Understanding Bullying Behavior

It can be painful to see your child bullied by others, causing you to be very protective and angry at the children causing them pain. It can also be painful to know that your child may be the bully. Either way, it is beneficial to understand what may cause youth to lash out at one another. Bullying behavior, at its core, is an unhealthy coping tool children develop to deal with some kind of stress, trauma, or insecurity. It is a way for a child who feels powerless to get power.

There are several risk factors that can lead to bullying behavior. People who bully are more likely to act out aggressively, are easily frustrated, may dislike following rules and may see violence as a way to get what they want. It is not uncommon for bullies to have seen hostility and aggression, or even violence in their home. Often, children who bully feel insecure in their relationships, from feeling that their parents are not involved enough in their lives, to having been rejected by someone, to feeling that they only way to gain acceptance by friends is to be a bully. Deep down, a child who is hurting others is most likely feeling hurt, or has been bullied themselves. They may feel aggression toward others gives them a feeling of control at a time when they feel powerless.

If your child is the one doing the bullying, it can be difficult to ask for help, as they are often seen as the “problem” child and are getting in trouble at school. These children often need love and connection the most, even though they are asking for it in a problematic way. Practicing openly discussing emotions to prevent them from bottling up and turning into aggression is crucial. It is important to validate those feelings by saying that their anger, fear, or sadness are normal emotions and that it is okay to feel this way, while helping them to understand their behavior is not okay. Do not be afraid to seek help from a mental health professional to support your child in learning healthier ways of coping with their overwhelming emotions.

Teachers and other important adults can help support these youth by avoiding harsh punishment. Punishment, especially yelling or aggression, tends to be reinforcing, as it provides the attention children are seeking. Children will seek negative attention when it is easier to get than positive attention. This negative attention adds to the negativity that already led to this behavior in the first place. Seeing the child behind the behavior and avoiding labeling them as “bullies” can be healing. Being a mediator between children in a safe, neutral setting, and making sure both children feel validated is a way to help work through the issue in a healthy way.

Understanding the causes behind bullying behavior can help us be more empathetic to a young person who is expressing a need in a negative way. Parents of children who are bullied can use this information to help their child understand that they are not getting picked on because of who they are, but because the other child has problems of their own that they most likely cannot see. The best way to respond to bullying is to acknowledge that it is an attempt to get a need met and responding accordingly. For adults, that means attending to positive behavior and providing healthy ways for youth to build social connections and a sense of power and self-worth. For youth, that means not fighting back against or giving in to bullies and instead responding with assertive compassion. Acting kind and confident deprives bullies of the reaction they are trying to get. Overall, supporting all children to learn healthy ways of expressing themselves, enhancing strong relationships, and building self-esteem can help children on both sides.

Anxiety in Children

What it Looks Like

Anxiety can look different from one person to the next. Anxiety is excessive worrying or fear, but people, especially children, may have a difficult time expressing those emotions, or they may not even realize that is what they are feeling. As a result, anxiety may not be the obvious culprit, but might look more like an anger problem or an attention deficit issue. Here are some indications of an anxious child:

-Irrational or excessive fear

-Worrying about worry

-Difficulty with transitions or changes in plans

-Anger/irritability

-Withdrawal or Avoidance

-Tantrums

-Trouble concentrating

-Fidgeting or Restlessness

-Difficulty sleeping/fatigue

-Difficulty with the unknown/asking many detailed questions, often about adult issues

-Being very particular/excessively trying to exert control over situations

-Complaining of physical pains, especially stomach aches

Some of these behaviors may be normal if they aren’t causing significant problems, or they may indicate other issues, so it is important to get the opinion of a mental health professional.

Why We Have it

We all experience anxiety from time to time, and we can thank a part of the brain, called the amygdala, for this. The amygdala’s job is to protect us from dangerous situations. When it senses something dangerous (whether real or not) it tells yours body to either get ready for a fight, run away, or freeze. This happens so fast, we often don’t have the chance to tell your brains when there is nothing to be afraid of, and before we know it, there are hormones and adrenaline rushing through us- which can change our breathing, heartbeat, make our muscles tense, make us sweaty or give us a stomach ache.

Think of your anxiety like a smoke alarm. A smoke alarm will go off any time there is smoke, whether you just burned a piece of toast, or there is a fully raging fire. Your amygdala may be getting you ready to fight a wild animal, and it doesn’t know that introducing yourself to a new friend is not actually dangerous, it’s just an unfamiliar experience.

So think of your anxiety as your protector, guardian, warrior, or super hero. It wants to keep you safe. Now the only question is, how do you let your protector know when you don’t need protecting?

A Few Strategies for Coping with Anxiety

1. Choose an object to hold your worries: Anxiety will get worse if we just hold onto in and never let it out. Denying fear or never telling anyone how we feel can make it worse, and at times this can turn into anger. It can be helpful to talk to a friend of family member. Other ways to let out our fears would be to write them out. This can be through journaling, or writing down thoughts to keep in a safe container, or destroying them in some way (like ripping or crumbling the paper). We may need an object to hold onto our thoughts and fears for us when they feel overwhelming. This can be a stuffed animal, a “worry stone,” or crafting your own “worry pet” or “worry doll.” Sometimes we need some support in carrying those big feelings.

2. Distract Yourself:  Sometimes, it may be necessary to simply get your mind off of your problems. This can be done in many ways. What makes you happy? Listening to music, dancing, going for a walk, spending time with loved ones, engaging in something artistic, or exercising are a few examples. The key to making this strategy work is mindfulness. This means, that when you mind wanders back to those fears or unpleasant thoughts, bring your focus and attention back to your activity and think about what it is you like about it and engage your senses. For example, if you are out for a walk and your worry about that upcoming test creeps up, bring your attention back to the sound of birds singing.

3. Breathing and Bubbles: Blowing bubbles is a fantastic way to focus on your breathing and let your fears float away! Imagine that you are a bubble. As you breathe in, focus on your body being filled with air, just like a bubble. As you slowly blow out your breath, feel your body relax. Focus simply on the bubble as it gets bigger, until it leaves the wand and floats through the air. After you have practiced this exercise a few times, you can try this even if you don’t have bubbles with you by simply imagining your thoughts as bubbles floating away while you breathe in and out.