Child Development 101: Sticks and Stones

Pushing, hitting, teasing, name-calling. Some may view these as typical kid behaviors, but when they happen on a sustained basis, they become bullying. According to a recent study by Duke Medicine, school bullies may cause lifelong damage to their victims, and they themselves can suffer psychological consequences as adults.

The notion that children eventually outgrow the effects of bullying was challenged by the researchers, who followed more than 1,200 subjects from childhood into adulthood. Adults who were bullied as children are at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression. As for the bullies, the study found higher incidences of antisocial personality disorders among adults who, as children, bullied other kids.

For parents, caregivers and preschool educators, the findings could change the way bullying is handled on the playground and in school. The California Department of Education offers tips and resources for parents and school administrators on how to prevent bullying. Parents with preschool-aged children, however, can begin setting examples at home to help their toddlers avoid becoming bullies or falling victim to a bully.

Young children look to their parents for cues on how to behave. Parents who practice good manners and respect for others are teaching their toddlers that being polite and considerate is important. Talking to children about respectful behavior reinforces the message. If a child begins acting aggressively toward a playmate or sibling, a parent or caregiver can calmly take the child aside and point out how the behavior is hurting the other child.

Bullies often target children who are perceived as different. Teaching young children that each person's unique characteristics make them who they are is one way to build tolerance and understanding. And if parents suspect their child is being bullied, it's important to explain to the child that it's not his fault.

“(Bullying) is something that stays with people,” said William E. Copeland, lead author of the study and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Duke University. “If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road.”

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