As the school year approaches, it’s an opportunity to be alert to bullying among youths, something that is a significant problem nationwide. About 160,000 children in the U.S. miss school each day as a result of being bullied, according to the Pacer National Center for Bullying Prevention.
Bullying is a form of violence that can include physical and verbal aggression, spreading rumors or gossip, and cyber bullying. No matter what the form, for the targeted child, bullying can make them not want to go to school or even go outside. They may also develop other disturbing symptoms, ranging from social withdrawal to issues sleeping, other physical problems, and/or a drop in grades.
Some parents may be unsure of the difference between normal schoolyard tussles and competitions, and outright bullying. Here are the hallmarks of bullying:
- There’s an imbalance of power. Bullies intend to target children perceived as different from their peers–those who are weaker, less popular, have low self-esteem, dress differently, or annoy others to get attention.
- There’s a threat of future aggression. Bullies tend to make it clear that their victim will continue to be their target.
- It often involves a group of students. Other children help the bully pick on other kids.
Signs to watch for
Be aware if your child develops any of the following signs of bullying or unexplained changes in behavior:
- Comes home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings
- Has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches
- Has few, if any, friends with whom they spend time
- Seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers
- Finds or makes up excuses as to why they can’t go to school
- Takes a long, out of the way route when walking to or from school
- Has lost interest in schoolwork or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
- Appears sad, moody, teary, or depressed when they come home
- Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments
- Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
- Experiences a loss of appetite
- Appears anxious and/or suffers from low self-esteem
What to do if your child is being bullied
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, the first step is to ask your child indirectly if there are any bullies in his or her class and who they pick on. Create a plan together. Explain that the best response is to speak up and tell a teacher or principal. Collaboration between parents, school personnel and the community is essential in stopping the bullying behavior so that children feel safe and protected. If your child is being bullied at school, report the incident even if your child doesn’t want you to get involved. For more information on what to do, check out Pacer’s National Center for Bullying Prevention’s helpful resource “Three Steps to Take If Your Child is Being Targeted by Bullying at School.” Go to www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/info-facts.asp. You can also find information at www.stopbullying.gov or www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_tips_for_parents.page
Many states have laws that address bullying, but the laws tend to vary. For information on each state’s bullying and harassment laws, visit www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html
What to do if your child is the bully
If you have seen or heard about instances of your child engaging in bullying, the Pacer National Center for Bullying Prevention suggests talking with your child to get a better idea of why bullying is happening. Confirm that their behavior is actually bullying and not the manifestation of a disability, and continue to teach your child empathy, compassion and respect—with the clear message that bullying is not OK. Make sure they understand the consequences that will occur if the bullying continues.
- If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to our EAP+Work/Life Program, consider speaking with a Health Advocate Licensed Professional Counselor who can help you find the right resources to help you and your child handle a bully.
- If you’re a Health Advocate member with our Advocacy services, contact us to speak with a Personal Health Advocate who specializes in behavioral health. The Personal Health Advocate can help you identify resources for help.