Kids often choose to bear bullying silently, rather than tell an adult. According to a 2012 survey, children inform an adult only 40% of the time. And because you can’t help when you don’t know there’s a problem, it’s important for parents and caregivers to know the signs of bullying and help kids be prepared for the possibility.
Bullying online and off
Any behavior that is unwanted, unfriendly, and often repeated over time is considered bullying. Making threats, spreading rumors, launching physical or verbal attacks, and intentionally excluding individuals from groups are all examples of bullying.
Cyber bullies – also called haters and trolls – may send unkind text messages or emails, distribute rumors by email or on social media sites, or post or send embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles – often anonymously. Cyber bullying can occur day or night with dramatic effect, because it can reach a large audience quickly.
Know the warning signs
Bullying can happen to anyone. Some children become targets because they are disabled or socially isolated, or because of their sexual orientation. Every child who is bullied may not show signs, but there are telltale signs:
“Children do not always show the same textbook symptoms when they are bullied,” says Katie Swan-Potter, NP-C, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Martin’s Point Brunwick-Baribeau Drive Health Care Center. “Some shut down, become more introverted or sleep less. Others act out, become difficult to restrain or become bullies themselves. When there are also physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches or digestive issues, we always consider bullying as a possible cause.”
Prevent bullying before it starts
We all want to protect our children and make sure they feel safe at school, during sports and other activities, and throughout their community. You can help by encouraging your child to talk with you about anything. “A strong relationship between parent and child can be instrumental in their ability to withstand the stress of social pressures and teasing,” adds Swan Potter.
Another key strategy: help your child build resilience. In the Youth Voice Project, researchers surveyed more than 13,000 students in 31 U.S. schools, and found the steps below can help kids cope with stressful situations, like bullying:
- Make family time a priority.
- Encourage your child to have positive relationships with adults outside of your immediate family.
- Encourage your child to pursue hobbies and interests.
- Create opportunities to connect with kids outside of school.
- Help your child learn how to solve problems.
- Encourage your child to ask for help when necessary.
- Urge your child to help others and acknowledge the impact he or she makes by helping.
- Help your child understand that people may act unkindly to others.
If you think your child is a victim
If you suspect your child is being bullied at school, talk to his or her teacher and school officials right away and work together on a plan. This is especially important if events are harming your child’s ability to sleep, eat, learn or participate in other daily activities.
Don’t hesitate to involve your child’s health care provider. Bullying can have long-term health effects on young people, including significantly increasing risk for depression.
“You are your child’s most important advocate,” adds Swan-Potter. “It’s best to seek help sooner, before issues escalate.”
The Martin’s Point Health Care Pediatrics Team is ready to help with advice about bullying – and every other aspect of your child’s health. Learn more about our providers, locations, and services at our website.