“All bullying has two things in common: It involves an imbalance of power — whether it’s social presence or physical strength — and behavior that’s repetitious,” says Abraham Bartell, MD, Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth).
“If children don’t understand they’re being bullied, they certainly won’t tell anyone, and parents, teachers or coaches may not see it until it escalates into aggression and violence or until mood and anxiety issues, school performance or social isolation become problematic,” notes Dr. Bartell. “The other obstacles to children reporting bullying is fear of retribution and of not being believed. It’s incumbent on parents, teachers and coaches to de-stigmatize reporting. It’s not tattling or ratting someone out. We also need to educate children on what bullying is and the damage that can result. Besides the bullies and the bullied, we need to address the bystander by embracing the attitude: ‘Don’t stand by and watch.’”
And if your child is the bully? “Start with a question, not an answer,” says Dr. Bartell. “Ask what happened and listen without judgment. After an incident, the key is to listen without blame, devoid of judgment or emotion. Bear witness, hear it out and figure out how to move forward. It takes two to tango. It can be a fine line between, ‘Yes, this was provoked,’ and ‘He called me a name, so I punched him.’ Also acknowledge that you as a parent can’t do this alone. Seek help from parents, teachers, coaches or even therapists. Consequences should be firm, fair and consistent with the action and with limits. You don’t want to overreact, underreact or react inconsistently. The ‘We won’t tolerate any bullying’ rhetoric isn’t enough if it’s empty. There needs to be follow-up and follow-through.”
Pediatric Psychiatry at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital: