Evidence suggests bullying has become more commonplace. While it happens to people of all ages, parents of school-age children should be especially watchful and aware.
Know the Signs
There are tip-offs to the possibility that a child is being bullied. Obvious physical signs include bruises, a black eye or other hard-to-explain injuries.
Physical or somatic complaints might include headaches, upset stomachs, and a desire to miss school. A bullied child may have trouble sleeping, experience bad dreams, or lose interest in activities, such as going to the mall or getting together with friends. Low self-esteem may become evident or new concerns about self-image can surface.
What You Can Do
Sometimes a bullied child doesn’t want to talk about it. Open the lines of communication by asking specific questions. Instead of “how was your day,” ask how lunch went, how the bus ride was, or other topics that give the child specific opportunities to provide information.
If you learn that your child is being bullied, support him or her. Bullied children should know it’s not their fault, and that their parents take it seriously and will try to get help.
Stay calm. The natural tendency may be to fly off the handle. However that doesn’t do anyone any good. Remain open and understanding. For older children, you might suggest strategies to divert the bully’s attention.
Giving a child the old advice, to “just ignore it,” is usually not helpful when a child is being bullied. It can be interpreted as a lack of interest or caring. Meanwhile, ignoring the tormentor sometimes results in escalated bullying.
Your school is an important partner. Bullying often takes place at school, so tell your child to let a teacher know what’s happening. You can also talk to a teacher or school representative, which also lets your child know that you are taking the situation seriously. It’s the school’s job is to promote a safe environment, and Illinois law requires that schools communicate their bullying policies to students and parents annually.
If you witness physical aggression, intervene immediately and separate the kids. Make sure everyone is safe and see if medical attention is required.
Some people advocate talking to the parent of the aggressor, but that should probably be reserved for those parents with whom you are acquainted. You don’t know if the bully is modeling behavior learned at home, and you don’t want to have a significant encounter with another family.
Similar to verbal or emotional bullying, cyber bullying takes place through electronic media, making it more difficult to catch or track.
Parents should know who their kids are communicating with online, and have a sense of what kind of texts they are receiving. Set clear rules about how your children are supposed to use technology and when.
Teach your child to be tech smart, and aware that posts may bring undo attention. Your child should not be doing or saying things through social media that they don’t want you to know about. A good rule is, if your child won’t let you be their Facebook friend, they can’t be on it.
Bullies essentially try to overpower or control others with threats or intimidation. No one person can stop it. It is the responsibility of us all to say something or report it when we see others treated inappropriately.
Tanya Anderson, M.D., is the Director of Behavioral Health at WellGroup HealthPartners, and chooses to practice at Franciscan St. James Health. Franciscan St. James is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.