What you should do if you think your child is being bullied.

By Laura Broadwell
October 03, 2005

What Makes a Bully?

Has your child been the victim of a bully, or has there been a problem with bullies at his school? If so, you (and he) are not alone. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly one-third of children and teenagers in America have said they've experienced bullying, either as a target or perpetrator.

Bullying has always been a problem in schools. But in the wake of recent, well-publicized school shootings, people are recognizing the serious consequences related to chronic bullying, says Susan M. Swearer, PhD, a licensed psychologist and assistant professor of school psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Bullying can exist in many forms: It can be physical (pushing, punching, or hitting); verbal (name-calling or threats); or psychological and emotional (spreading rumors or excluding someone from a conversation or activity). Most disturbing, it can have long-lasting effects, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, both on the victim and on the bullies themselves.

Who's at Risk?

Children who are bullied are likely to be perceived as easy targets or as being different in some way, says Swearer. For instance, a child may be picked on for being short, overweight, having a disability, wearing clothes that aren't "cool," or for belonging to a certain race or religious group. He or she may also be bullied for lacking certain social skills or for being someone who cries a lot or acts weird, she adds.

Whatever the reasons for the bullying, children may not always want to talk about the problem and may be afraid to ask for your help and support. There are, however, some telltale signs to look for. For instance, your child may:

  • Avoid certain situations, people, or places
  • Pretend to be sick to avoid going to school
  • Become withdrawn, passive, and self-destructive, or overly active and aggressive
  • Cry frequently or feel sad
  • Show signs of low self-esteem
  • Show signs of injuries
  • Suddenly receive lower grades or show signs of learning problems
  • Have recurrent physical symptoms, such as stomach pains and fatigue

9 Things You Can Do

If you feel your child is being bullied or suspect there's a problem at school, you can help by taking these steps:

1. Listen to your child. Encourage her to talk about school, social events, other kids in class, and the walk or bus ride to and from school.

2. Take her complaints seriously. Children often are afraid or ashamed to tell anyone about their problem, so listen carefully. Probing a seemingly minor complaint can sometimes uncover a bigger problem.

3. Communicate with the school. If you think your child is having a problem, contact her teacher or school principal. Tell school officials when and where your child is being bullied, and ask them to supervise these areas.

4. Team up with other parents. Work together to make sure that the children in your neighborhood are supervised closely on their way to and from school.

5. Help your child learn social skills. A confident, resourceful child who has friends is less likely to be bullied or to bully others. Encourage your child to have play dates with kids at school, or help him make friends with other children through Scouts, clubs, religious groups, etc.

6. Help your child develop a new hobby or skill. Learning something new and enjoyable might help your child feel good about herself, carry herself with more confidence, and even develop new friends.

7. Teach your child how to protect himself. Show him how to walk confidently, stay alert to what's going on around him, and stand up for himself verbally. You can also role-play certain situations and have your child practice different responses.

8. Take a look at your child. Ask yourself whether your child is doing or wearing something that is encouraging mistreatment. Even though no child deserves to be bullied, sometimes small changes in behavior or attire can help him fit in.

9. Talk to your child. Provide everyday opportunities for children to talk about bullying, perhaps when watching TV together, reading aloud, playing a game, or going out to the park. Try always to keep open the lines of communication with your kids, says Swearer.

Sources: Susan M. Swearer, PhD; Allan L. Beane, PhD; National Crime Prevention Council; American Medical Association; Coalition for Children, Inc.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

Healthy Kid


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