Wellness: Behavior

Bullies: Helping Your Child Cope

Bullying can happen in school, on the playground—and now even on the Internet through social networking sites.

Bullying is intentional tormenting that can be physical, social, or psychological. Hitting, shoving, threatening, shunning, and spreading rumors can all be forms of bullying.

Kids who experience bullying can become depressed, develop low self-esteem, avoid school, feel physically ill, and even think about killing themselves.

What to look for

There are few things as disturbing as finding out your child is a victim of bullying. Other than seeing signs of physical harm like cuts or bruises, it may be hard to know about bullying unless your child tells you or you ask. That's why it's a good idea to bring up the subject, even if you don't suspect anything. Also, let your children know how important it is to tell an adult if they have been bullied or if they have witnessed any other children being bullied.

Changes in your child's normal behavior may be warning signs of bullying. Signs to look for include:

  • Anxiety

  • Moodiness

  • Inability to sleep well

  • Loss of appetite

  • Wanting to avoid normal routines, such as taking the school bus

How to help your child

The first thing you need to do is control your own emotions. One of the reasons kids don't tell parents about bullying is because they are afraid of their parents’ reaction. Stay calm, offer support, and tell your child that you are going to help.

Never ignore bullying, and never advise your child to tough it out or fight back. Fighting back is almost always a bad idea. Kids who fight get hurt, and both kids may get in trouble.

Here are safe tips for helping your child:

  • Reassure your child. Make sure your child knows that he or she is not to blame and should not be ashamed. Praise the courage it took to come forward and tell you about the problem.

  • Learn the facts. Get all the information you can about the bullying, including who is involved, how often it happens, and where it takes place.

  • Let the proper authorities know. Don’t confront the bully's parents on your own. Leave that to school or other officials.

  • Encourage safe activities and friendships. You may want to ask your child's teacher for advice on participating in healthy activities like the arts or athletics.

  • Have a safety plan. Talk about locations, groups of kids, and activities that should be avoided. Make sure your child uses the buddy system when at risk. Discuss where to go and whom to ask for help in case of an incident.

Bullying is a common problem for many kids, but as kids start to learn that bullying is never cool and that adults need to know about any acts of bullying, the situation should get better. Learn about your state’s bullying laws. If you have tried all the standard ways to prevent bullying and still fear for your child's safety, you may need to contact legal authorities.

Finally, remember that many kids become bullies because they learn bullying at home. Children who are exposed to anger, shame, and violence are children who are at risk for becoming bullies. You don't want your child to be bullied and you certainly don't want your child to be a bully. Make your home environment safe and supportive.

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