by Laurie Berdahl, MD & Brian D. Johnson, PhD
Many parents worry that their children may become targets of bullies or are already suffering as a victim of one or more mean kids. Kids often don’t tell their parents about being bullied out of embarrassment or fear that telling will make it worse.
If any of the following are happening with your children, be concerned that they may be getting bullied:
- Increased moodiness, secretiveness, or withdrawal.
- Increased agitation or emotional outbursts.
- Increased worrying or anxiety.
- Becoming agitated or afraid when seeing classmates in public settings.
- Bullying their siblings or other kids.
- Avoidance of going to school or school activities (frequently sick or truant).
- Vague physical complaints like stomachaches or headaches.
- Avoidance of less structured school settings (recess, lunch room, school bus, after-school organizations, or sports).
- Sudden changes in friendships or exclusion by current friends.
- Unexplained decline in grades.
- Sleep difficulties.
- Noticeable changes in mood after talking on the phone or looking at media devices.
- Loss of money or possessions, or possessions get broken or destroyed.
- Bruises, or soiled or torn clothing.
- Reluctance to show arms or legs to you (such as covering arms with long sleeves when it’s warm outside) or unexplained scratches or cuts on skin.
- Making negative statements about themselves or their schools, friends, lives, or futures.
The greater the number of signs present, the greater the concern you should have. However, many of these warning signs can be related to other problems, such as depression, child abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Be concerned and seek help regardless of the cause of these signs of distress.
Before school starts, talk to your kids about what bullying is using language they can understand: someone with more social or physical power purposefully trying to cause distress or harm to another person in physical, psychological, or social ways, often repeating it over time even though the victim wants it to stop. Tell your kids that it’s common, it’s never OK or the victim’s fault (it’s all about the bully), and that you want to know if it happens to them. If it does, make a plan together to stop it, because you want them to be comfortable with the plan, and because kids can’t be expected to stop it themselves.
Prearming your children withknowledge about bullying and reassurance that you’ve got their backs can help give them a positive start to the school year.
Drs. Berdahl and Johnson are authors of the new book, Warning Signs: How to Protect Your Kids from Becoming Victims or Perpetrators of Violence and Aggression available now at bookstores and online. Find parenting resources, and more about WARNING SIGNS and their previous award-winning book, 7 Skills for Parenting Success at http://www.warningsignsforparents.com.