By Timothy Patrick-Miller, MD
March 2010

Bullying  is a real issue for our children. Bullying is common, serious, and needs to be  stopped.

In 2001 the   AACAP  (Am Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) published an educational bulletin for families  quoting surveys that as “many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis… (Bullying) can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment.” There has been years-long collaboration of international experts  to develop effective interventions to break the cycle.  Their best advice is encapsulated on Stop Bullying Now.gov, an ever evolving web site and a great resource for parents, schools and children who are affected by bullying.

Some important information from this site includes the following:

How to Find Out If Your Child Is Being Bullied
To find out if your child is being bullied, look for these signs:

How to Help: Steps to Bully Proof Your Child

1) Get help. Find a friend or adult you can count on.
2) Assert yourself. Use an "I" statement to protect yourself :  "I like being different" or "I am sorry you don't want to get to know me better before you call me that."
3)      Humor. Do or say something funny or even something just plain crazy to throw the bully off balance. For example, if called a "chicken," start walking like a chicken and flapping your arms.
4)      Avoid. Stay away from bullies. If you see a bully and can take another path across the playground, do that.
5)      Self talk. Give yourself a silent pep talk, reminding yourself of positive things. For example, you might think: "I may not be good at track, but I'm great in band."
6) If the put-down is about something you can't or don't want to change, hold your head high, be proud of who you are, and tell the other child you like being who you are.

What to do if your child is being bullied

1. First, focus on your child. Be supportive and gather information about the bullying.
·         Never tell your child to ignore the bullying. What the child may “hear” is that you are going to ignore it. If the child were able to simply ignore it, he or she likely would not have told you about it. Often, trying to ignore bullying allows it to become more serious.
·         Don't blame the child who is being bullied. Don't assume that your child did something to provoke the bullying. Don't say, “What did you do to aggravate the other child?”
·         Listen carefully to what your child tells you about the bullying. Ask him or her to describe who was involved and how and where each bullying episode happened.
·         Learn as much as you can about the bullying tactics used, and when and where the bullying happened. Can your child name other children or adults who may have witnessed the bullying?
·         Empathize with your child. Tell him/her that bullying is wrong, not their fault, and that you are glad he or she had the courage to tell you about it. Ask your child what he or she thinks can be done to help. Assure him or her that you will think about what needs to be done and you will let him or her know what you are going to do.
·         If you disagree with how your child handled the bullying situation, don't criticize him or her.
·         Do not encourage physical retaliation (“Just hit them back”) as a solution. Hitting another student is not likely to end the problem, and it could get your child suspended or expelled or escalate the situation.
·         Check your emotions. A parent's protective instincts stir strong emotions. Although it is difficult, a parent is wise to step back and consider the next steps carefully.

2. Contact your child's teacher or principal.
·         Parents are often reluctant to report bullying to school officials, but bullying may not stop without the help of adults.
·         Keep your emotions in check. Give factual information about your child's experience of being bullied including who, what, when, where, and how.
·         Emphasize that you want to work with the staff at school to find a solution to stop the bullying, for the sake of your child as well as other students.
·         Do not contact the parents of the student(s) who bullied your child. This is usually a parent's first response, but sometimes it makes matters worse. School officials should contact the parents of the child or children who did the bullying.
·         Expect the bullying to stop. Talk regularly with your child and with school staff to see whether the bullying has stopped. If the bullying persists, contact school authorities again.

3. Help your child become more resilient to bullying.
·         Help to develop talents or positive attributes of your child. Suggest and facilitate music, athletics, and art activities. Doing so may help your child be more confident among his or her peers.
·         Encourage your child to make contact with friendly students in his or her class. Your child's teacher may be able to suggest students with whom your child can make friends, spend time, or collaborate on work.
·         Help your child meet new friends outside of the school environment. A new environment can provide a “fresh start” for a child who has been bullied repeatedly.
·         Teach your child safety strategies. Teach him or her how to seek help from an adult when feeling threatened by a bully. Talk about whom he or she should go to for help and role-play what he or she should say. Assure your child that reporting bullying is not the same as tattling.
·         Ask yourself if your child is being bullied because of a learning difficulty or a lack of social skills? If your child is hyperactive, impulsive, or overly talkative, the child who bullies may be reacting out of annoyance. This doesn't make the bullying right, but it may help to explain why your child is being bullied. If your child easily irritates people, seek help from a counselor so that your child can better learn the informal social rules of his or her peer group.
·         Home is where the heart is. Make sure your child has a safe and loving home environment where he or she can take shelter, physically and emotionally. Always maintain open lines of communication with your child.