Tips for helping your child deal with bullying

Special to the Herald-LeaderSeptember 22, 2012 

Have you ever wondered if your child has been bullied? Were you bullied as a child or have you witnessed a child being bullied?

Childhood bullying is a problem most children will face at some point during their childhood. American children ages 8 to 15 report bullying as a greater problem than alcohol and other drugs, and about 25 percent to 30 percent of American teens and preteens are involved in bullying. It is normal child behavior to occasionally tease, play fight, and have disagreements with peers. However, bullying is a far more serious behavior that parents should know about and watch for.

Bullying has a complex definition. It is considered hostile or aggressive activity repeated over and over to another person with intent to hurt the person physically or mentally. The bully is considered to have more power or strength than the victim. Bullying might include name-calling, purposely leaving someone out of a group or activity, spreading rumors about someone, posting mean or inappropriate comments about someone on the Internet, pressuring someone to do something he or she does not want to do, embarrassing someone, tripping, pushing, hitting, kicking, or spitting on someone, or taking someone's things. Bullying can happen at school, on the way to school, online or at a social gathering.

Bullying can cause children to feel depressed, anxious, tense and tired. Bullied children might also wet the bed, have headaches or stomach pains, or have trouble sleeping. They might not want to go to school. They might become withdrawn, and they are more likely to commit suicide than children who are not bullied. A bully is more likely to be involved with drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs, and violence than someone not involved in bullying.

To help children who may be involved in bullying, here are some practical tips for parents:

■ Look for symptoms of bullying. Often children will not tell you they are being bullied, so it is important for parents to know what symptoms might be the result of bullying.

■ Talk to your children every day. Ask about their day and who they played with and sat next to at lunch. Do not accept one-word answers. Try to get your child to openly talk to you by avoiding questions that can be answered with a yes or no.

■ Encourage your child to tell you if he or she has been bullied. Ask your child if there are bullies at school and who these children are. Listen to any concerns and reassure your child you love and care about him or her. Make it clear this is not their fault.

■ Brainstorm with your child ways to stop or avoid bullying. Playing with new friends or in a different place could help. Encourage your child to tell an adult at school about the bullying.

■ Advocate for your child. Talk to your child's teachers or principal about the bullying.

Vicki Hensley is an instructor and pediatric nurse practitioner at the University Of Kentucky College of Nursing.

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