“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time” (StopBullying.gov).
The acronym R.I.P. (Repeated, Imbalance of power and Purposeful) helps to identify bullying:
Repeated: The behavior has occurred more than once.
Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. (Stopbullying.gov)
Purposeful: The action was intended to harm that individual.
There are many types of bullying: Physical, Verbal, Social, and Cyber Bullying. Cyber Bullying has its own special concerns due to its permeance, persistence, and level of reach. A one-time negative post about another person can be all 3 R.I.P easily.
Bullying has negative impacts on both the bully and the victim. It is a serious issue that can have serious consequences in a child’s life. Which is why it is so important to use the right verbiage when talking about it and to know what it is and what it is not.
Desensitization is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative, aversive or positive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. This is my concern with the overuse of the word bullying, it has now become the go-to word for any mean behavior. Here are some examples:
“Johnny called me a bad name, he’s bullying me”,
“Trisha hit me, she is bullying me”,
“My child is being bullied because Lucy did not let her have the ball at recess”.
The first example with Johnny is name-calling, the second with Trisha is hitting or fighting, the third with Lucy is rude behavior. Now, if any of these situations were repeated over and over, and there was an imbalance of power, then they might be considered bullying. However, a one time mean name or action is not bullying. The classroom teacher can simply talk with the students about using kind words, keeping our hands to ourselves, and a talk about bossiness. Usually, this will involve asking the students what happened and why, hearing both sides, and then having them apologize for their mistake. Here’s another interesting thing that parents do not often realize, once you get both sides, there tends to be poor choices made by both students. Therefore, there is no imbalance of power if Johnny called Tommy a name and he called him one back.
That is why getting more information is crucial. Too often, we get emails from parents saying my child was bullied by so and so. As a parent, I can understand the fear of your child being mistreated and your initial Mama or Papa Bear protective nature coming out. But trust your classroom teacher to handle the situation in her class. Perhaps consider emailing/calling the teacher and letting him/her know that you became aware of a situation that happened that involved (insert proper verbiage here such as name-calling), explain your child’s side of the story and request that she look into it and clarify what occurred. This way you are advocating for your child, getting more information on what happened, and being respectful of the teacher.
So the question is, how do you know when it is real bullying or a one-time poor choice? Start by validating their feelings about what happened and then try to ask some questions. Here are some starting point questions you can use after you validate their feelings:
How did it make you feel when Trisha did that?
What happened right before Trisha hit you?
What do you think Trisha will tell me when I ask her what happened?
Has Trisha ever hit you or been mean to you before? If so, when and what happened?
Do you consider Trisha a friend?
How can we help resolve this with Trisha?
These questions will help you determine if this is something that is on-going with these students, if there is some kind of imbalance of power between them, if it was intentional or an accident, or if it was reciprocal.
Some concerning responses to look out for would be:
The child indicating they no longer want to come to school or want a class change.
The child indicating they are scared of the other student.
The child saying nothing can be done to fix it or implying it will never get better.
The child saying it has happened a few times before, be it verbal, physical, or emotional.
There was no antecedent for the behavior.
Click here for Warning Signs for Bullying
Always consult with a School Counselor or Administrator if you are unsure about a possible bullying situation. Always inform parents of any concerning behaviors done towards their child or by their child. There are always unique situations that come up that may not fall into the R.I.P identification, use your judgement as a professional or parent and trust your gut.
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