Bullying is more prevalent in our schools than we may think, in fact studies show that between 15-25% of students are bullied each year. Bullying is intentionally aggressive behavior of one child towards another and can be physical, verbal, emotional (e.g.- intentionally excluding someone), and is increasingly being done over the internet. Serious consequences can occur when parents and teachers don’t intervene. Children who are repeatedly bullied have been found to be more depressed, anxious, withdrawn, and have more problems with their schoolwork than their peers.
Here are some signs that your child is being bullied and things you can do about it:
- is afraid to attend school or walk/ride bus to school alone
- refuses to participate in after school activities
- suddenly starts to perform poorly in school
- appears increasingly depressed or anxious
- is often sick for unexplainable reasons (frequent headaches, stomachaches)
- suddenly has trouble sleeping
- has a sudden change of eating habits (either eating much more or less)
If your child has one or more of the above signs, they aren’t necessarily being bullied, but trying to talk to him can help to get to the bottom of what is going on. Talking to your kids about this kind of stuff can be difficult, especially if they have been particularly moody or anxious because of it, but they’ll more than likely be relieved that you have noticed. Here are some ideas of how to start a conversation:
- “I’m worried about you because I’ve noticed that some things have changed since the school year started (give concrete examples of what is different). How has everything been going at school this year?”
- “Are there any kids at your school who you really like? Do you have kids who you like to be around?”
- “Are there any who you really don’t like? Why don’t you like them? Have they done anything to make you uncomfortable?”
- “Do you feel like you’re ever left out of things at school? When does that happen?”
- “Do you feel like there are any adults at school who you feel comfortable talking to about this? I would like to help if I can and talk to some of them with you.”
If your child says that nothing is going on, but you continue to see signs and are worried, it is a good idea to try to get in touch with their teacher. Teachers will often have the best sense of what is going on in a classroom and could possibly tell you how your child behaves in class, how they get along with others in the class, and if they spend time with friends or alone during free time, recess, lunch, etc…
If your child is being bullied, it is best to have the school on your side. Many schools now have programs designed to prevent bullying and to intervene when it takes place. It is also a good idea to have your child talk to a counselor, either at the school or privately, so they can work through their feelings about what’s happening to them. If you come to find out that your child isn’t a victim of bullying, but they have some of the mentioned symptoms, there is a chance that something else may be bothering them. In these cases meeting with a counselor can also help.
As an endnote, it is important that as a parent you DO NOT attempt to confront either the bully or the parents of the bully yourself. Any parent wants to protect and defend their child, but in the case of bullying it is important that a third party be involved. Remember that the bully is a child, and that their parents may not have the reaction you would expect or hope for.
Entry by Ginny Laracy, LCSW, who has private practices in Nutley, NJ and NYC.
Photo by Eddie~S