Start the school year bully-free

Now that school is back in session in most districts, parents are busy with activities and events around getting back into the school routine! It’s a bitter-sweet feeling for kids and parents. While the relaxed days spent with family at home and trips are missed, most kids are excited about seeing friends and looking forward to all the fun at school.

Some kids, however, may be dreading it due to issues related to bullying. It could be the child is being bullied, feeling helpless about a friend being bullied, or being coerced into bullying. All these factors can create significant anxiety in kids.

Seventy-four percent of 8 to 11-year-olds say teasing and bullying happen at their school. Bullying can have lasting Bullieseffects on a child’s life including their personalities and achievements later in life. Bullied kids can do poorly in school, become depressed or anxious, have poor self esteem, and turn to violence as a means of self-protection. The bullies themselves also tend to do poorly in school, often have a higher incidence of drug and alcohol addictions, and are prone to criminal behavior later in life. But sadly, many parents don’t think that bullying is as big a problem as bringing a weapon to school or drug use although its effects can be severe and long lasting. According to the National education association, every day, nearly 160,000 children miss school because they are scared of bullying. So what can we, as parents, do to prevent our kids from getting bullied and also from bullying other kids?

Bullying, harassment and intimidation acts can be related to physical appearance, personal traits, race, ethnicity, skin color, form of dress, disability, actual or perceived sexual orientation, and gender expression or identity, among others, and it can occur before, after, and during school. Bullying can also take place online – also known as cyberbullying – and over cell phones with text messaging. Bullying is a repeated negative behavior that takes advantage of a less-powerful person, and sometimes even makes the child who is bullied feel at fault. Hitting, name calling, shunning and shaming are all forms of bullying. So are spreading rumors, gossiping and making threats online.

AT SCHOOL, PARENTS CAN PREVENT BULLYING by staying informed about the school and district policies and procedures. Encourage school to provide training to staff, students and parents. Do not confront the bully or bully’s family. Report the incident to the school principal, using formal documentation. This report automatically triggers an investigation. Pursue the matter until appropriate action has been taken. If continued safety is an issue, request an immediate safety plan while the investigation proceeds. If dissatisfied with the safety plan, meet again with the school principal. If unhappy with the conclusions of the investigation, appeal to the school district compliance officer. This can be further appealed to the superintendent and then to the school board. Ensure appropriate supervision of your child at school. At any point, you can contact the local law enforcement authorities if the results of the school investigations do not seem appropriate or complete.

AT HOME, PREVENTING BULLYING is mostly about COMMUNICATION! Model compassion and respect. Children learn by imitating parents and adults. If your child is being bullied, do not blame him or her. Do not compel you kid to ‘tough it out’. Remember- Not all kids have the same endurance, resilience and coping skills.    Spend extra time, give extra support. Remind them that hitting back or getting even may result in new troubles, such as suspensions. Encourage children to tell the aggressor that this is bullying and is not appropriate. It is also safe for your child to walk away to a safer place and to tell an adult at school who will listen. Reassure them that this event is the wrong-doing of the bully, as most often bullied kids tend to feel guilty. Instill self confidence. Ask: What is being done to him/her? Who is doing it? What has he/she done to try to resolve the problem? What does he/she need from the adult to get the bully to quit? Identify safe places – classroom, location near adults, a group of peers. Emphasize that the school staff cares about safety and has a process to assist. Let the child be part of the process in resolving the problem. Ask the school counselor about availability of services to address social skills, if needed.

TO STOP YOUR CHILD FROM BEING A BULLY- Take it seriously. It’s hard for any parent to believe that their child is a bully, but sometimes it happens. Every bully is someone’s child and it could be yours! Don’t treat bullying as a passing phase. Even if you’re not worried about long-lasting effects on your child, another child is being hurt. Talk to your child to find out why he or she is bullying. Often, children bully when they feel sad, angry, lonely, or insecure and many times major changes at home or school may bring on these feelings. Help build empathy for others and talk to your child about how it feels to be bullied. Ask a teacher or a school counselor if your child is facing any problems at school, such as if your child is struggling with a particular subject or has difficulty making friends. Ask them for advice on how you and your child can work through the problem. Ask yourself if someone at home is bullying your child. Often, kids who bully are bullied themselves by a parent, family member, or another adult. Remember, kids who are bullied have a higher tendency to bully others and often switch roles constantly between being the ‘bullied’ and ‘the bully’. But just because your child bullies doesn’t mean that he or she will bully forever.

Parents are one of the best resources to help their child stop bullying and start interacting positively with their classmates. Many kids are embarrassed to be bullied and may not tell their parents or another adult right away. If your child comes to you and asks for help with a bully, take it seriously. If kids aren’t taken seriously the first time they ask for help, often they don’t ask again. Stay involved with your kids’ day-to-day happenings at school, internet activities, and the friends they hang out with. You have a right and obligation to ensure the safety of your kids and to help them thrive in a safe and caring school and community. So make sure you address the signs of bullying early, before the behavior and its impact gets worse.

Below are 12 resources that I’ve identified for parents seeking more information on bullying:

Bullying at School: What a family can do – OEO Publication available in many languages

Bullies and Victims: Information for Parents – short handout for parents regarding bullying.

OSPI Safety Center – under Bullying and Harassment, sample procedures and policies are provided.

Committee for Children – a nonprofit that works globally to prevent bullying, violence, and child abuse.

BullyingInfo.org – a government site for bullying prevention and response.

Great Schools – resources online that encourages families to be involved in their children’s education.

Kids Health – resources on your child’s health and development.

Ophelia Project’s parents/guardian’s resource page – provides tools, strategies and solutions to adults and youth who are affected by relational and other non-physical forms of aggression.

Pacer’s Center National Center for Bullying Prevention – resources to help bullying prevention using an interactive site for kids (grades K-5) and teens (grades 6-12).

Safe Schools Coalition – an international public-private partnership in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, that is working to help schools – at home and all over the world – become safe places where every family can belong, where every educator can teach, and where every child can learn, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Stop Bullying Now – information presented in web episodes, cartoons, games and more. Click on the tab “What Adults Can Do” and you will have a variety of resources at your fingertips.

Wrightslaw – resource for reliable information regarding education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities. The link directs you to information on bullying including articles and previous legal cases.

Shobha Bhaskar, M.D. About Shobha Bhaskar, M.D.

Shobha Bhaskar, MD is a pediatric hospitalist with St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, who also sees patients at Children's Hospital facilities at Missouri Baptist Medical Center and Progress West Healthcare. Connect with Dr. Bhaskar on Facebook: ChildrensMomDocs and .

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