Bullying in schools has become a grave concern among parents of school-age children. The National Education Association reports that an estimated 160,000 children miss school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by fellow students.
Because of an increase in bullying incidents in Minnesota schools, the Attorney General has proposed an anti-bullying policy that would go into effect by January 2013. Under the policy, school districts would be required to report and investigate bullying incidents.
What is Bullying?
Stop Bullying, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that is seen as a real or perceived power imbalance, which is repeated over time. This behavior hurts a child physically or emotionally (or both).”
The Mayo Clinic alsowarns that children can be bullied at any age, but that younger children are particularly more vulnerable, and cautions that parents need to be aware of the different types of bullying:
Verbal – teasing, taunting, name-calling, racial slurs, and spreading malicious gossip and rumors
Physical – punching, kicking, hitting, etc. (including destruction of a child’s property)
Cyber-bullying – sending harassing or threatening emails or text messages
Take Proactive Steps to Stop Bullying
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that up to half of all school age children are bullied, at some point, during their school years. If you suspect your child is being bullied or if your child has confided to you that he or she is being bullied at school, follow these steps to ensure your child’s well-being and safety.
Listen and talk to your child in a loving manner. Remain non-judgmental, and do not become angry or upset. Use a calm, reassuring tone when discussing what happened. Comfort him or her and let him know it was not his fault – never blame children or make them feel bad for being bullied.
Learn as much as you can. Ask your child to describe in detail what happened at school and who else was involved. Find out if other children or adults/teachers witnessed the bullying incident.
Teach children to respond to bullying in a non-violent way (without physical or verbal retaliation against the bully). Remind children to remain composed and not to get upset. Tell children to simply walk away or tell the bully in a polite, but firm way, to stop.
Encourage your child to report bullying to his or her teacher. Remind him that it’s okay to ask for adult intervention and help.
Report Bullying Incidents to School Officials
If the bullying continues, immediately contact your child’s teacher and make him/her aware of the incident. If the teacher doesn’t do anything to stop the bullying and/or doesn’t seem concerned, contact the school principal.
If another child has threatened physical or bodily harm against your child, do not take the bullying incident lightly. Contact the police if you fear your child is in immediate danger. Do not directly contact the bully’s parents – leave that to the principal and/or police. If bullying has become problematic (and other children are being bullied) at your child’s school, it is your right as a parent to ask school officials to incorporate an “anti-bullying” program into the school’s curriculum.
Make sure to follow up with school officials and your child’s teacher to make sure the bullying has stopped, and that your child remains safe at school.
Warning Signs of Bullying
Remember that children are not always forthcoming, and may not tell you if they are being bullied at school. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed as a result of being bullied and/or too scared to confide in an adult.
Watch for these warning signs:
Missing or damaged clothing or personal items such as lunch boxes or backpacks
Unexplained bruises or scratches
Reluctance or refusal to ride the school bus or go to school
Poor grades and/or school performance
Complaints of headaches, stomach aches, or other health-related issues
Difficulty with sleeping or sudden loss of appetite
When to Seek Professional Help
Some children internalize their feelings. The bullying incident may negatively impact them at a later date and they could experience issues with low self-esteem or depression.
If your child becomes traumatized or experiences overwhelming fear or anxiety as a result of being bullied, seek professional help from a trained, licensed child therapist or their school counselor.