February 9th is National Stop Bullying Day. This day, also referred to by some as "Unity Day," is designed to bring awareness of the need to stand up against and put an end to bullying.
1 out of 4 children are bullied. As a parent, these statistics are frightening. No one wants their child to be the victim of bullying, and typically the parent is the last to know that their child is suffering physically and emotionally from bullying.
Although bullying is not 100% preventable, the best thing you can do is become knowledgeable of the signs and affects of bullying and share this information with your family.
Bullying can happen anywhere. It can occur in your neighborhood, while going to school, at school, and while on-line. While some children are vocal, others will more than likely not come out and tell their parent or guardian that they are being bullied. So, it is important that you are observant of your child's behavior and know the warning signs.
If you're concerned that your child is a victim of teasing or bullying, look for these signs of stress:
- Increased passivity or withdrawal
- Frequent crying
- Recurrent complaints of physical symptoms such as stomach-aches or headaches with no apparent cause
- Unexplained bruises
- Sudden drop in grades or other learning problems
- Not wanting to go to school
- Significant changes in social life — suddenly no one is calling or extending invitations
- Sudden change in the way your child talks — calling herself a loser, or a former friend a jerk
If your child is the victim of bullying, they may suffer physically and emotionally, and their schoolwork will likely show it. Grades drop because, instead of listening to the teacher, kids thinking about why they are being bullying, and worrying about when and if it will stop. If bullying persists, they may even become afraid to go to school. Problems with low self-esteem and depression can also last into adulthood and interfere with personal and professional lives.
How to Help
First, give your child space to talk. If she recounts incidences of teasing or bullying, be empathetic. If your child is too younger, use puppets, dolls, or stuffed animals to encourage them to act out problems.
Once you've opened the door, help your child begin to problem-solve. Role-play situations and teach your child ways to respond. You might also need to help your child find a way to move on by encouraging her to reach out and make new friends. She might join teams and school clubs to widen her circle.
At home and on the playground:
Adults need to intervene to help children resolve bullying issues, but calling another parent directly can be tricky unless he or she is a close friend. It is easy to find yourself in a "he said/she said" argument. Try to find an intermediary: even if the bullying occurs outside of school, a teacher, counselor, coach, or after-school program director may be able to help mediate a productive discussion.
If you do find yourself talking directly to the other parent, try to do it in person rather than over the phone. Don't begin with an angry recounting of the other child's offenses. Set the stage for a collaborative approach by suggesting going to the playground, or walking the children to school together, to observe interactions and jointly express disapproval for any unacceptable behavior.
Many schools (sometimes as part of a statewide effort) have programs especially designed to raise awareness of bullying behavior and to help parents and teachers deal effectively with it. Check with your local school district to see if it has such a program.
Schools and parents can work effectively behind the scenes to help a child meet and make new friends via study groups or science-lab partnerships. If you are concerned about your child:
- Share with the teacher what your child has told you; describe any teasing or bullying you may have witnessed.
- Ask the teacher if she sees similar behavior at school, and enlist her help in finding ways to solve the problem.
- If she hasn't seen any instances of teasing, ask that she keep an eye out for the behavior you described.
- If the teacher says your child is being teased, find out whether there are any things he may be doing in class to attract teasing. Ask how he responds to the teasing, and discuss helping him develop a more effective response.
- After the initial conversation, be sure to make a follow-up appointment to discuss how things are going.
- If the problem persists, or the teacher ignores your concerns, and your child starts to withdraw or not want to go to school, consider the possibility of "therapeutic intervention." Ask to meet with the school counselor or psychologist, or request a referral to the appropriate school professional.