The importance of talking to your children about bullying | Dr. Callie Byrd

By Callie Byrd, MD, Valley Medical Center - Covington Clinic South

According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, nationwide 20 percent of students in grades 9–12 experience bullying.

Bullying is when one child picks on another repeatedly. The behavior is unwanted and aggressive, and involves a power imbalance. There are three types of bullying: physical, verbal, and social.

Physical bullying involves kicking, hitting, pushing, etc. Verbal bullying involves threatening, teasing, and name calling and social bullying involves excluding individuals from activities and starting inappropriate rumors.

Bullying can occur everywhere — at school, on the playground, on the bus, and even on the Internet. Bullying on the Internet, also known as cyber bullying, uses technology to cause harm and is sometimes harder to identify and harder to stop. It can happen 24 hours a day and anyone can be targeted. Messages can be posted anonymously and distributed to a large audience within a few seconds. After messages or photos have been posted they are extremely difficult to delete making cyber bullying challenging to deal with.

Bullying should be taken very seriously as it can cause a multitude of problems for both the victim and the bully.

Children who bully or are the victims of bullying are at risk for using drugs and alcohol which can increase their likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors. Other problems seen in children who are bullied include depression, anxiety, changes in appetite and sleep habits, loss of interest, and withdrawing from friends and activities. Sometimes these feelings can present as health complaints such as headaches, stomach pain, etc. Some children’s grades even begin to drop which is not surprising if they are under a lot of stress.

It is very important to talk to your children about bullying. They need your advice on when and how to ask for help, and they need to understand that if they are being bullied, it’s not their fault. It’s also a good idea to encourage your children to stand up for their friends if they are getting picked on. Joining a club or participating in a sport can give your child self-confidence and teach them how to interact with others in a positive way. You can also teach your child that one way to stand up to a bully is to not react to their taunts and to walk away from the situation.

It is also OK, in certain circumstances, to allow your child to be assertive with the bully and calmly say things like "I don't like what you are doing," or "Please do not talk to me that way." If the bullying persists, get the school involved. Some schools even have counseling programs to help children resolve conflicts and control their anger.

If your child is the bully, set limits on their negative behavior, be a good role model in how you treat people, and teach them how they can get what they want without harming others. It is also important to help your child understand that bullying hurts both the bully and the victim and will not be tolerated. It may help to try and figure out why your child is bullying. Sometimes they are trying to be more popular or feel more in control, other times they are reacting to stressful situations in their lives. Knowing the root of the bullying can help you teach your child about alternative healthy ways to solve their problems.

If your child is a victim of bullying or is a bully and you would like assistance to find appropriate ways to help your child please speak with their primary care provider.

Dr. Callie Byrd is a pediatrician with Valley Medical Center's Covington Clinic South. She can be reached at 253-395-1960. If you have a question you would like Dr. Byrd to address in her column, send it to



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