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Bully-proof your child

Smart strategies parents can use to educate and protect their children

stop-bullyingBullying: It’s not only potentially dangerous to a child’s physical well-being, but it can potentially damage his or her mental health. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying directly involves about 30 percent of students in any given semester, with elementary school students being the most frequent targets. 

For some, bullying may be considered simply a form of childhood misbehavior or a “rite of passage” that all children go through but, the truth is, bullying is no joking matter. In some instances, bullying can result in very serious consequences, as seen in some extreme cases that have made headlines in recent years. 

The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the HRSA offer some tips to parents to help children steer clear of, and deal with, bullying:

Talk about bullying – early and often

Parents are encouraged to talk to their children about why bullying is wrong and address the various forms bullying can take (i.e., spreading rumors, teasing, shoving, etc.). Parents are encouraged to teach their children at an early age to avoid bullying behavior, at both the giving and receiving ends.

Encourage friendships

Encourage the child to invite friends over for face-to-face interactions, instead of just on-line communication. This will build their social skills and strengthen friendships. Encouraging children to establish a solid core group of friends will boost a child’s confidence and may help to keep him or her from being singled out. 

Know school policies

Being familiar with the child’s school policies on bullying is also encouraged. This includes parents talking with their child’s teacher about how bullying is handled in the classroom. In fact, the HRSA created a campaign against school bullying called “Stop Bullying Now.” Parents and teachers can access a full list of resources and anti-bullying materials via the campaign website at stopbullying.gov.

Walk away with confidence

Learning to walk away from a bully with confidence takes courage. Parents are encouraged to teach a child to be assertive rather than aggressive or violent when confronted by a bully, and get help from an adult if the situation becomes dangerous. Practicing this tactic at home is helpful; parents and children can practice various bullying situations through role-playing. Using a line, such as “I don’t care what you’re saying about me, I have better things to do with my time,” is a good way to help convey your message to the bully.

Be available

If a situation gets out of hand and becomes more than a child can handle, it’s essential that the child knows that he or she can go to a parent or other adult for help. Parents are encouraged to talk to their children about to whom they can turn before a situation arises. Again, role-playing about what he or she can say to an adult is helpful. Practicing such tactics at home will most likely help the child feel more comfortable asking for help.

Conversely, what if your child is the bully? 

Although the consequences of bullying are not always identified in many school policies, some punishments include suspension, expulsion and, in extreme cases, criminal charges. And, in extreme cases of bullying, parents of victims may have legal recourse via civil lawsuits. 

If parents suspect their child is a bully, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology suggests the following ways to help him or her: 

Seek help for the child as soon as possible. Without intervention, bullying can lead to bigger problems, such as academic, legal, emotional and social difficulties. 

Talk to the child’s school principal, teacher or guidance counselor about his or her behavior.

Arrange an evaluation with a child psychiatrist or other mental health professional if the bullying continues after intervention. This may help the parent and the child understand what is causing the bullying.

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