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By: Rifka Schonfeld

Q: What character traits are common in bullies and in their targets?

A: Nothing can ruin a child’s life as easily as being bullied. Bullying is an ugly form of abuse that children (and adults, for that matter) impose on others in order to make themselves feel superior. They are persistent in singling out and humiliating their targets in a variety of threatening verbal or physical methods. If you know a child who is the target of a bully, it’s important to be sympathetic and understanding. Don’t tell him to “ignore it” or “pretend it isn’t happening.” It is happening, and it’s very emotionally painful.

Bullying is quite common. According to a 2009 study published in the journal Pediatrics, 28 percent of children aged 6-9 reported having been physically bullied in school at some point and nearly 40 percent of children 10-13 reported having been teased and bullied emotionally. Much research has been done on the nature of bullying, because it has become obvious that the effects can often last well into adulthood. A study by Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus discovered that 60 percent of bullies exhibited criminal conduct by the time they reached adulthood. Another research group in England learned that 61 percent of 14-year-old boys who considered themselves “a bit of a bully” were still highly aggressive at the age of 32.

It does not end quickly for the victim either. Scars from childhood bullying are often long-lasting and bullying can often escalate out of our control. Here are some ways that parents can get involved:

  • Set up play-dates with other children: Children who are isolated are more likely to be bullied in school. Talk to your child about who he enjoys playing with at school and then set up after school play-dates with those children. Creating allies in the classroom will inspire your child with more confidence and will also dissuade others from bullying your son.
  • Sign up for Extra-Curricular Activities: Like play-dates, extra-curricular activities are great opportunities for children to make new friends – especially with children who share their interests. Not only will your child gain self-assurance, he can also gain a new skill in the process.
  • Talk to a teacher or principal: Bullying is not a problem strictly between two children, rather the whole school environment is involved. Teachers and administrators are on the front line of the bullying war. The first step is to make them aware of the problem in the classroom. Then, you can work together with the teacher to come up with solutions to prevent the negative behavior. With proactive efforts, bullying can be severely reduced.
  • Role-play: Teaching your child how to respond when someone bullies him will help him take control of the situation. To that end, role-playing different scenarios with your child can help him anticipate possible bullying situations.

Perhaps the most important issue to remember is that bullying is not to be ignored.  Children come to adults because they do not know how to “work it out” on their own.  Coaching children in the skills they need in order to overcome bullies will ultimately stop the cycle of bullying that is prevalent in schools today.

Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld, founder and director of the SOS program, is an educator and educational consultant with specialization as a keriah and reading coach. Serving the Jewish community for close to 30 years, she has experience providing evaluations, G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness.