Expert shares anti-bully tips with Vicenza parents
March 28, 2013
VICENZA, Italy (March 22, 2013) -- In the children's book "Bully Beans" by Julia Cook, a parent gives her child bully beans to help her stand up to a bully. The child figures out that they are regular jelly beans, but it shows the child that they already had the power to not be bullied.
This book was one of the many examples presented by Dr. Michele Borba, child expert and author of nine books to help children and parents deal with attitudes, behaviors and problems they might encounter. Borba has traveled to many Department of Defense Dependents Schools overseas to help communities with information on the subject. She spoke to Vicenza Military Community parents at Vicenza Middle School March 22.
"Bullying is a learned behavior that can be unlearned," Borba said. "There is a difference between teasing, arguing and bullying, which is cruelty."
Borba shared a statistic that daily 160,000 students skip school due to fear of peer intimidation. She spoke with parents about identifying their children are having a problem. "Children won't talk about being bullied because they are embarrassed or don't want to let their parents down," Borba said.
To get children to open up, Borba recommends having family dinners as a good way to gauge problems they might be having. Monitoring digital devices children use and knowing their passwords, and knowing their friends is another way of finding out what is going on with children. And then there's the "mother-daughter" project.
"The mother-daughter project has mothers and daughters watching movies with their friends and their parents; this can start a dialogue," Borba said. Movies she recommends start for younger children with "Dumbo," and range through the older ages with "Monsters Inc.," "Mean Girls" and "The Breakfast Club."
Identifying what kind of bullying takes place at certain ages and their triggers are important, said Borba. The first and most common type among boys and younger children is physical, which could be punching and shoving. Verbal bullying typically lasts around 38 seconds, but if someone intervenes it can be stopped in 10 seconds, she said.
Stopping this type of bullying can keep it from escalating to other types.
Relational bullying is most common among girls, and can include social shunning and rumor mongering. Borba recommends the book "Odd Girl Out" by Rachel Simmons, which was written more than 10 years ago but has recently been updated with more current issues and problems, as a resource in that area.
Sexual bullying mostly occurs in high school. It is critical that both boys and girls understand that "No" means no, she said. Finally, cyber or electronic bullying includes texting, emails, websites and photos.
"If your child is a victim of this, you can see the change in them immediately," Borba said. "You will notice your child trying to access the computer at different hours or hiding their phones. Often, texting occurs at night. I would remove these devices from their rooms. It is a privilege, not a right."
Borba also recommends having children stop looking at computers and televisions at least 30 minutes before they go to bed to help them sleep better. If a child establishes a "happy place," putting a photo of that place in a frame beside the child's bed could eliminate nightmares.
Vicenza Middle School counselor Carol Kabonick said, "It really is important to understand how we can help with these kinds of issues. Don't think that others have the perfect child or life. If you feel exasperated, there is no shame in asking for help."
One mother came to Borba's presentation because she wanted to get some ideas of how to talk to her child and how to deal with growing issues.
"We got into a huge fight just this morning over a shirt and I'm left wondering is this a hormonal thing or is there something else going on?" the mother said.
Signs that a child might be bullied include unexplained marks, loss of toys or clothes, avoiding school, sleep problems and physical complaints. These signs could also indicate depression or stress. Borba said every child has bad days and deals with things differently. You have to establish what is normal behavior for your child.
Tips for children to deal with a bully include establishing a safety net of people they can go to if there is an incident. Also talking to children about things they can say when confronted include just saying thank you or using humor.
"Bullies love a reaction -- crying, whining or saying, 'I'm going to tell,'" said Borba. "Bullies look for people who look stressed or anxious. They bully because they have no brake system and some even have a faster heart rate."
She suggested parents coach their children to hold their heads high to avoid becoming a target. Teach children the importance of making eye contact when speaking with someone, she said. Also teaching them to say, "I don't deserve this," can help with esteem issues.
"It takes 21 days of repetition for something to become intuitive and can be done in just a minute a day," Borba said.
She noted that bullying is not singularly a problem in the United States. She traveled to Columbia last year to speak about bullying. Borba has appeared on several Dateline NBC specials and most recently was on the Today show speaking on the dangers of over-praising children.
She has a blog on her webpage, www.micheleborba.com, where she shares information on a number of topics from teaching children financial literacy to choosing quality day care. Also on her webpage is a list of more than 50 books that touch on the subject of bullying. Borba said she found many of the titles at the Vicenza school library.
"If you don't know how to address your problem, we will find it," Kabonick said.