Family Development - A Caregiver's Guide

Supporting Your Child’s Social Development

Teaching children how to interact with others in healthy ways will benefit them not only at school, but also throughout their lives. It will also help them recognize inappropriate behaviors such as bullying. Bullying is a pattern of aggressive behavior that makes another person feel hurt, degraded, threatened or humiliated. Some examples of bullying include name calling, pushing, leaving others out of an activity and vandalizing personal possessions. Cyber bullying occurs when these activities take place through computer communications and the Internet. It is important to help your child understand what bullying is and what they can do if they are bullied or see others being bullied.

You can help promote healthy social development and prevent bullying by:

  • Talking with your child about what bullying is, why bullying is wrong and what they can do if they witness their peers being bullied
  • Providing a safe and healthy atmosphere at home
  • Keeping the lines of communication open between family members
  • Teaching your child the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior
  • Teaching your child what qualities to look for in a friend, such as someone that makes them feel comfortable and likes them for who they are
  • Encouraging your child to get involved in social activities like school and community groups (parents’ involvement in groups with their children may increase children’s willingness to participate)
  • Encouraging participation in out of school activities with a different peer group
  • Encouraging children to make friends and play with others during times when bullying can occur (they are less likely to be the victim of bullying if they are not alone)
  • Teaching children not to participate in teasing or hurting other children
  • Teaching children that reporting bullying is different from tattling on someone- bullying hurts someone and can be stopped
  • Encouraging children to seek help from teachers or other adults if they see someone being bullied (If they are scared to tell by themselves, they should seek help with a friend or even an older sibling)

All kids involved in bullying—whether they are bullied, bully others, or see bullying—can be affected. It is important to support all kids involved to make sure the bullying doesn’t continue and effects can be minimized.

Is Your Child Being Bullied?
Many times kids won’t ask for help, so it is important to know what to look for. If your child is at immediate risk of harming himself or others, get help right away.

Children react to bullying in different ways. Some signs that a child is being bullied may include:

  • Shy, insecure, suffers from low self-esteem
  • Torn articles of clothing or missing belongings
  • Unexplainable bruises, cuts or scrapes
  • Fear of going to school or participating in organized activities
  • Anxious or depressed when returning home from school
  • Quiet or seems withdrawn
  • Complains of illness such as stomachaches
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Has trouble sleeping or often has bad dreams

Here are some tips to help your child if he or she is being bullied:

  • Listen to what your child says
  • Support your child by talking about how to solve the problem
  • Avoid blaming your child for provoking the situation; this can make the child feel further victimized and may close the lines of communication
  • Ask specific questions about what, who, where, and how long the bullying has been happening
  • Encourage your child to continue being themselves—changing their ways for others is not the right solution to end bullying
  • Teach your child how to step away from the bullying situations instead of fighting back, which may make matters worse
  • Contact the school, principal or teacher immediately

Avoid these mistakes:

  • Never tell the child to ignore the bullying.
  • Do not blame the child for being bullied. Even if he or she provoked the bullying, no one deserves to be bullied.
  • Do not tell the child to physically fight back against the kid who is bullying. It could get the child hurt, suspended, or expelled.
  • Parents should resist the urge to contact the other parents involved. It may make matters worse. School or other officials can act as mediators between parents. 

Follow-up. Show a commitment to making bullying stop. Because bullying is behavior that repeats or has the potential to be repeated, it takes consistent effort to ensure that it stops.

Signs a Child is Bullying Others

Avoid these mistakes:

  • Get into physical or verbal fights
  • Have friends who bully others
  • Are increasingly aggressive
  • Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
  • Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
  • Blame others for their problems
  • Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
  • Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity

Finding out your child is a bully may come as a shock. As a parent, you may feel disappointed or angry. Feelings of denial are also common. It is important to remember children act differently in different social settings. Guiding children and teaching them appropriate behavior is a big responsibility. Here are some useful tips to help STOP your child from bullying others:

  • Tell your child that it is unkind to make others feel unhappy
  • Tell your child that bullying is inappropriate and explain how you expect their behavior to change (making expectations clear helps children recognize desired behavior)
  • Help them recognize appropriate social skills and learn the kind of behavior that is appreciated and accepted by praising them for kind acts offered to other children
  • Spend more time with your child and monitor his or her behavior
  • Surround your child with positive role models
  • Teach your child other ways to make and keep friends
  • Seek help from school counselors

Follow-up. After the bullying issue is resolved, continue finding ways to help the child who bullied to understand how what they do affects other people. For example, praise acts of kindness or talk about what it means to be a good friend. 

What Can Your Child Do to Help Stop Bullying?

Bystanders
Even if a child is not directly involved in bullying, they may be contributing to the behavior. Witnessing the behavior may also affect the child. Here are some things bystanders can do to stop and prevent bullying:

  • Be a friend to the person being bullied. Reaching out to the person being bullied by talking to them, sitting with them at lunch or inviting them to play during recess helps them know they are not alone.
  • Tell a trusted teacher, family member or coach. Adults can help stop bullying, but only if they know about it. If your child has already talked to an adult and it appears nothing has changes, you may need to get more adults involved. Teachers, counselors, custodians, nurses and parents can all help to address and prevent bullying.
  • Lend a hand. Bystanders can sometimes help the person being bullied by causing a distraction to draw attention away from the bully, or giving the person being bullied a reason to leave the scene. For example, a bystander could say, “Come on, we need to get to class.” Or “Mr. Smith needs to see you right now.”
  • Speak up and walk away. Let those who bully know that it is not funny or entertaining. Don’t provide an audience because that often encourages bullying behavior.
  • Set a good example. Get involved in anti-bullying campaigns and projects.

Cyber Bullying

Using the Internet, cell phones, or other electronic means to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person is called cyber bullying. Cyber bullying affects almost half of all American teens, but most victims say they have never told a parent or other adult about their negative online experiences.

Like other forms of bullying, teens may engage in cyber bullying because they think that it is harmless or funny, or because the behavior is encouraged by their friends. Teens who might not engage in other forms of bullying may engage in cyber bullying because they believe that their online behavior cannot be tracked or because they are unaware of the serious consequences of their actions.

Talk to your teens and be sure they know they can talk to you about cyber bullying.

If your child is being cyber bullied:

  • Save all evidence of the bullying
  • Report the problem to the website moderator or your Internet or cell phone service provider
  • If bullying continues, report the problem to school officials or a law enforcement officer

For more information, visit: StopBullying.gov