Why Is My Child Being Bullied?

By: Rita Y. Toews

It is extremely stressful to find that your child is being bullied. Our role as a parent is to protect, nourish and ultimately to release our children as young adults into society where they make a positive impact. Bullying has no part to play in this scenario.

Your child may have been singled out by a bully for a number of reasons, few of which are within her or his control. Often it's simply a matter of how your child reacts to uncertain situations.

Not every adult feels comfortable in all social settings. While you may enjoy a tail-gate party, you may be uncomfortable at the Governor General's New Year's soiree, or visa-versa. As an adult you can make it through the evening by masking your feelings or choosing not to react to certain conversations. Not so for children. For many, the hours spent at school represent their entire social experience and they must repeat it day after day. Not only must they attend school, they haven't had time to fully develop their social intelligence. In Dr. Daniel Goleman's book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, social intelligence is described as "...the ability to sense another's inner state in a complicated social situation, then to effectively interact at the non verbal level to shape an outcome, all the while caring for the other's needs."

No small task — even for an adult.

This skill involves interpreting appropriate eye contact and body posture. For a child it's easy to misinterpret complex signals and assume they are threats. If the child reacts with fear and avoidance, he or she appears to be an "easy target."

Add to that the child with:

and you have the perfect target for a bully. In some way, the target is different from the multitude of others who surround them. That still doesn't excuse the fact that they are selected for abuse.

While a child may be a target, he or she don't necessarily have to become a victim. Again, this is something that is easier to understand from an adult perspective.

The word "victim" implies that the act against the target has succeeded. If the child reacts in a way that satisfies the bully it reinforces the behavior and could doom the targeted child to repeated attacks.

We've seen the little dance play out many times. We may even have been involved in it. A bully selects his target and begins to prod and poke, searching for the hot-button. The child lashes back on cue, or bursts into tears. The bully realizes satisfaction from the encounter and is sure to repeat it. When the second, third and fourth event occurs he has a victim.

We all hope our child has mastered certain skills that help them to stand up for him or herself, such as the ability to understand and fend off teasing. But more often, a child who has drawn the attention of a bully attributes the outcome to a personal weakness. The bullying further destroys self-esteem and the cycle continues in a downward spiral.

Rita Y. Toews is the author of The Bully: A Discussion And Activity Story, and Bullying: A Parents Primer. Her books are available through her website at thebullybook.com.

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