Back to School: Cook Children's Psychologist Shares Advice on Dealing With Bullies, How to Spot a Bully
Many students are returning to school this week. Psychologist Lisa Elliott, Ph.D., is sharing how to deal with bullies and how to spot bullying behavior.
By Heather Duge
For Lisa Elliott, Ph.D., back to school means a full schedule of therapy sessions that all have a common topic – bullying. Dr. Elliott has been a psychologist at Cook Children’s for 28 years and says bullying now starts as early as Kindergarten.
“We see it moving down in years considerably,” Dr. Elliott said. “Parents need to understand, given our culture, that most children will engage in bully behavior because it is being modeled for them through programs on TV, news media and reports, online exposure and adult actors, sports figures and political figures.”
The pandemic has only made the bullying issue even worse.
“COVID, isolation and increased use of social media have definitely impacted bullying – the number of bully incidents have significantly increased, and the severity has also,” Dr. Elliott said.
Since children spend a large amount of their time at school, teachers have the opportunity to demonstrate inclusion and empathy toward others.
“The reality is that teachers are critical role players, and their kindness matters,” Dr. Elliott said.
Types of Bullying
Four types of bullying exist – physical, verbal, social and cyberbullying.
Physical bullying accounts for less than 1/3 of bullying incidents and more boys engage in this type.
Verbal bullying is the most common form affecting an individual’s self-esteem and feelings for years, leaving scars that last a lifetime. This includes spreading mean rumors, making accusations that are not true, gossip, lies, spreading embarrassing private truths, name-calling, taunting, belittling and cruel criticism.
Girls have the highest engagement in social bullying – a difficult-to-detect form of bullying including ignoring, isolating, excluding or shunning. It is the most potent kind, especially in the middle school and high school years.
As soon as children have cell phones, cyberbullying comes into play.
“Cyberbullying is 24/7 and has a rapid transmission. It reaches the world in an instant,” Dr. Elliott said.
Five years ago, cyberbullying in schools was addressed with the enforcement of David’s Law in Texas which requires schools to notify the parent of an alleged victim of bullying within three business days of a report, rather than waiting for the findings of an investigation. The school also must adopt policies allowing students to anonymously report incidents of bullying and may expel or place a student in a disciplinary alternative education program.
Signs and Symptoms of Being Bullied:
- Does not want to go to school/skips school/gets into trouble at school
- Grades suffer
- Stops talking about peers and school activities
- Loses interest in activities
- Physical manifestations (sleep disturbances, withdrawal and wanting to be alone, complaints of pain or illnesses, appears tearful, displays victim body language such as keeping head down, hunching shoulders and avoiding eye contact)
- Emotional manifestations (appears sad, angry or irritable, withdraws and acts timid, becomes overly moody or anxious, exhibits aggressive behavior)
- Social/behavioral manifestations (withdraws socially, changes friends, engages in self-mutilation, threatens violence to self and others, talks of running away or suicide, suddenly stops using the computer or other mobile devices)
Signs and Symptoms of Being the Bully:
- Suddenly stops using the computer/device or turns off the screen when someone comes near
- Appears secretive about what they are doing on the computer/device
- Appears nervous when using a computer/device
- Spends an excessive amount of time on the computer/device
“If your child is bullying others, react calmly and don’t blame yourself because there are so many influences in a child’s life. I commend parents who recognize their child could be a bully,” Dr. Elliott said.
Equip Your Child with a Foolproof Tool
When talking to children about peers, the growth mindset of appreciating and valuing differences of opinion should be addressed. Tell your child how to help a classmate who is being bullied such as spending time with them and encouraging them at school and outside of school, helping them get away from the negative situation and telling an adult.
After researching various strategies to deal with bullies, Dr. Elliott created a response tool that has proven to stop the bully from coming back for more harassment.
“If you show pain, hurt, fear or anger it feeds the bully,” Dr. Elliott said. "Ignoring the bully still gives them the idea they are successful in hurting the victim which fuels the fire and motivates them to keep bullying. The fewer words you say, the better – use words such as ‘OK’ and ‘whatever’ before walking away.”
This strategy acknowledges the bully while at the same time showing him that the tactics are not effective.
“I’ve never had a child or teenager tell me that it doesn’t work,” Dr. Elliott said.
Proactive Tips for Every Parent
Modeling empathy needs to be at the forefront when raising children. Focusing on others’ needs and feelings will contribute to a child’s overall happiness.
- Openly talk about bullying all the time
- Ask questions like “Has bullying ever happened to you? How did it make you feel?”
- Role play and ask “How do you think this would make you feel?”
- Teach empathy and kindness – have child open doors for people, get involved in a service project
“Kids are naturally born with kindness and empathy,” Dr. Elliott said. "What changes over time is what gets modeled for them and what they see.”
About Cook Children's
Cook Children’s Health Care System embraces an inspiring Promise – to improve the health of every child through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, we’re proud of our long and rich tradition of serving our community. Our not-for-profit organization is comprised of nine companies, including our Medical Center, Physician Network, Home Health company, Northeast Hospital, Pediatric Surgery Center, Health Plan, Health Services Inc., Child Study Center and Health Foundation. With more than 60 primary, specialty and urgent care locations throughout Texas, families can access our top-ranked specialty programs and network of services to meet the unique needs of their child. For 100 years, we’ve worked to improve the health of children from across our primary service area of Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties. We combine the art of caring with leading technology and extraordinary collaboration to provide exceptional care for every child. This has earned Cook Children’s a strong, far-reaching reputation with patients traveling from around the country and the globe to receive life-saving pediatric care. For more information, visit cookchildrens.org.