REALITY CHECK: Research finds that 49 percent of kids say they’ve been bullied at least once or twice during the school term, but only 32 percent of their parents believed them.
One study found that one out of every four children will be bullied by another youth in school this month. If your child is bullied, it means that peers are intentionally causing him pain. Reports also confirm that bullying is starting at younger ages and is more frequent, intense, and more aggressive that ever.
I have worked in hundreds of schools to reduce bullying. My proposal to stop school violence was passed into California law in 2005 (SB1667). We know that bullying can not only be reduced but also prevented. We also know that a mere one-time school assembly or lesson on bullying is ineffective. Posters on walls or campaigns to stop bullying, while a first step, do little to turn around aggressive behaviors and eliminate this behavior.
What does work to reduce bullying: Consistent, unwavering commitment by a group of adults to turn aggressive behaviors around, rebuild empathy, and changing a school culture. I’ll address my own 6 R’s to Reduce Bullying, but my purpose today is to help you learn to spot the signs that your child may be bullied.
Do know that if your child is bullied chances are he or she did NOTHING to cause it. The bottom line: bullying behavior must be taken very seriously and in most cases an adult must be there for a victim to advocate for him or her, create a safety plan, offer solace, rebuild self-esteem and teach new habits.
Your first step to helping your son or daughter is to know the warning signs that your child may be bullied and needs your support. If your child complains of being taunted, picked on, or threatened by a peer, please take him seriously. Unfortunately, however, chances are that if your child is bullied, he won’t tell you. He may be embarrassed, doesn’t want you to be involved in the situation or feel you won’t take him seriously. So watch for the changes in your child’s typical behavior.
Signs and Symptoms of Bullying (pg. 324 The Big Book of Parenting Solutions)
- Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes, or torn clothing
- Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money
- Afraid to be left alone: doesn’t want to go to school; afraid of riding the school bus; wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy
- Suddenly sullen, withdrawn, evasive; remarks about feeling lonely
- Marked changed in typical behavior or personality
- Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches, frequent visits the school nurse’s office
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
- Begins bullying siblings or younger kids
- Waits to get home to use the bathroom
- Ravenous when he comes home (lunch money or lunch may be stolen)
- Sudden and significant drop in grades; difficulty focusing and concentrating
Your first step is to calmly listen to your kid and gather details. Let your child know you are always available to listen and will be there anytime to help him feel safe. And please do not promise your child you will keep this a secret. Chances are your child will need help from an adult and may not be able to handle the bully on his own.
If you suspect your child is bullied and the measures could affect his physical or emotional well-being, do not wait. Your child’s l safety may be at stake. Also, do not assume this is a phase which will go away. Bullying is almost always a repeated behavior and bullies generally choose their targets and continue to prey.
If the bullying offense is serious in nature, find out WHERE and WHEN the bullying incidents happen. Hint: Bullying usually happens in the same locations, 120 feet away from a building and where adult supervision is least. Tell your child to avoid “hot spot” areas such as bathrooms, the edges of playgrounds, behind stairwells, lockers, and the back of the bus.
Set up an appointment immediately with the teacher, counselor, coach, or principal. Demand to know what they plan to do to keep your child safe. Then monitor, monitor, monitor. If you do not get help, go up the “ladder” and meet with the superintendent, board, or if necessary the school board. In some cases you may need to remove your child from the school.
Bottom line: Bullying is serious and has severe emotional consequences to our children’s self-esteem. We are seeing that in some cases bullying can lead to bullycide (a victim who commits suicide).
Portions of this article are adapted from Michele Borba’s latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass). The chapters on bullying, insensitive, bullied, peer pressure, anger offer specific signs and step by step solutions based on proven research to help you help your child.