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Expert Details Causes, Effects of Bullying

What turns a child into bully? This was among the questions that came up as forensic psychologist S. David Bernstein talked to a group of concerned parents about bullying in Westport on Tuesday night.

There isn't a single cause for a child to become a bully, said Bernstein, president of the Norwalk-based Forensic Consultants LLC. However, he stressed that the type of environment in which a child is raised greatly impacts the type of person he or she becomes.

"Children are marinated in their environment — period," Bernstein said. "Kids learn what they live. And so, if you are not shown empathy, you don't learn empathy."

Although data shows kids who are abused turn into abusers themselves, Bernstein said bullies don't just come from abusive households. Bullies are also bred in middle-class homes by "everyday parents who don't always show empathy."

The issue has gained a lot of local attention recently since a Bedford Middle School student posted a video on YouTube begging for help after being bullied at school.

And because research shows bullying begins as early as kindergarten or even before, Bernstein said, it's vital for parents to teach their children empathy early. "Kids come into this world very much like a page from a coloring book — the outline is already there. But as parents, we color in the picture," he said. "Empathy training should begin as soon as possible. You have to get them thinking about the 'Golden Rule' of treating people the way you want to be treated."

The same goes for making your child less prone to being the target of bullying, he said. While some children are shy by nature, Bernstein said, parents can do a lot to help their kids not be bullied, including assertiveness training.

"Children must know the difference between aggressive, passive and assertive," said Bernstein. "We have to teach the victim that, when they are bullied, it's not OK. They have to be able to say it is not OK for you to treat me like this."

What do you do to help your child defend themself against bullies? Please leave a comment below.

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