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Approximately 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Clearly, bullying is a national problem that deeply affects local communities and families. And yet, many adults hesitate to act when they observe or hear about bullying. Adults need to understand that bullying is not a typical phase of childhood that must be endured to help children “toughen up.” All forms of bullying are harmful to victims, perpetrators, and victims. The effects—including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, family violence, and criminal behavior—last well into adulthood.
Whether your child has been bullied or not, learn what actions you can take now to keep him safe.
Maintain an encouraging home environment
Kids learn by example. When you model tolerance, patience, communication, and problem solving, your child will follow your lead. For example, if you get angry at a waiter, a sales clerk, a fellow driver on the road, or your own child, you have an opportunity to model effective communication. Don’t blow it by blowing your top! Help your child understand that he can’t control the behavior of others, but he does have the power to choose how to respond to bullying. Coach him to react appropriately, whether he’s a victim or a witness: find an adult right away, tell the bullying child to stop, walk away, and ignore the bully. Practice these techniques periodically.
The more questions you ask your child, fellow parents, and school personnel, the faster you’ll know if your child is vulnerable to bullying or is being bullied. Ask what the social climate is like at the school. Ask if your child eats lunch in a group or alone. At home, decrease the possibility of cyberbullying by setting limits for your child’s use of the Internet, social media, and texting. Many adults and children don’t realize what cyberbullying is and that it’s a problem. Cyberbullying includes sending mean, rude, vulgar, or threatening messages or images; posting sensitive, private information about another person; pretending to be someone else to make that person look bad; and intentionally excluding someone from an online group. Encourage your child to bring cyberbullying to your attention and to not respond.
Create positive social opportunities
Kids with low self-esteem struggle to make and keep friends, which makes them vulnerable to bullying—and so the unhealthy cycle goes. By arranging safe, adult-supervised social opportunities outside your child’s usual group of peers, you can help break this cycle. Arrange a playdate, and give the kids a chance to practice skills like listening, sharing, cooperating, and taking turns. Look to youth programs, community centers, and libraries, which offer plenty of free and affordable activities, classes, and events for children.
Learn the signs
Statistics show that an adult is notified in only about one-third of bullying cases, so you should learn to recognize signs of being victimized. Bullied children may try to avoid going to school or doing homework, complain of headaches and stomachaches, and have trouble sleeping. They’re often anxious, withdrawn, irritable, or angry for no apparent reason. Other warning signs include fear of other children, difficulty making friends, frequent loss of personal belongings, and a noticeable change in dress style. If you suspect that your child is being bullied, talk with his teacher and find ways to observe his peer interactions to determine whether or not your suspicions are correct.
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