Published on 07/19/06

Don't ignore bullying at school

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

If your child is being bullied, you can do some things to help stop it.

Everyone will be bullied sometime in his life, said Sharon Gibson, a family and consumer science educator with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. And it will most likely happen at school.

Bullying can come in many forms. It can include physical or emotional abuse, damage to a child's property, spreading malicious rumors or forcing a child to do something he or she doesn't want to do.

A consistently bullied student can have emotional problems and perform poorly in school. And if the bullying is physical, it can take its toll on the student's body.

Don't ignore the problem. And don't tell your child to ignore the bully.

"When a child is bullied, he or she may feel angry, helpless or deserted," Gibson said. "If that child tells a teacher or parent about the bullying, he or she needs to know it's not tattling and that speaking about it was the right thing."

Parents can become angry when they first learn their child is being bullied. "Parents should stay calm and first find out if their child is in any immediate physical danger," she said.

The most important thing to do is find a way to stop the bullying. Ask for a meeting with the principal of your child's school. The principal can then determine if and when to bring the child's teacher or teachers into the conversation.

"Again, parents should stay calm. If they're not, this could set up a defensive action by school officials," she said. "Parents should be proactive but not demanding before they learn more about the situation at school."

Teachers and principals are trained to deal with issues like bullying, she said. So voice your concerns, but listen, too.

Most schools have an action plan to deal with bully situations. If the school doesn't, offer to help develop a plan.

The child doing the bullying should be given a chance to reform.

The child who is being bullied should have an adult contact at school to tell if the bullying doesn't stop. This person could be the teacher or a paraprofessional.

A lot going is on in the average classroom, Gibson said. Teachers or paraprofessionals can have their hands full all day. It can be tough to concentrate on one child.

Gibson recommends a code word be established for the bullied child to use when he or she feels uncomfortable or in danger due to bullying. This will inform the adult without the child having to raise a hand or bring much attention.

The adult can then investigate or even witness the bullying.

Follow up with the school to make sure steps are in place to keep your child and all children from being bullied. You can also:

* Make sure the school has good monitoring.

* Keep records of bullying episodes and of any communication with the school.

* Work with other parents in the neighborhood to make sure children are supervised and feel safe.

At home, Gibson said, encourage good social skills and behavior. Help your child find his or her talents, and praise accomplishments.

"A confident, assertive child is less likely to be the target of a bully," she said.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.