Preventing Bullying Starts at Home

Preventing Bullying Starts at Home

As temperatures begin to drop, leaves change, and Halloween costume stores pop-up, most students have been in school for a number of weeks, and their academic abilities are coming into focus. How they are doing, both behaviorally and academically, is now well documented and we can observe patterns developing. Additionally, we can begin to explore the questions:  “is my child feeling comfortable socially; does he have supportive and positive teachers; is she connecting with the support staff at the school?” Moreover, we begin to see if bullying is surfacing for children and adolescents of all ages. For those who have seen the documentary Bully (2011), we know that the consequences of being a victim of bullying can sometimes lead to isolation, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. As parents, medical providers, and adults, we often expect that the school will intervene. It is not only the school, however, that has a responsibility here.  Current research describes ways in which situations in the home can influence bullying outside of the home.

In April 2013, an article in Child Abuse & Neglect reported that children who are exposed to negative parenting are more likely to be bullied, and/or be bullies. Negative parenting includes abuse, neglect, maladaptive parenting styles, and overprotection. Additionally, the researchers reported a relationship between exposure to negative parenting and victim status at school.  This research tells us that bullying behaviors, and risk for victimization, can start at home and lead into the academic environment.

While this behavior is disturbing, it was also uncovered that certain positive parenting behaviors including good communication, warm and affectionate relationships, parental involvement and support, and parental supervision were protective factors and therefore reduced a child’s risk of being bullied, or being a bully.  Based on this key finding, the researchers reported “intervention programs against bullying should extend their focus beyond schools to include families and start before children enter school.”

As a child and adolescent psychologist, I cannot minimize the importance of utilizing positive parenting strategies, and am often asked by parents about what they are, and how to implement them into their homes.  It is not atypical when I am meeting regularly with child and adolescent clients, that I spend a significant amount of time with parents to discuss parenting skills including reinforcing positive strategies already being used, teaching new techniques and eliminating maladaptive parenting strategies.

One strategy which cannot be omitted is spending quality time with your child. Even fifteen minutes a day, participating in an activity that your child chooses, can positively affect the relationship. Additionally, reward your children (through praise) for positive behaviors, often and quickly. If we reward them for positive behaviors, they are more likely to present with those behaviors again. Finally, do not “accidently” reward negative behaviors. One example is a child begging and eventually throwing a tantrum because they want a candy. By giving in, and giving them the candy, you have reinforced the negative behavior (begging and tantruming) and thereby send the message to the child that if they have a tantrum, they will receive a reward (i.e. candy). Below are some treatments which utilize the strategies described.

If the child is young (2 years old – 7 years old), and presenting with emotional and behavioral issues, an evidenced based treatment developed at the University of Florida, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) may be warranted. Additionally, Parent Management Training (PMT) is another evidenced-based treatment which may help with children who present with behavioral issues. Both strive to teach parenting principles and also improve the relationship between the parent and child.

As the researchers above indicated, schools and families can help prevent the issue of bullying. If you feel, at times, your parenting style may include some of the negative parenting styles described, and you would like to further utilize more positive strategies, consult with a mental health provider. They can help identify if treatment may help improve the parenting strategies being utilized and teach new more positive approaches. In the end, this may reduce the risk of your child becoming a bully or even being a victim of bullying.

-ZKB

Lereya, S. T., et al. Parenting behavior and the risk of becoming a victim and a bully/victim: A              meta-analysis study. Child Abuse & Neglect (2013),    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.03.001