time, usually over daily events like who sits in what chair, and whose turn it is in a game. While even such “minor” clashes among kids can cause hurt feelings, they teach our kids learn how to resolve conflict and are part of “normal” social experiences.
If only all such clashes with other kids could be so innocent. A few summers ago, our oldest daughter was taunted by an older girl for walking by her the “wrong way” as they went to the bus. This went on for days before we learned about it from our older daughter who told us the girl would not stop even when asked by other campers who over heard the comments. We called the camp and the girl was given a formal “warning”. The girl reportedly told her parents she was only joking and would not do it again. The very next day our daughter come home from camp very shaken with marks on her neck and back having been pushed her into a tree and choked by the other girl, with the counselor present. The girl was removed from camp for the season and our daughter again started to enjoy camp. Now the camp has a formal “zero tolerance” policy for bullying of any kind.
Unfortunately, bullying is no small problem. The AMA reports that 30% of kids in grades 6-10 report have been involved in bullying, either as the bully or the victim. Bullying is always intentional and is a form of harassment that will escalate over time if not dealt with swiftly. It’s a power trip with the goal being to cause harm to another child just because they can.
Kids being bullied often have vague physical complaints or start becoming anxious about attending school and social events. Sometimes they may more obvious physical bruises. These kids often develop very low-self esteem and even depression. What they need to heal is to have the power removed from the bully and to be shown that they are not the problem but the victim.
As parents, we need to have zero tolerance for bullying, whether our child is the bully or the victim. Kids need to understand that “tattling” is good where bullies are concerned. My kids were taught this initially in kindergarten. “Three strikes, you’re out” is the modus operandi: ask the bully firmly to stop once then again and then go get help from an adult. And, if a situation with a bully is dangerous or destructive, “the double D’s”, they must get help from an adult immediately, even if to aid another child in trouble.
Once you realize your child is being bullied, getting the situation under control is not always easy. The temperaments of the children plus the receptiveness of the other parents are often huge hurdles. Plus, bullies often escalate when “found out”. Your child’s school or camp is your biggest asset for how to handle a bully if that is where the bullying is occurring. Most schools have guidance counselors to help your child get beyond the event but you may need private counseling if the bullying was long-standing. If physical complaints have developed such as stomach issues or sleep disturbances, consult your pediatrician for advice. Your pediatrician can guide you to outside counseling services in your area, too, if you feel that is needed.
We are the ultimate advocates for our kids so never be unsure about whether you should intervene in conflict between your child and another child. If you are concerned and feel your child is either bullying others or being bullied, not stepping in will have horrible consequences in the end. Bullying as kids is a predecessor to violence as adults so let’s break the cycle early and at least make our communities and schools safe havens once again.