The Making of a Bully

It's never too early to start teaching social skills...

People often wonder what causes children to bully.  Why is it that some children feel the need to hurt and humiliate other children?  What do they really stand to gain from this cruel behavior?

Some studies indicate that some (not all) bullies have naturally aggressive and/or hyperactive personalities from the start. Some.  But that doesn’t mean that all “spirited” kids will bully while all “mellow” kids will be perfectly empathic and kind.  Those are just a couple of traits that have been identified in some bullies.

The truth is that bullies are not born into this world.  Bullies are raised.

Bullying, at its core, is a learned behavior that is used in response to stress.  Bullying is an attempt to gain superiority or control over another.

Bullies do tend to have a few things in common:

  • Immature social skills
  • Lack of compassion and empathy
  • Poor impulse control
  • Watch more aggressive TV shows and play more aggressive video games

Due to immature social skills, bullies tend to view threats where there are none and identify other kids as hostile when they are not.  Accidentally bump into a bully in line at the cafeteria, and a fight might erupt based on a snap judgment. Due to lack of compassion and empathy, bullies have difficulty understanding how others feeland they are unable to accurately decode situations in which other kids are actually attempting to show empathy toward them.

Although it can be difficult to find compassion for a bully, particularly when your child is the target of one, there is generally a reason behind the bullying.  That’s not to say that bullies should not face consequences.  They should.  And zero tolerance is the only way to truly eradicate bullying…

I’m over at Confessions of a Dr. Mom today talking about what makes a bully and how we can raise empathic children.  Stop by to continue reading “The Making of a Bully”.

Enough is Enough

Every 7 minutes…a child is bullied.

“The following is the best kept secret in parenting:  There is a very big difference between hearing your child talk and actually listening, I mean really listening, to what she has to say.

There is a very big difference between simply answering a question that is asked of us and slowing down to consider why the question was asked in the first place.

It is our job to listen.  It is our job to slow down and consider the information presented.  It is our job to be the safe haven so that our children have someone to count on.  It is our job to listen to their concerns without judgment or repercussions and help them through the difficult times.  It is our job to be there for them…”

Please stop by Mommy Moment today to continue reading Enough is Enough.

Bully Busters (Tips for preventing bullying)

If you haven’t been following the story of Jamey Rodemeyer, you need to start now.

Jamey Rodemeyer was a 14 year old boy from Buffalo, NY who took his life shortly after posting a farewell message on his Facebook page.

Jamey was tormented by an identifiable group of teens for at least a year, but far longer according his parents.  Jamey was tormented by hate comments with gay references on social networking sites.  On one site, where anonymous postings are the norm, bullies made reference to the fact that no one would care if he were to die.  That’s not the case.

The Buffalo police launched a criminal investigation into the case.  It won’t bring Jamey back, but hopefully it will send a clear message.

Lady Gaga is also on the case.  She intends to meet with the President to discuss making bullying a crime, and she recently dedicated a song to Jamey at the IHeartRadioFestival in Las Vegas.  She’s also asking Twitter to trend #MakeALawForJamey

The National Education for Educational Statistics reports that 28% of students ages 12-18 admit to be bullied during the 2008-2009 school year.  The most cited forms of bullying include ridicule and rumors, with cyber bullying on the rise.

Bullying is becoming an epidemic.  Lady Gaga is right:  Bullying should be illegal.

We all have to do our part to take a stand on bullying in our own communities.  And it has to start at home.  Below are some tips to help you bully proof your child:

1.   Teach your child about bullying:  For years parents have been avoiding family discussions about bullying with the hope that it just won’t happen.  It’s happening everywhere.  Explain bullying to your children.  Make sure that they understand that bullying includes teasing and rumor spreading, not just physical aggression.  It’s up to you to make sure that your children truly understand what bullying is and how it affects others.

2.   Allow for open communication:  Create an atmosphere where your kids feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns.  Be open, objective, and honest with your kids when they come to you with concerns about friendship issues, even if you suspect that your child might be bullying another.  If our kids are afraid to talk to us, we can’t help them.  Be there for them.

3.   Set clear rules and be consistent:  Kids need to understand rules and boundaries.  They need to know that limits exist to keep them safe.  Make your house rules clear and apply them no matter where you are.  Be consistent in applying the rules and helping your kids make better choices.  Rules only work if they are used consistently.  This is not a negative.  Rules exist to keep everyone healthy and safe from harm.

4.   Teach empathy:  I cover this topic regularly, so I will keep it brief.  Teach your children to think about how another person might feel when being teased or left out.  Teach your children to reach out to friends who are feeling sad or frustrated.  Teach your children to care about others.

5.   Take a stand on aggression:  If I have to hear “boys will be boys” one more time…I get it.  I have a boy.  He jumps from furniture and literally attempts to climb the walls.  Would you like to know what he’s NOT allowed to do?  Hit.  Punch.  Kick. Push.  Bite.  Stop physical aggression immediately, whether it’s within the family or out in the community.  Kids need to learn healthy alternatives to physical aggression.  It’s up to you to teach them.

6.   Respect differences:  When you really get down to it, we’re all different.  Race, religion, parenting styles, interests, abilities, food preferences…the list goes on.  Teach your children the value of learning from someone else.  Help your children see that different can be very good, and can open their eyes to a new way of doing things.  Teach them to show the same respect to everyone, regardless of differences.  You would think that in 2011 this wouldn’t make the list…sadly, it does.

7.   Model conflict resolution strategies:  If you yell and scream every time you have a conflict with your partner or get frustrated with your kids, your kids will do the same.  If you resort to name calling and teasing when you’re frustrated, your kids will do the same.  Model appropriate ways to cope with frustration.  Teach them to walk away, take a few deep breaths, write it down first, etc.  Teach them how to react without bullying.  If you use physical aggression as a means to discipline your kids…GET HELP NOW.

8.   Know what’s happening:  Whether you are a working parent or not, life can get busy and it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening at school.  Try not to rely on your child’s reports alone.  Know what’s going on at the school.  Forge friendships with other parents and support one another.  Contact the teacher if your child appears withdrawn and/or avoids social contact.  With so many students in each school and a heavy focus on making the grade, social issues can fall through the cracks until it’s too late.  Stay on top of it.

9.   Encourage strengths and interests:  With college becoming more and more expensive, and more and more competitive, parents are always looking for the right track to get their kids on.  Let them do what they love.  When kids engage in activities that they enjoy, their self-confidence soars.  When kids are self-confident, they are less prone to giving in to peer pressure and better able to stand up for themselves or others.  Maybe golf scholarships are a way to get into college, but cultivating that love of art might just save your child from either being a bully or being bullied.

10.                Increase supervision:  At the end of the day, you are responsible for your kids.  It’s a big job.  If you choose to give your child a Smart Phone complete with email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and other forms of social networking, you are responsible for supervising all of those accounts.  Sure, kids need some privacy and boundaries.  But they also use technology to target others.  Be prepared to check the text messages and have the email filtered through your account.  Know the passwords for Twitter and Facebook.  Be honest with your kids.  Tell them that access to these outlets comes with supervision.  Have them check their phones in at night to avoid lost sleep due to tech overload and keep the laptops in family rooms.  Monitor usage.  You are responsible for your children.

Bullying is taking the lives of very young children, but it doesn’t have to.  Let’s all agree to do our part to make sure that our children don’t bully.

How has bullying affected your life?


October is LGBT History Month.  Take a moment to focus on teaching respect and acceptance.  Teach your children to empathize with others.

Zero Tolerance for Bullies (Tips for taking a stand on bullying)

I want to start off by thanking everyone for the very positive feedback over the past few days.  On Wednesday, I opened a door to my past and shared my personal story about being bullied.  If you missed this post, please read it when you get a chance:  “Pour Your Heart Out” – Bullied.

Whether or not we want to accept it, we live in a culture that is highly focused on power and winning at all costs.  From politics to sports to simple running races, we, as Americans, want to win.  The catch is that we can’t all be winners all of the time.  Inevitably someone ends up on the losing end of the race.  Do we really prepare ourselves for that possibility?  Do we prepare our kids?

Incidents of bullying continue to rise.  The optimistic in me hopes that, at some level, higher percentages indicate that more kids are coming forward and reporting bullying.  The realist in me knows that statistics don’t lie.  They vary, but they don’t lie.

Bullying takes many forms.  The following are the most recognizable:  Verbal, social (isolation), physical, pack, cyberbullying, homophobia, and intolerance of disabilities. Research indicates that boys are more likely to be the targets of physical and pack bullying, while girls most often experience verbal, social, and cyberbullying.

The psychosocial affects of bullying are heartbreaking.  Students who are bullied are likely to experience:  Depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, increased school absence, physical illness, and suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts and/or actions. How many children have to suffer the consequences of bullying before we, as a country, get serious about this and truly take action?  In my opinion, we’ve lost too many kids already.

As of 2009, many states have anti-bullying laws.  The states who have yet to pass legislation include:  Alabama, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.  If you live in one of these states, it’s time to start flooding your local representative with email and phone calls.  They are falling behind.  The state that takes the most progressive approach toward bullying is New Jersey.  An “anti bullying bill of rights” was introduced into the NJ state legislature in October 2010.

There is currently a lot of talk about the fact that bullying is a national problem.  What we really need is action.  Below are some tips to help you take a stand against bullying in your community:


1. Know the facts: Many people choose to remain blissfully unaware of the level of bullying that occurs daily.  While statistics vary based on the study, it is important to know what’s really happening.  The 2009 Indicators of School Crime and Safety statistics reveal that 1/3 of teens are bullied at school, 4% of teens report cyberbullying, 44% of middle schools report bullying as a problem, females and students with disabilities are targeted the most often, and homosexual and bisexual students are the most likely to report bullying. For those of you thinking that 1/3 doesn’t seem that high, look around.  You wouldn’t want your child to fall into that statistic.  Other reports indicate that 160,000 students miss school each day for fear of being bullied, and that every 7 minutes a child is bullied. It’s worth repeating:  Every 7 minutes.  Adults only intervene 4% of the time.

2. Mutual respect starts at home: Research shows that families that are not loving, are not open to expression of feelings, are inconsistent with discipline and supervision, and include parents who bully (either each other or their children) are more likely to produce bullies. It’s our job to teach our children to accept differences.  It’s also up to us to teach our kids how to cope with feelings that might lead to bullying behavior.  They don’t have to be friends with everyone they meet, but they do need to show respect to all other people.  Parents need to model appropriate conflict resolution skills.  If dad bullies mom at home, you can bet that behavior will resurface with your children at school.  Point out times when conflicts are handled appropriately.  Use incidents where conflict was not handled appropriately as a teaching tool.  It sounds easy, but it can take some soul searching to really evaluate parenting styles and make the necessary changes.  There’s no room for sarcasm, physical punishment, or berating when it comes to child rearing.  Check your emotions at the door.

3. Know the “Don’ts”: Children struggle to come forward, even to their parents, when they are being bullied.  They experience a range of emotions, including (but not limited to): sadness, anger, frustration, embarrassment, and anxiety.  Parental response to reports of bullying can have a huge impact on whether or not a child reports future incidents.  Don’t blame your child.  Don’t tell your child to ignore the bullying (this often makes it worse).  Don’t tell your child to fight back.  Don’t call the parents of the bully to blame them (this often fuels the fire).  Don’t immediately pull your child from his school.  Don’t assume that the school isn’t doing anything (most school policies preclude the school from providing details about the aggressor and consequences provided).

4. Know the “Do’s”: If your child comes to you for help, try to remain calm.  Do listen and empathize. Tell your child that bullying is wrong.  Listen for the details.  Do know the school’s policy on bullying.  Contact a school administrator immediately. Many children fail to report bullying for fear of being blamed or for fear of future repercussions.  Do talk about a plan. If there is a teacher, coach, or school counselor who your child trusts, see if that person is willing to be a point person for your child.  Involve your child in meetings with school administrators.  Do get help for your child. Forget about stigmas, therapy can save lives.  Help your child as soon as possible to work on self-esteem, anxiety, and possible depressive symptoms.  Do practice assertiveness skills at home, including seeking help.

5. If your child is the bully: No one wants to get the phone call identifying your child as the bully.  It happens.  Try to avoid crafting excuses and instead focus on understanding why the event happened.  It might be an isolated event, or the latest in a series of events.  Either way, accepting that your child bullied another child is the first step toward helping him learn a better way to interact.  Set clear and consistent rules for behavior at home AND in the community. Standards of behavior shouldn’t change just because your child leaves the house.  Listen to the explanation. The best way to figure out how to help your child is to listen when he explains his behavior.  Supervise your child carefully. At home, during play dates, and out at the park, watch your child closely and be prepared to intervene.  Be aware of your child’s friends. Particularly if it seems to be an isolated event, you might want to be more careful about who your child befriends.  Get help. As much as bullying makes the bully appear to be a monster, it is also a cry for help at times.  Get your child into counseling immediately.  Work with the school. They don’t dislike your child, but they do need to stop the behavior.  Work with them to come up with a plan.  When parents repeatedly argue with school administrators, everyone loses.  Look for positive outlets. Everyone is good at something:  Music, art, sports, poetry, and the list goes on.  One of the biggest linebackers at my college later published a book of poetry.  Find your child’s strength and channel his energy there.

6. Focus on assertiveness: Studies show that bullies are more likely to back down if other kids intervene and stand up for the target.  Teach your child to help when others need it.  Help might come in the form of standing up to a bully with a quick (and witty) response or it might involve getting an adult.  Recent statistics indicate that peers only intervene 11% of the time, but when they do the bully is more likely to move on. Sean received a note in response to my personal story about bullying.  It was from an old middle school friend who said that he had helped her through some very difficult years simply by being nice to her.  Teach your children to reach out to others and offer friendship to someone in trouble. Even just eating lunch with another person who is going through a difficult time socially might change that person’s life for the better.

7. Be the adult: Bullying is starting younger and younger these days.  It currently peaks during ages 6-9 and during middle school.  But it starts as young as preschool and continues well into college and adulthood.  If you see a child bullying another child it is your job to intervene. I’m the mom at the park who has no problem speaking up.  I keep a close eye on my kids and when others don’t I jump in and redirect those kids when trouble begins.  I wouldn’t say it makes me popular, but it keeps (my) kids safe.  The fact that adults only intervene 4% of the time is alarming.  You are the adult.  You need to make it stop. Ignorance is not bliss.

8. For educators and schools: Back in my 9-5 days, I was a school administrator.  Due to my own experience with bullying combined with my frustration regarding students bullying other students, I made it my mission to design and implement the first bully prevention program at that school.  Although it has seen changes over the past few years, it remains in place today.  The research indicates three key areas of focus for schools.  Policy:  Schools need clear definitions of bullying in place so that incidents of bullying are easily recognized.  They also need a clear policy that each student and family reads and signs off on each year. It’s difficult to hold parents responsible when they argue that they didn’t know the policy existed.  Make sure they know.  Make it as black and white as possible.  Consequences:  Clearly defined consequences for bullying must be included in the policy to be read and signed by all students and parents. When grey areas exist, people find loopholes.  Avoid the loopholes by developing a comprehensive policy that covers every possible scenario.  Education:  Regular, mandatory staff training on bullying is important. Teachers are on the front lines.  They need to be able to recognize bullying and symptoms of victimization, and have a concrete action plan.  The best way to support your teachers is to offer them resources and education as regularly as possible.  Create award programs where students are rewarded for good citizenship.

9. Consider the causes: Bullying occurs for a variety of reasons.  In some families, teasing and bullying is the norm. Family behavior models teach children how to act/interact under various circumstances. It’s important to model assertive behavior as well as empathy, honesty, and appropriate ways to problem-solve.  Open the closed doors. Many families feel that what happens behind closed doors should stay there.  The problem with this approach is that eventually your children will bring those feelings and behaviors into the community.  It’s ok to ask for help.  In fact, it’s probably the most important step families can take.  Often kids get more social recognition for negative behavior, which easily creates a pattern. Focus on the positive behaviors displayed by your children.  Extra praise never hurts, but constant nagging and negative input can cause children to feel like they have no other choice.  Jealousy and lack of social skills to cope with feelings of jealousy can cause kids to lash out at one another. Social skills development starts at home and continues in school.  Focus on teaching your children how to cope when things don’t go their way.  Past experiences of social rejection can cause kids to want to “pay it forward” to other kids. If your child has experienced social rejection get help for him so that he can process his feelings and move forward with positive coping strategies.

10. Consider grass roots: Many large organizations once started as small neighborhood initiatives.  Wouldn’t it be great if it were hip to be FAB (Families Against Bullying)?  The fact that support doesn’t currently exist on a smaller level doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way.  Consider starting a neighborhood program.  Bring in local law enforcement and a child psychologist/therapist to provide parent educationAgree to a no tolerance policy for bullying in your community.  Enforce that policy when you see bullying in action. There is always power in numbers.  The only way for us to eradicate bullying is to come together as a country and stop tolerating it at all levels.

Bullying doesn’t have to be a part of our culture.  Kids don’t have to live in fear and hate themselves.  But we do have to come together and present a united front.  If you feel so inclined, please consider taking a very small first step by sharing this information with your friends and family.  Like I said, there is always power in numbers.