Q: My child came home from the park yesterday and told me that an older kid was calling him names. How can I stop my child from being bullied?
A: While your concern is legitimate, let’s step back a minute and really look at the situation. Do you remember the early 1990s when a great many children were diagnosed with the newly discovered Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? After so many diagnoses, people began to look at whether or not every child deemed to have ADHD truly had the condition (some did; many didn’t).
Now apply that to the instances of bullying we hear about today. While bullying is a very real and very serious problem, it’s also a buzzword that gets thrown around a little too much. Some childhood behaviors that adults are quick to label as bullying behavior are actually just kids not being very nice to each other.
Three criteria should be considered when determining whether or not an action is considered bullying. According to stopbullying.gov, the behavior has to be aggressive, repeated or ongoing, and take advantage of a real or perceived imbalance of power. If what you described with your child is an isolated incident, it is not bullying. It’s just an ill-behaved kid being mean. If, on the other hand, this is not an isolated incident and the same child has treated your son this way before, or if you feel this child has the potential to continue berating your son, the behavior can be classified as bullying.
So how can you help your child avoid another such encounter? Most childhood misbehavior—bullying or otherwise—occurs when there is little to no adult supervision. To that end, accompanying your son to the park can certainly help in preventing this from happening again. If you’re unable to go with him or if you think he’s old enough that you’d be an embarrassment, don’t let him go unless you know another parent will be there to keep an eye on him. When he does venture out, make sure your son knows to avoid the older child and seek adult help, such as another mom in the park or uniformed worker, if necessary.
If the child attends the same school as your son, alert the teacher to possible problems so that the situation can be monitored. Keep tabs on your son’s social media and text messages to make sure the behavior isn’t carrying over into other areas of his life.
Regardless of what you choose to do, insulate your son by letting him know he is loved, valued, and important. Children with high self-esteem are less likely to fall victim to bullies.