Bullying, A Serious Business

Parental Strategies to Help Kids Deal with Bullying

Here are some strategies for uncovering abuse and helping a child cope:

Talk to your child about her day. Find time for a quiet moment and ask open-ended questions," says Dr. Pepler." 'What was the best thing about your day? The worst? What did you do at recess?'" Pursue clues that suggest something may be wrong.

Know the signs of bullying. Torn clothes, missing possessions, requests for extra lunch money, dropping grades, and refusing to go to school can all be indications that a child is being bullied. Children may complain of headaches or stomachaches -- either to avoid school or because stress has brought them on. They may act sad or angry; they may have bouts of insomnia or bed-wetting.

Recognize that your child can't deal with the problem alone. "Sometimes parents tell a child, 'Stand up to the bully and say you don't like what's happening,'" says Dr. Pepler. "But the child has probably tried something every single time and it hasn't worked. If he could solve the problem alone, he'd have done it." Let your child know you're glad he's told you and that you'll help. If the situation involves teasing rather than serious bullying, talk about approaches your child could take. Dr. Ross explains that teasers want their victims to cry or run away: "That's the payoff. It's what makes the teaser feel powerful." She teaches children how to stand their ground calmly and deliver zingers that make teasers themselves look silly. "The teaser might not stop the first time," Dr. Ross notes, "but eventually the child being teased is going to win."

Don't hesitate to contact the school. If the bullying doesn't stop, keep records of dates and names of those involved, and let school officials know. Children often don't want their parents to "tell" about bullying; explain that it's important for teachers to know so they can keep everyone safe.

Reassure your child. Getting bullied is hard on self-esteem. Be sure your child knows you love her and that she's done nothing to deserve such treatment; it's the bully who's at fault. If you experienced something similar as a child, let her know so she'll feel less alone.

In fact, taking bullying seriously is one of the most important things parents can do, experts agree. "If children are courageous enough to come forward, we really need to tune in to the hurt they feel," Dr. Pepler says. "It's the way we, as adults, respond to bullying that will determine whether or not things change for our children."

Copyright © 2001 Meredith Corporation. Originally published in the February 2001 issue of Child magazine.

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