Unwanted, aggressive behavior is always a serious concern, especially when it occurs in schools or through cyberbullying online. New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) requires schools to initiate anti-bullying policies and offer children a place to go for help.
As we enter the school year, here are five ways to prevent or stop bullying.
1. Make connections
An open dialogue between kids and their parents or other adults can help prevent bullying or stop it in its tracks. Parents should ask their child how things are going at school and take an active interest in their lives. This will open conversations and connections. Kids who feel supported — both at home and at school — are more confident and less likely to be bullied. But if it does happen, they will have someone they are comfortable with to turn to for help.
2. Be fearless
Bullies are most likely to act out toward a person who cries, gets mad or easily forfeits. They target younger, smaller and weaker kids. Children should stand tall to protect themselves. A fearless appearance — even if it is false — speaks volumes. Friends help friends in need. It is important to have friends who will take action and stand up for one another. Parents should discuss how to count on friends during interactions with a bully. Children should also be encouraged to participate in activities that build confidence. Activities that include team sports, music or social clubs help kids develop new abilities and social skills.
3. Don't accept verbal abuse
When verbally abused, children should look the bully in the eye, stand tall and stay calm. In a firm voice say, “I don’t like what you are doing,” “please do NOT talk to me like that” and “why would you say that?” Shrug off aggressive comments and walk away. Children should also be instructed to write down what occurred during a bullying incident: when, where and who was involved. They should also note who witnessed the encounter. The more details that are provided, the easier it is to share with an adult they trust and for action to be taken.
4. Escape physical encounters
If a bully approaches a child physically, the child needs to be assertive and move closer (no closer than arm’s length — a safe distance), turn sideways, relax hands and arms, and hold them down at their side. Make sure the bully doesn’t think they want to fight. The child should keep feet about shoulder’s width apart for good balance — so they are prepared to walk/run away. Kids should be told to follow their instincts. For example, if the bully wants your child’s homework and he/she is about to be punched, they can give up the homework and then walk off with confidence. Appear like the bully did not hurt you. Then tell an adult what happened. Always run if in serious danger of physical harm.
If a child is out in the community and a bully approaches, they should be told to walk or run over to any adults present and pretend they are their parents. Kids should never be afraid to ask an adult for help when faced with violence from a peer.
5. Thwart cyberbullies
Cyberbullying can be as stressful as conventional bullying, if not more so, because it pervades the home, can happen round-the-clock and be shared electronically. If your child is bullied online, they should not respond. Block the sender. Have your child set their messenger to show messages only from people they know, have them change their screen name. If the messages are bad or threatening, they should print them out and notify parents, as well as, the server and law enforcement.
Mark Welles, MD, is a pediatrician in the Division of General Pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. He is also regional cochair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ anti-bullying committee and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.