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Creating A Bully-free, Safe Environment For Children

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When I reflect back on my childhood, I have several happy and carefree memories. However, witnessing the bully-inflicted torment of my peers has tainted some of these memories.  I recall standing by in disbelief when some of my friends ruined another close friend’s 13th birthday by stomping on her celebratory flowers and smashing her birthday cake.  This horrifying act was all done for a laugh. I was disturbed and perplexed at the intent of this act, and this image is still distressing to each person involved, decades later.

Bullying can have a lasting impact on victims, witnesses, and bullies alike. It can shift an individual’s view of self and the world and create negative, detrimental schemas, which people operate under.

How serious is bullying today? In recent years, bullying has a new avenue through the cyber world, and it is just as prevalent in the school system. In 2014, approximately 1 in 10 teens drops out of school due to repeated bullying. 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school, according to the DHHS.  There are further reports indicating that 83% of girls, and 79% of boys report being bullied either in school or online.

As a parent, you may wonder what you can do to prevent from your child being subjected to such distressing events in his or her life.  It is important to acknowledge warning signs (as most children will not outwardly inform adults of their victimization) and how to best assist your child if he or she is, in fact, a victim of bullying.

The warning signs of child victim of bullying:

• Seems sad, angry, or has erratic mood swings

• Does not appear to have solid friendships and is often left out of classmates birthday parties, etc.

• Comes home from school with disheveled clothing with more wear and tear than anticipated from playing

• Displays signs of low self-esteem (ex. making self-deprecating comments)

• Has injuries without an explanation for how he/she got them

• Often feigns feeling ill to get out of attending school or avoids school attendance in other ways

• Loses interest in schoolwork

• Has nightmares

What can parents of the victim do?

• Make it safe for your child to talk to you. Be sympathetic, supportive, and take the problem seriously, while being cautious not to overreact or under-react. Listen carefully, be mindful of your own emotions, and calmly ask clarifying questions to determine if it is a misunderstanding or, in fact, bullying. Without blaming the bully or your child, remind your child that everyone has a right to feel safe and happy at school, and applaud the courage it took to take a stand and talk to you.

• Brainstorm strategies with your child to avoid future victimization. Tell him or her to walk away, say “Stop!” or go find an adult. Research shows that most bullies stop aggressive behavior within 10 seconds, when someone tells a bully to “stop” in an assertive manner.  Role play this with your child, as well as how to ask for help from an adult in the most efficient way (providing clear information about the situation including: what, who, what has been done to resolve this thus far, and what the adult can do to help).

• Talk with your child’s principal and classroom teacher about the situation. Keep an ongoing log of the dates of any further bullying incidents and the actions you take to help your child deal with the bullying. Inform the school of these incidents. Do not, however, directly contact the bully or the bully’s parents. Rather, make it clear that you are committed to partner with the school in being part of the solution.

• Arrange opportunities for your child to socialize and make friends outside of school to help build a strong support system. This can provide your child with a better opportunity for practicing social skills in a safe environment, while aiding in his or her safety. Children who have friends are less likely to be bullying victims, as bullies often target children when they are alone and more vulnerable.

• Help your child build self-esteem. Educate your child about bullying and bullies. Help him or her put the problem in perspective. Acknowledge and help your child to develop strengths, skills, talents or other positive characteristics. Doing so may help your kid be more confident among peers at school.

• Educate your child about cyberbullying.  If cyberbullying is an issue, teach your child to bring it to the attention of an adult, rather than responding to the message.

• Follow up with your child and the school even after bullying has ceased.  Keep open lines of communication with your child and the school around the matter, supporting and listening to your child daily. Having a child who is a victim of bullying can be incredibly difficult emotionally for both the child and the parents.  In addition to working your child and the school in the aforementioned suggestions, parents should also consider reaching out to mental health professional to discuss concerns about self-esteem, depression, anxiety, social skills, eating disorders, etc.  Parents should also consider the emotional implications these circumstances may have on them and potentially, seek their own therapy, should they need additional support and coping tools.

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