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Name-calling, teasing, being singled out for being different in any way — many people consider these things to be a normal part of childhood, but the fact is that bullying can have far-reaching consequences.
Children who are bullied are more likely to be depressed and anxious, issues that may persist into adulthood. They are also at risk of low performance and may even drop out of school. Physical symptoms can also be associated with bullying. Children who bully don't get off for free either. They may display violent behavior into adolescence and adulthood, and are more likely to use drugs and be convicted of crimes later in life.
No parent is glad to hear that their child is being bullied, or indeed bullying someone else. Yet in both cases, parents are most able to make a real difference in the child's life. Knowing what to do is by no means easy, however.
Bullying: The Signs
Though most parents hope that their kids would come to them if they were being bullied, this doesn't always happen. The child might not want to bother their parents, or may be ashamed to admit they are being bullied. Being familiar with some of the signs of bullying is therefore important.
The following signs may point to bullying:
- The child is not enjoying school (or other venue at which bullying occurs) any more, and may complain of physical symptoms like stomachache or headache to avoid going. Note that these physical symptoms may be feigned, but they can also be real.
- The child suddenly or gradually started to withdraw from peers or social situations.
- The child seems less confident.
- The child may have frequent bruises and other injuries, and may attribute them to clumsiness or sports accidents.
- Missing or broken personal items can be another sign of bullying, especially if the child doesn't want to talk about what happened to the items, and it happens often.
- The child's sleeping and eating habits may change. Think loss of appetite or comfort eating, and nightmares.
On the other end of the deal, a child who is increasingly aggressive, doesn't take responsibility for their actions, places a lot of importance on social status and popularity with peers, and comes home with unexplained items may be bullying someone else.
These signs can also point to other problems, but they are always something to investigate further.
If Your Child Is The Victim Of Bullying
Research shows that speedy adult intervention can stop bullying. Unless your child is being bullied in a situation you can easily remove them from, you will need to partner up with the adults in charge in the bullying setting for the best results. All too often, this means your child's teacher and other school staff. In an ideal situation, they will be familiar with the effects of bullying and the steps that might be undertaken to stop it. In some cases, however, you will not find the support you need in the adults at your child's school.
As a parent, you have some obvious priorities:
- Keeping your child physically safe.
- Protecting your child's mental health.
- Keeping calm. Panicking will frighten and worry your child more than they already are. You want your child to be relieved after telling you, not sorry.
Your first impulse might be to pressure your child for details about what is happening. Be careful, though knowing what is going on is important. Allow your child to talk when they are ready for it, and rather than pushing them for more information, constantly reinforce that you are there for your child and your are committed to helping and listening to them.
While you will need to come up with an action plan that involves the other adults involved, make sure your child is not left out of this process.