Why Kids Bully and How to Address During Summer Break

No one is immune from bullying (either being the victim, the bully or both). It can happen anywhere and to anyone – even when school is not in session. Bullies don’t take summer breaks.

Parents can use summer break as an opportunity to help kids avoid and address bullying that takes place during summer break, as well as heal from any bullying that occurred during the past school year.

Who, why and how kids bully during summer break

Whether your child seems to be impacted by bullying or not, it’s important to help your child recognize what constitutes bullying. While identifying bullying may seem like an easy task from an outside perspective, it is often disregarded, ignored or overlooked until it has escalated into an issue that results in serious consequences.

By definition, bullying is repeated and unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. This can come in many forms and presents itself in one or more of the following bullying categories:

  1. Cyberbullying – includes phone calls, text messages, emails, social media posts, and any other digital messaging. The scope of cyberbullying changes as fast as our technologies change, which means it’s not easy to detect or even stop.
  2. Relational (social aggression) bullying – This is ostracizing a person, which includes excluding, gossiping, or spreading rumors. Relational bullying is most common in girls.
  3. Verbal bullying – includes name-calling and purposely making mean comments to another individual.
  4. Physical bullying – This includes hitting, kicking, punching, tripping or causing any other physical harm.

Statistics show that nearly 1/3 of kids between the grades of 6-12 admit that they’ve been bullied, over 2/3 have witnessed bullying and nearly 1/3 have bullied others (www.stopbullying.gov). These stats do not include the kids that have been bullied or bullied others without identifying the occurrence as “bullying.”

Most bullies don’t understand that their behavior is wrong and/or how their behavior makes the other person feel. They often lack empathy and seek kids that are perceived as weaker as their target. Kids often bully to avoid being bullied themselves, to make themselves feel better or to be liked by others. Bullying can also be a learned behavior from home – usually modeled by a parent or older sibling.

As stated above, bullying can happen to anyone. While kids who are bullied can be those who “seem to have it all”, it’s often those who are different and/or appear to lack self-confidence who get targeted the most.

Neighborhoods, summer camps, part-time jobs and social media can all be conduits for bullying. Bullying can start in the summer and then worsen during the school year if not properly addressed.

How to address bullying during summer break

If you suspect or discover that your child is being bullied or is bullying others, you should try to address it as soon as possible. Ignoring the issue or waiting for it to go away almost never works and often causes more harm.

I recommend using a framework that I use in my therapy practice called The Empowerment Space and have detailed in The Empowered Child book. I call it The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment and Engagement).

  1. Empathy. Whether your child is being bullied or is bullying others, empathy is an important first step of addressing the issue. Asking your child open-ended questions, such as “How does it make you feel when the other neighborhood kids exclude you?”, or “Why are you calling David names?”. If your child is being bullied, your natural inclination will most likely be to want to help. Or, if your child is bullying others, you’ll want him to stop. But, in order to address, you must allow your child to talk. To try to determine the root cause of the issue so that a resolution can be formed, you must ask questions and listen. Don’t assume, speak for your child and ask him or her to agree.
  2. Empowerment. Empower your child to heal from bullying or to stop bullying others by asking your child how she’d like to address the situation. It’s ok to help your child form a resolution by asking questions and gently guiding, but you should not dictate the resolution and request her to follow. For an example, if your daughter is being bullied, you could ask her, “Did you want to talk to the camp leader about the kids who have been bullying you?”.

    A child that is being bullied will want it to stop, but may not feel confident in taking the steps needed to help stop the bullying. Role-playing with your child can help.If your child is bullying others, he may not feel it’s necessary to stop until you’ve helped your child understand how he may be making the other person feel (empathy). As the parent, you should let your child know that bullying others is wrong. But, in order for your child to really want to stop bullying, you need to also understand why your child is doing it, and then help your child understand how his behavior can negatively affect himself and the victim. Once you’ve mutually determined that a resolution needs to take place, you can ask questions such as “Do you want to apologize to David for calling him names?” or “How do you think you should help David understand that you feel remorse for what you’ve done?”

  3. Engagement. Once a plan has been established, it’s very important for you to regularly check-in with your child to help her stay empowered, ensure a resolution is being carried out and to help increase her self-esteem. You can ask questions such as “Did you talk to the camp leader today about the bullying?”, or “How did your conversation go with David today?”. Open communication with your child is essential. If you do need to involve others, be sure to tell her.

Empathy, empowerment and engagement can help your child overcome and begin to heal from bullying, or to even stop bullying others. The Empowered Child book provides more information and examples of how you can use The Three E’s to help your child. If your child is unable to resolve the bullying, it’s important to seek professional help to address these issues.

About the Author:

Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on FOX, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio.

Please click here if you’d like to schedule a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation with Danielle.