October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Blog: October is National Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time to unite against the dangerous specter of bullying and to promote kindness, inclusivity and acceptance.

While any child can be a target for bullies, “children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers,” according to the Pacer Center. Bullying takes a tremendous toll on victims, who may experience a variety of adverse reactions including:

  • School avoidance
  • Falling grades
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal ideation

What’s more, research finds that the impacts of childhood bullying can be felt long after bullying has subsided. Adults who were bullied during childhood and adolescence experience higher rates of mental and physical health problems; have more difficulty maintaining personal relationships; are less successful in their professional lives; and even make less money than individuals who weren’t victimized as children. Additionally, when bullying takes place, it doesn’t just harm victims. Bystanders and the bullies themselves may also face negative consequences.

So, how can you help to prevent bullying? Experts recommend the following actions which can be taken during the month of October and any time of year.

1. Recognize the signs of bullying
According to Stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as “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.” There are several different types of bullying – verbal, physical and social aka relational bullying. In recent years, cyberbullying has become a pervasive and extremely damaging form of bullying.

2. Help your child to recognize the signs of bullying
Some children, especially those with developmental disabilities, may not recognize when they are being bullied and may not know that they don’t have to put up with hurtful behavior from peers. Let your child know what bullying entails and assure them that they do not deserve to be treated badly by classmates.

3. Let your child know you’re available to listen without judgment
Some children may be afraid that telling an adult about bullying will cause the bully to retaliate. Children may also feel ashamed, confused or helpless to stop bullying. If your child comes to you with concerns about bullying, listen calmly, let your child know that you believe them, but don’t rush in to fix the situation for them. Instead, ask open-ended questions to learn more about what’s going on, and find out how your child wants to handle it. Then, work with your child to come up with a plan of action. Avoid telling a child to stand up to a bully; suggesting the child just ignore a bully’s behavior; or minimizing the impact of bullying with adages like “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me…,” “Boys will be boys,” or “Girls are catty.” These will only discourage your child from sharing their struggles. Arrange for your child to meet with a counselor or mental health provider to ensure that they have the support they need to handle the repercussions that come with bullying.

4. Know your child’s rights
Bullying isn’t a new phenomenon. Indeed, it’s existed throughout human history. It was not until the late 1990s, however, that Americans began to take notice of its serious consequences. The first law against bullying was enacted by the Georgia General Assembly in 1999. Today, all 50 states have laws prohibiting bullying. While there is no federal law against bullying, according to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, “in some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment which is covered under federal civil rights laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).”

5. Work with your child’s school
If you determine that bullying needs to be reported to your child’s school, be prepared to express your concerns and priorities clearly and calmly and do your best to listen to feedback from school personnel without becoming defensive or overly emotional. Make sure you understand how the school plans to respond to your concerns and follow up to make sure that the plan is enforced. Keep notes on any meetings you attend. Be prepared to move up the chain of command in your school district if you don’t feel the situation is being handled appropriately.