Bullying in Elementary Schools

Young boy with tear on his cheek

Children seem too young to have to deal with bullies in elementary school. Unfortunately, it is a very real problem, and it won't go away on its own. Bullying behavior can include teasing, taunting, hitting, pinching, name-calling and ridiculing to stealing, threatening and stalking. In addition, bullying can include the spreading of lies and malicious rumors and treating others as social outcasts by ignoring, or isolating them intentionally.

Understanding Bullying in Elementary Schools

Most parents want to believe that their sweet, elementary school-aged children would never bully another child or become the victim of bullying. In reality, the chances of your child being on either end of the spectrum are very real. How you handle the issue can make a huge difference in how your child behaves or copes with the problem.

How Many Kids Are Bullied?

According to a questionnaire given by Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, as many as 9 out of 10 elementary students have experienced bullying from peers. Even more alarming is the fact that 6 out of 10 admitted to participating in some form of bullying. The study surveyed 270 children in two elementary schools in California and one elementary school in Arizona. Even if your child hasn't had issues in the lower grades, as he finishes out his elementary years, he is likely to run into trouble.

How Bullying Affects Kids

When you look at concerns presented by America.edu, it's easy to see that the situation is very serious. Kids who are bullied have many problems, including:

  • Poor attendance
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Low performance in school

Once bullying takes hold in the younger grades, it may continue to escalate once a child reaches the middle school years.

If Your Child Is Bullied

Bullying in elementary schools is common enough that all parents need to take a proactive stance. Children who are being bullied may have been threatened or ordered not to tell by the bullies involved, so it's up to parents to initiate conversations to find out how a child's day went in school. In addition, there are signs parents can watch for that might indicate a problem in school:

  • Your child doesn't want to talk about school or particular parts of the day, like physical education, health, recess, or even lunch.
  • Your child continues to "lose" certain personal items, like a lunchbox, pencil pouch, jewelry, etc.
  • Your child appears withdrawn or begs you not to take him to school without giving you a specific reason.
  • Your child's academic performance seems to be declining.

Steps to Take

  • Talk to the school counselor.
  • Talk to the principal if the situation persists.
  • Ask the administration about incorporating awareness programs that teach children about tolerance and compassion.
  • Inform the teacher that there seems to be a problem with certain students and request that your child be moved to a different seat, group, etc.
  • Contact the other child's parents if none of the above seems to work.

Work with Your Child's School

Licensed therapist Dorothea S. McArthur, author of Defining Moments: Breaking Through Tough Times, has helped clients for over 34 years as they face difficult situations, including bullying. She suggests that parents take a step back before reacting. "Let the teacher know what you have heard from your child. Listen to the teacher's perspective. Ask the teacher if the bully is having trouble with life." McArthur offers a sample dialogue for kids and parents dealing with a bullying situation on page 227 of her book.

Talking with Your Child

McArthur adds some words you can share with your child to make her understand the situation a little better, "Tell your child that a bully is usually someone who is having a hard time with some aspect of his life (an issue such as divorce, abuse, poverty, abandonment, or a parent with substance abuse). The bully is trying to handle his own bad feelings by feeling powerful or by being mean or demeaning of someone else. He has a dysfunctional way of trying to belong. It is important that your child know that the bully's behavior is about the bully and not about your child."

When Your Child Is the Bully

If you suspect or know that your child is exhibiting bullying behavior towards someone else, take steps to stop it immediately.

  • Meet with your child's teacher to find out what she has observed.
  • Talk with your child about why he feels the need to bully.
  • Consider having a meeting with the principal, the other child and his parents to resolve any issues.
  • Work to teach your child compassion and tolerance through volunteer opportunities.
  • Talk to your child about the friends she chooses and consider making certain friends and activities off-limits to your child.

Finally, whether your child is a victim or the perpetrator of bullying, consider taking him to a counselor to see if there is something more serious going on in his world. Brian Hudspeth, a licensed counselor from Abilene, Texas, suggests that bullies may be trying to gain some sense of control in their lives. "If a child feels he has no control over some area of his life, he might resort to bullying to try to regain control."

Resources for Overcoming Bullying

Fortunately, people are more aware of the serious consequences of bullying that goes unchecked. There are several organizations that offer resources and help for parents and schools.

  • National Bullying Prevention Center: The Pacer Center, which advocates for children with disabilities, runs this site. You'll find some useful tools, such as a petition to gather signatures to take to the local school board to institute changes on bullying policies in your school. The site also keeps track of current laws and shows steps you can take to stop bullying.
  • Stop Bullying: This website is maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services. You'll find information on what bullying is, different types of bullying, and resources to help you work with your local community and school.
  • Character Counts: This site offers some excellent resources for teachers, including a bank of lesson plans to help prevent bullying and a series of printable handouts and worksheets.

Get a Handle on the Bullying

Bullying in elementary school can follow a child into his middle school and high school years, particularly if he attends school with the same children all 12 years. As children enter high school, social media and cell phone bullying can compound the impact of a bullying atmosphere, and your child may find it nearly impossible to escape the situation even when at home. Whether your child is the bully or the bullied, taking action now can help head off major issues later.

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Bullying in Elementary Schools