The Quarterly Newsletter from Barclay & Associates, P.C., a place for growth and change.
Summer 2014 Issue: Bullying
How Parents Can Respond to Reports of Bullying
Review of 8 Keys to End Bullying, Strategies for parents & schools
The Bully Project
Kids Against Bullying

How Parents Can Respond to Reports of Bullying
By Dustin D. Ernberger, Licensed Mental Health Counselor

A recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry casts a disturbing new light on the subject of childhood bullying.  British researchers at King’s College Institute of Psychiatry in London used data from the British National Child Development study, begun in 1958, to track the long-term outcomes of 7,771 participants.  They were looking at those participants who acknowledged being bullied.  The results of the study suggest that subjects, most of whom are now in their 50’s, who were exposed to repeated bullying in childhood, tended to experience higher rates of depression and anxiety, poorer physical health, and were more likely to earn less or be unemployed.  This new research contradicts the age-old myth that exposure to bullying “toughens” kids up and prepares them to face the challenges and competition of the real world.
Currently, most schools have policies and educational programs in place that are designed to ensure student safety at school.  Though some of these are more effective than others, prioritizing student safety, and raising the public’s awareness of the problem have been positive steps.  Bullying continues, however, despite institutional efforts.  This is where a collaborative effort between parents and kids is needed.
Bullying, is frequently a covert activity.  In many cases, it flies beneath the radar of day-to-day learning and family life.  Children engaged in bullying are often skilled at concealing their actions.  The parents with whom I work in my practice at Barclay & Associates are often frustrated by school officials, who assert that they are not aware of a problem.  In many cases this is accurate, as bullying is not often easily observed.
Children being victimized have a hard time talking about what is happening to them for fear of reprisals from the bully, shame at not being able to take care of it themselves, or the sense that no one is really listening.
Children who are being bullied are often under enormous pressure, however, and this pressure creates stress that often results in behavioral changes that can be observed.  Children may complain of headaches and/or stomach aches more often.  They may exhibit a loss of interest in schoolwork, academic achievement, attending school, and special school activities.  They may exhibit less interest in socializing with friends and family.  Sleep may be more difficult and nightmares more frequent.  There may also be unexplained injuries; and lost or damaged books, personal items, and clothing.
If your child discloses that he is being bullied, chances are that it has taken a lot for him to reach the point that he is willing to disclose this to you.  Nothing shuts down productive dialog faster than a platitude like, “Just ignore them, they’re not really your friends.”  Be prepared to stop what you are doing (or make an appointment to talk about it when you can be totally free), sit down with your child, temper your own feelings of frustration, and let him know that it is okay to tell you what’s going on.  Keep in mind that you are going to need specific information about what is happening in order to be able to intervene effectively.  Children bully for different reasons, and a solution like the one given above may be quite helpful against a bully who’s actions are fueled by the need for attention.  For another type of bullying situation, however, “ignoring” can be dangerous.  Parents and their kids need to keep the lines of communication open in order to effectively deal with the situation.
Setting the stage for ongoing discussion of the situation allows parents and kids the flexibility to try different solutions.  Role-playing ways to respond to taunts, insults, and threats, for example, can be helpful to kids who feel like their power has been taken away.  Kids may need help identifying situations in which they are more vulnerable to being bullied (e.g. certain playground locations, passing times, etc.), and what they can do in these situations.  Parents can also help their kids identify school staff and neighborhood adults they might feel comfortable going to for help if they need assistance.  Parents might need to help make arrangements with these “safe” adults.
In the best of cases, the child is able to utilize effective social skills such as assertiveness and/or mindful ignoring of the situation to decrease the bully’s willingness to target him.  Learning and using these skills, however, is not always sufficient to solve the problem.  If bullying continues despite this, adults are the only ones who can really intervene in a way to shut the problem down.  Parents can increase the likelihood of successful intervention by working closely with school personnel to develop a support system for the child and a safety plan.  Detailed documentation of problem situations and what was done in response will help keep adult helpers on the same page and working for the same goal: safety for the child.

8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for parents & schools
by Signe Whitson (2014, W.W. Norton & Company), 240 pgs., paperback, $19.95 US, ISBN 978-0-3937-0928-5
Reviewed by Kevin J. Zimmerman, PhD, Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Kids who need the most love will often ask for it in the most unloving of ways, according to Pennsylvania-based social worker and school counselor Signe Whitson. Our job, she says, as parents, teachers, and community leaders, is to stay connected to kids—all kids: the bullied, the bullies, and the bystanders—and through kindness and compassion, we can help stop bullying. Whitson shares illustrative examples, current research, and practical strategies that anyone who works with children can use, and she concludes the book with a listing and description of resources and a selection of current references for further reading.
In the book’s forward, the series editor, Babette Rothschild, reveals that the publisher identified a need for an “8 Keys” volume on bullying and approached Whitson because of her blog and previous publications, including a book on group activities for bullied girls. The resulting book is accessible and practical. Below are each of the keys.
Key 1: Know Bullying When You See Bullying. Whitson defines bullying as “intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power,” (p. 4) and she differentiates bullying from rudeness and meanness. She discusses four main ways that kids are bullied, the kinds of kids who bully and are bullied, and signs that a child is being bullied.
Key 2: Establish Connections with Kids. Parents and professionals connect with kids through consistent positive interactions. Kids are more likely to report bullying to adults who are accessible and who listen well. Whitson advises adults how to respond to a report of bullying and to take reports of bullying seriously.
Key 3: Stop Bullying Whenever You See Bullying. Nearly 75% of bullying occurs where adults are not present, such as the playground, bathrooms, and the bus. Increasing the presence of adults in such places, and fostering a culture of kindness in the classroom and throughout the school can help. Whitson suggests specific, brief messages that adults can use to intervene if they witness bullying.
Key 4: Deal Directly with Cyberbullying. Around 1 in 5 teens report being cyberbullied. Whitson encourages increasing face-to-face interaction, educating kids about good digital citizenship well before they have their own digital accounts, and closely monitoring kids’ online activities. The chapter concludes with eight strategies for kids to prevent and end cyberbullying.
Key 5: Build Social and Emotional Competence. Whitson argues that teaching kids specific social and emotional skills is more effective at reducing bullying than taking a punitive approach. She outlines five components of a bullying prevention program (emotion management, empathy, conflict resolution, assertiveness, and friendship building), and recommends anti-bullying books and resources for kids and adults.
Key 6: Turn Bystanders into Buddies. Peers are present in 90% of bullying incidents, but intervene less than 20% of the time. Directly teaching kids specific, simple phrases, like “knock it off,” can help bystanders prevent and stop bullying. Also effective are buddy programs that partner high-status kids with kids vulnerable to bullying.
Key 7: Reach Out to Kids Who Bully. Whitson discusses various deficits that drive kids to bully, and discusses various kind, pro-social ways for adults to connect to such kids, as well as what has been shown not to work. For example, expelling kids who bully compounds feelings of alienation and social deficits, which leads to an increase in bullying.
Key 8: Keep the Conversation Going. There are a variety of ways that adults can continue discussion of and focus on maintaining a bully-free environment. Schools can conduct regular surveys about bullying and plan trainings, assemblies, community forums, and bullying-related movie screenings. Student-led initiatives, such as petitions, pledges, t-shirts, or bullying-awareness walks, invest kids in their commitment to prevent bullying.
Each chapter ends with a list of “10 Practical Strategies” to help the reader implement the content of the chapter. The resources list at the end of the book is particularly helpful for adults concerned about bullying. Above all, the book can help equip adults, who might otherwise feel at a loss when they encounter bullying, with the strategies, knowledge, and encouragement that they can make a difference. 

Dr. Barclay was the recipient of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry's Distinguished Service Award. Congratulations Dr. Barclay!

The Bully Project

The centerpiece of is the 2011 documentary “Bully.” The project is a social action campaign designed to change a culture of bullying into a culture of action and empathy. The full movie is available here

Kids Against Bullying

Kids Against Bullying is an animated, interactive website designed to engage, educate, and encourage kids to stop bullying. The site includes stories, games, coloring pages, videos, webisodes, FAQs, and more.
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Kevin J. Zimmerman, PhD, LMFT
Newsletter Editor
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