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Dr. Renee Clauselle Discusses Roots of Bullying and the Psychological Effects on Its Victims

Dr. Renee Clauselle, a practicing child psychologist with a private practice in Franklin Square, New York, and Director of School Mental Health Services at St. John's University, says that bullying can often be learned behavior that, if it is not stopped, will allow the child to target certain classmates. For the victim, bullying has long-term negative effects, resulting in depression and/or anxiety.

"Bullying is defined as repeated negative behavior towards a person who has difficulty defending himself or herself. We often think bullying happens between children only," Dr. Clauselle said. "However, it also happens among the adult community, where the breeding ground for bullying usually exists."

As an example, children might see an adult verbally assault a store clerk, a waiter or waitress or other service professional. "When children see adults in their community demeaning, degrading or hurting another adult, they may begin to think that sort of behavior is acceptable," Dr. Clauselle said.

If bullying is acceptable at home, Dr. Clauselle said, then children who bully their siblings are more likely to bully other in school. "If this negative behavior is reinforced, in that the child gets what they want as a result of bullying, they will continue to do it outside of the home and possibly into adulthood," she said.

In a school environment, bullies choose to torment their victims at times when the teacher or volunteer is not present. It can happen during recess, special classes such as art or music or when passing through hallways between classes. To prevent further bullying, Dr. Clauselle urges the victims to report the incident to a parent and/or teacher. As soon as parents or educators detect bullying, they must intervene.

"It is very important to stop bullying by telling the aggressor to stop and also keep records or a log of bullying incidents," Dr. Clauselle said. "Victims need to feel they are being supported and connected to home and school. It is important to investigate each incident that a child brings to you as an adult, to assess if it is a bullying situation."

Volunteers and school aides who monitor the lunch room and recess area while teachers are on break are either not formally instructed on bullying prevention or are knowledgeable but do not think they have the authority from the school district to intervene. As a result, they offer temporary solutions rather than attempting to fully defuse the situation.

"The volunteers will often tell the victim, 'Stay away from that child' or 'Play with someone else,'" Dr. Clauselle said. "While well-meaning, these suggestions do not provide relief from the deep-rooted bullying issues. Further, the volunteer does not document what has occurred and, as a result, the bully is not punished and the victim does not feel protected by the adults and no longer feels that school is a safe place for them."

Dr. Clauselle urges parents and educators to notice if the child being bullied is experiencing depression and/or anxiety. If so, the child should seek professional help immediately. "A professional therapist offers a neutral zone for the student in that they are with an adult who will work in the best interests of the child," she said. "Here, the child will feel safe and be able to establish a relationship of trust with an adult that they might not have otherwise been able to do in a home or school setting."