Home School’s in session: Bullying brings fear to many elementary school students

School’s in session: Bullying brings fear to many elementary school students

Crystal Graham
child bullying elementary school
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With schools back in session, students deal with a wide range of emotions including excitement and anxiety. For those who deal with bullying, the start of the school year also comes with fear.

A Virginia Tech psychologist reports one in four children experience bullying in elementary school.

“The hurtful behavior can happen in a variety of ways – physical, verbal, or social,” said psychologist Rosanna Breaux. “It can happen face-to-face or through technology, like social media or while playing video games.”

Breaux is an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Science at Virginia Tech. She is also the director of the Child Study Center and CALMER Lab.

Breaux’s research focuses on the social, emotional and academic functioning of children and adolescents, particularly those with ADHD.

Risk factors for victims of bullying

Breaux said it’s important for parents and schools to be aware of the risk factors that can lead a child to become a bully or be the victim of bullying.

  • Socioeconomic status, specifically family financial strain, food insecurity, being on government assistance
  • Poor inhibition
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Developmental delays
  • Intellectual disability
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Lack of school engagement
  • Poor self-regulation

Tips to prevent bullyng

Research on how parents can help children and adolescents who are being bullied is limited, said Breaux.

“School bullying is often a group behavior that is maintained by peers who silently support the bullying or are reluctant to defend victims, making it hard for teachers or parents to be able to effectively intervene,” said Breaux. “Many bullied children and adolescents are reluctant to ask for help, believing that adults won’t help or can’t help, and that “help” will make matters worse.”

However, there are several things that Breaux said parents and schools can do to help prevent and limit the negative effects of being bullied.

  • Look for signs that your child might be struggling with peer relationships at school. This includes a drop in grades, reluctance to go to school, and limited desire to spend time with peers outside of school.
  • Encourage children to stay away from places where bullying happens. Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around. For example, if your child is getting bullied in the middle or back of the bus, encourage them to sit towards the front, where the driver can more easily see/hear what is going on.
  • For adolescents, encourage your child to talk to an adult they trust, which doesn’t have to be a parent. It is important that adolescents don’t keep their feelings inside. Telling someone can help adolescents feel less alone and can help them make a plan to stop the bullying.
  • Consider setting limits and monitoring your child’s online activity. Use parental control apps (e.g., AURA, bark) to limit time online and to monitor cyberbullying. School-age children and adolescents generally should not be spending more than 2 hours per day online, except for homework.
  • Help encourage healthy ways to cope. This includes problem solving ways to respond in the face of bullying, such as being assertive (e.g., giving a clever comeback, making a joke out of it) or walking away. There is research suggesting that openly showing signs of being hurt by the bullying such as crying or withdrawing can lead to even more bullying. Helping children and adolescents remain calm in the moment and process their feelings afterwards can be helpful.
  • It is important that your child feels heard and supported. Treat their concerns as a serious matter and validate emotions. This does not mean that parents should act hastily in an effort to help (e.g., calling the parents of the alleged bullies). Focus first on whether your child feels safe and whether they can safely return to school.
  • Contact the school.  If you are concerned about your child’s safety, request that school staff develop a plan for keeping your child safe and preventing bullying from happening in the future. It is a good idea to have regular contact with your child’s school to ensure the plan is being used and is working effectively.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.