Bully Proof Your Family Part 3: Recognize Bullying
By Jennifer Seawell, MD, FAAP
Bullying is a huge issue both in our schools and our communities.
And as much as I hate to see it, there are plenty of adults who are bullies as well. With all the chaos in our world, it can be difficult to sort everything out. Maybe your child is telling you that there is a problem but you aren’t sure. Or maybe your kid insists everything is fine but you don’t quite believe them. And maybe you’ve seen or heard a few things that makes you think your child might actually BE the bully. One of the first things we need to do as parents is to recognize bullying.
When your child is the victim of bullying
Children who are being bullied may not talk about it. In fact, sometimes admitting that they are being bullied will make them feel even worse. For many, it is an admission and acknowledgment of weakness. So what do we look for?
You can recognize bullying in part by recognizing behavior changes in your child. A usually happy personality may become more closed off and withdrawn. Outgoing children may start avoiding going out with friends or other social outings that they used to enjoy.
Children who are being bullied sometimes start complaining of physical ailments. Do they complain with frequent headaches or stomach aches that are out of the norm for them? Any unexplained bruises or cuts that he just shrugs off? Is her eating off? Skipping meals or complaining of not being hungry? Or is your kid getting home from school starving like they’ve not eaten all day? What about sleeping? Is your good sleeper now up at night with nightmares?
How are your child’s grades? Has there been a recent drop? Missing assignments? If there are any abrupt changes, make sure to check them out. Check with the teachers and see if there are any behavior changes at school. Is your child avoiding school?
When your child is the bully
It is hard to be the parent of the bullied child, but it can also be hard to parent the bully. Many of us carry a lot of shame for our kids’ actions. But we can’t help fix the problem if we don’t know about it. And the simple fact remains that ANY child can be bullied. And ANY child can be a bully.
Kids who are bullying others also often have behavior changes. Have you noticed your child is more aggressive than usual? Is there an increase in verbal or physical disagreements at your house? More escalation in sibling arguments?
Sometimes parents realize that there is a problem when they notice that their child’s friend structure has changed. Maybe they are hanging out with other kids who are known to be bullies. Maybe they seem more concerned than usual about maintaining their popularity or their social reputation.
If you have noticed that your child is getting in trouble more than usual at school, it may mean there is a problem. How do they respond to getting called to the principal’s office? If there is a complete deflection of any and all responsibility, it may be worth checking with the teachers to see what they notice.
For parents of both the bully and the bullied
Once you’ve gathered some information, it is time to sit down with your kid and have a chat. This should not be confrontational and should not be aggressive. Just sit down (or go for a drive…. they can’t avoid you that way!) and let them know a couple of things that you’ve noticed. And share your concerns. Ask them what their thoughts are and how they think you can help. And if the conversation doesn’t go anywhere, give it a break. But make sure to check back in with them frequently.
If you think your child would be more open to talking with a counselor, check with your pediatrician on local child psychologists or therapists. It takes a village, and sometimes that means outsourcing. Having someone who has an “outsider” perspective can make all the difference in the world.
For more information on bullying, make sure to check out www.stopbullying.gov. Or see the first 2 posts on this series: Part 1: Acknowledge Bullying and Part 2: Victim Blaming. More to come soon with Enforcing Accountability.
The Pediatric Ninja
This article is the professional opinion of its author and is not intended to take the place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from your personal physician.