A child who is bullying another does not necessarily fit the well-known cliché of the biggest, oldest, meanest kid in school who always uses his fists before his words. A bully can be any child or adolescent (or even adult), male or female, young or old, educated or not -who tries to harm someone who is weaker or they think is weaker.
For children, bullying can happen virtually anywhere, including at school, in the neighborhood, and on the computer (cyber bullying). The bully may use physical threats or force; use teasing, exclusion (leaving someone out), threats, or embarrassment; or try to make a person do things the person doesn't want to do.
If the bullying is not dealt with swiftly and properly, it can lead to significant emotional issues for the victims such as depression and anxiety, suicidal or violent thoughts or actions, psychosomatic complaints such as headaches or stomachaches, and poor adjustment at school. The child doing the bullying is at increased risk for substance use, academic problems, and violence in adolescence and adulthood.
As an adult, you need to respond if you witness or are told about a bullying incident. How you respond can truly make an impact. Stopbullying.gov recommends these guidelines for how an adult should respond to a bullying incident.
First, try to respond quickly and decisively. If you find the situation overwhelming for you, get another adult if needed. Most schools today have policies regarding bullying. If you are told about a bullying incident at school, be sure the school administration takes the complaint seriously and acts on it immediately.
If you are present when a bullying incident occurs, separate the kids involved and make sure everyone is physically safe. Do what you can to meet any immediate physical or mental health needs. Most importantly, stay calm and model respectful behavior. Reassure all the kids involved, including bystanders.
As an adult, try to avoid these common mistakes: Don't ignore it and think that the kids can work it out without adult help. Don't immediately try to sort out the facts or force other kids to say publicly what they saw. Don't make the kids involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot. Do talk to the kids involved separately and away from other children.
Be aware that you may need additional help to sort out a bullying issue. This will help to keep everyone, including you, safe during a bullying incident. In some instances, you will need to get police help or medical attention immediately: If a weapon is involved; if there are threats of serious physical injury; if there are threats of hate-motivated violence, such as racism or homophobia; if there is serious bodily harm; if there is evidence of sexual abuse; or if anyone is accused of an illegal act, such as robbery or extortion.
If you've been involved in a youth bullying event as an adult, be sure that support is offered to all the children involved after the incident as well. It's okay for any of them, whether the one being bullied, a bystander, or the one doing the bullying, to see a counselor to help deal with the emotions involved in a bullying incident.
Dr. Lynn Mann is a pediatrician with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians and cares for patients at SVMC Pediatrics in Bennington and Northshire Medical Center in Manchester. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Mann, call 362-4440. To learn more about how SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are working together for a healthier community, visit www.svhealthcare.org. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care.