Learn the warnings signs of bullying and how to support and empower your child.
Bullying is defined as the repetition of harmful actions. These harmful acts can include physical aggression, verbal abuse (insulting, mocking, etc.), rumor spreading, as well as the threat of withdrawing friendship. Cyberbullying takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. It can occur through texting, apps, social media, or forums where people view, participate and share content.
The effects can be serious, affecting self-worth, confidence, and safety. In some cases, bullying has contributed to tragedies such as suicides and school shootings. Let your kids know that if they’re being bullied, or see it happening to someone else – it’s important to report it.
What You Can Do
We asked Karen Browner-Elhanan, M.D., Renown Pediatrics, how parents can help their child if they suspect bullying. “Pediatricians have a unique opportunity to identify if their patient is being bullied. The historical and ongoing relationship with the child and family allows her to see changes in behavior or health that may indicate the child is experiencing the effects of bullying. Pediatricians can offer a “safe place” for children to share information that they may not want to share with others.”
Listen calmly and offer support. Praise your child for coming forward and doing the right thing. Kids often feel embarrassed and ashamed if they’re the victim of bullying, and they worry their parents may be disappointed or upset that it’s happening to them – feeling like they’re at fault. Sometimes kids are worried if the bully finds out, it will get worse. Or, that their parents may urge them to fight back when they’re actually very afraid to do so.
Let your child know that they aren’t alone. Lots of people get bullied at some point in their lives. Emphasize the bully is at fault and you’ll figure out what to do – together, as a family. Emotional support is key during this time.
Contact your child’s teacher or counselor. Most schools have anti-bullying programs and policies. In some cases, you may want to contact the bully’s parents. It is best to have a mediator present, such as a school representative. If you have serious concerns about your child’s safety, you may need to contact legal authorities.
Warning Signs of Bullying
Victims of bullying are often reluctant to reach out for help due to feelings of shame and embarrassment. However, some warning signs may be present.
- Feelings of nervousness, worry, apprehension, depression, and/or sadness
- Reluctance to go to school
- Academic decline, worsening concentration
- Low self esteem
- Noticeable injuries acquired at school
- Isolative behavior – suddenly sullen, withdrawn, evasive; remarks about feeling lonely
- Change in sleep, appetite, energy
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
- Complaints of stomach and headaches
- Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes
- Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money – child reports mysteriously “losing” possessions
- Afraid of riding the school bus
- Afraid to be left alone: wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy
- Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches, frequent visits the school nurse’s office
- Begins bullying siblings or younger kids. (Bullied children can sometimes flip their role and become the bully)
- Waits to get home to use the bathroom. (School and park bathrooms, because they are often not adult-supervised, can be hot spots for bullying)
- Suddenly has fewer friends or doesn’t want to be with the “regular group”
- Ravenous when he/she comes home. (Bullies can use extortion stealing a victim’s lunch money or lunch.)
- Sudden and significant drop in grades. (Bullying can cause a child to have difficulty focusing and concentrating.)
- Talks about feeling helpless or about suicide; runs away
Bullying Advice for Kids
Use the buddy system. Encourage your child to find a “buddy” to accompany them on the bus, in the hallways, at lunch or during recess.
Act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully. In a firm voice, tell the bully to stop, then walk away. Ignoring bullies will sometimes get them to stop as they become bored with no reaction.
Tell an adult. Teachers, principals, parents, and lunchroom personnel at school can all help stop bullying.