It’s something parents never want to find out — that their child is being bullied. Whether at school or online, there is no easy solution to easing your child’s distress. What makes it even more difficult is that many times you don’t know who is the culprit of your child’s pain.
To help prevent bullying there are some easy questions you can answer. Do you know who your child’s friends are? Do you know who they sit with at lunch at school? Do you know who they are interacting with online? These are important questions you should ask, and continue asking, throughout the school year.
It is also important to educate your child on what bullying is and how it can be prevented. And as it is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, there is no better time to teach your child how to avoid becoming a victim or the aggressor.
Bullying is directing aggressive behavior toward another person by using unwanted force or coercion. The behavior typically involves an imbalance of power where one controls another in an aggressive manner. With the addition of the internet and mobile phones, bullying has become a major concern across the U.S.
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Although bullying can be found anywhere, it is prevalent in the school system and particularly affects school-age children. Bullying can take the form of physical abuse; verbal abuse, such as name calling and spreading rumors; or emotional abuse, such as intimidation or social exclusion. With the widespread use of the internet, it can occur through email, text messages and social networking sites.
The effects of bullying range from inflicting physical hurt to psychological distress. There are key signs that someone being bullied, including if your child:
▪ Comes home with torn, missing or damaged clothing, books or belongings.
▪ Has unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches.
▪ Is hesitant or afraid to go to school, ride the bus or take part in school activities.
▪ Suffers from low self-esteem.
▪ Has difficulty sleeping.
▪ Has a loss of appetite.
▪ Suddenly performs poorly in school or has bad attendance.
▪ Shows signs of regressive behavior, such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking in younger children and withdrawal from family and friends for older children.
While bullying can occur at any age, middle-school years are a prime time for bullying. School transitions — between elementary and middle school, and between middle and high school — are also times when your child might be exposed to bullying. During these times, children are trying to find their place in new peer groups, so parents are advised to be extra observant of their child’s well-being when a transition is being made.
The Centers for Disease Control and prevention has declared bullying a public issue. The Do Something campaign estimates that 3.2 million children are bullied each year. With that many kids becoming victims, it’s critical that you take steps to protect your child.
Maintain an open dialog with your child. Speaking openly and honestly with your child about the issue is the first step. Ask questions and remain connected with your child’s teacher, friends and their friends’ parents.
Build your child’s self-confidence. Children will a strong sense of self are more likely to avoid being bullied or respond to it more effectively. To build self-esteem, assign age-appropriate chores. Let your child find solutions to problems on their own on matters like whether it’s appropriate to wear a coat to begin developing problem-solving skills. Don’t overpraise your child. Keep reinforcing that no one is perfect, but your love is unconditional.
Create a plan of action. Every child should have a plan of action in case they are ever victims of bullying or witness bullying. A good plan of action should consist of your child being verbal and telling the bully to stop. Another important tactic is getting the help of an adult, such as a teacher or parent.
Be prepared to seek professional help. If your child is continuing to suffer from the hands of a bully, your child might benefit from the help of a behavioral health expert who can counsel them through the issue. Experts at the University of Miami Health System can help you and your child.
Repeated bullying can quickly wear down your child’s confidence and many adolescent suicides have been attributed to bullying. If you suspect your child is in immediate danger, evidenced by signs of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Annalise A. Guerra, MSW, is a social worker at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.