Bullying Causes Serious Problems

Dear Dr. Sylvia:

Q. I’m hoping you can help me with a problem in my classroom. I didn't see a book or DVD about bullying on your website, but that is a problem in my classroom and other classrooms in my school. What are your recommendations for dealing with bullying that occurs out of sight and earshot of the teacher? What do I do when a student or parent of a student complains about another child's bullying that I haven't witnessed? I teach fourth grade, and every year there seem to be problems with bullying.

A. I've actually written a great deal about bullying in various books and I'll summarize those after I've answered your specific question about what you do about bullying you haven't witnessed. The answer is that you take it as seriously as if you had witnessed it. Most bullies manage to bully kids out of sight and earshot of teachers and parents or they wouldn't be successful at bullying. They're smart enough to know that teachers and parents would make them quit, punish them and force them to apologize. Bullies don't win any peer credit by getting caught. Kids who habitually bully other kids are likely to have great problems later in life and to be in trouble with the law eventually. They often come from families that provided neither sufficient love nor boundaries, so you do them a great favor by providing caring and consequences. The caring is harder to provide than the consequences because bullies can be mean. Finding their strengths and engaging them in positive activities is a challenge. Punishing them can keep others safe temporarily, but they'll soon be back if they can get away with hurting others. They've learned it's one activity at which they're effective.

The continuous victims of bullying need protecting and suffer great harm to their self esteem. Children need to know how and where they can be safe and that they won't be considered tattletales for reporting their problems. They need engagement in activities to build confidence and friendships. Sometimes victims of bullying also need social skills counseling.

Anti-bullying programs in schools are effective at decreasing, but not necessarily eliminating bullying. I have many other suggestions for children that teachers could include in their lessons. Bullying is particularly prevalent at the middle grade level, starting at around third or fourth grade. A chapter on bullying in schools starts on page 39 in my book, Growing Up Too Fast: The Rimm Report on the Secret World of America’s Middle Schoolers. Because overweight children are often victimized by bullies, Chapter 3 in my book Rescuing the Emotional Lives of Overweight Children, “Feeling Like a Blob and An Outcast,” has additional tips on bullying. Finally, suggestions that are directed specifically to kids, but will also be helpful to you, are included in Gifted Kids Have Feelings Too and See Jane Win For Girls. In addition to all these, I'll be happy to send you a free newsletter on bullying, and there is an article in the parenting articles section of my website www.sylviarimm.com titled “Bullying Needs to Stop” which you may also find helpful.