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The signs of bullying are subtle but parents need to be aware

By for CAES News

The StopBullying.gov website defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Bullying can include making threats, spreading rumors, physically or verbally attacking someone, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Has your child ever been the victim of a bully? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 28 percent of students ages 12 to 18 report that they’re bullied at school. Every day, the fear of bullying causes 160,000 students miss school.

To combat bullying, you have to know that it is happening. Watch for warning signs:

  • Changes in personality: Children who were outgoing and confident might become more reserved and self-conscious.
  • A desire to stay home from school: Many parents report this as the first warning sign that bullying was a problem for their children.
  • A drop in grades: Victims of bullying tend to get lower grades. The adverse psychological effects of bullying make them unable to focus in class.
  • Nightmares or trouble sleeping: Anxiety from bullying can cause children to have problems sleeping at night or to wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares.
  • Frequent headaches and stomachaches: Several studies of elementary and middle school children showed that victims of bullying were more likely to have frequent health complaints including headaches, fatigue, colds, sore throats and stomachaches.
  • Unexplained injuries and/or lost or damaged property: Unexplained bruises or cuts is a sign that your child is being physically bullied. Missing or damaged property can mean that a bully is targeting your child’s property instead of hitting or attacking them.
  • Nervousness when talking about computer or cell phone use: Many kids who are being cyberbullied are afraid their parents will take away their cell phones and/or their internet privileges if they know what’s happening.
  • Self-destructive behavior: If your child seems less interested in their well-being or begins participating in dangerous or harmful activities, address the situation immediately and get professional help if necessary. Twenty percent of high school students say that they have seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months.

There are ways that you can help prevent your child from becoming a target for bullies and stop bullying that has already started. One of the most important things you can do is to talk to your kids about bullying. Share experiences that you or other family members have had with bullying when you were younger. If your child opens up to you, praise him or her for being brave enough to discuss it and offer your unconditional love and support.

Document each incident when bullying occurs so that you can build a case against the bully. Be sure to talk to your child’s school to find out its policies on how staff and teachers can address the situation. Find out what the bully is after — if it is lunch money or technological gadgets — and neutralize the situation by encouraging your child to pack a lunch or go to school gadget-free.

Tell your child to buddy up with one or more friends at all times. Two or more kids are less likely to be picked on than a child who is alone. Remind your child to use the buddy system when on the school bus, in the bathroom or anywhere bullies may lurk. Talk to your child about what to do if they’re bullied. The best defense may be to remain calm, ignore hurtful remarks, tell the bully to stop and walk away. Bullies thrive by hurting others. A child who is not easily upset has a better chance of staying off a bully’s radar.

Do not fight the battle against bullying alone. Sometimes it can be helpful to talk to the bully’s parents, usually in a neutral setting (like the school) where a school official (a counselor, teacher or principal) can mediate. If you choose to go this route, strive to remain as calm as possible when talking to the bully’s parents. Just present the facts and offer up any evidence you may have.

For more resources to combat bullying, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a robust bullying information website at StopBullying.gov.

(Susan Moore is the family and consumer sciences agent with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Laurens County.)
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