Dr. Robert D. Keder, developmental-behavioral expert at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center shares how to address bullying with your child not just during National Bullying Prevention Month but all year round. #stopbullying
What are some signs your child may display at home if he or she is being bullied at school?
Who is at risk? All children are at risk to be involved in bullying. We refer to children who are bullied as targets of bullying. Children who stick out or are perceived as “different” than others are at more risk of being the target of bullying. Children with special needs are 3-5 five times more at risk for being the target of bullying. This includes children with ADHD, learning disabilities, medical problems, food allergies, autism, an IEP and/or a 504 Plan. Children who are overweight, from families that do not speak English at home, who identify as GLBTQ, and children who are of racial, ethnic, and/or religious minority in group are also at risk.
What to look for. Children who are targets of bullying may have sudden changes in their behavior. Here are some of the things to look for: grades going down, sudden changes in friendships, suddenly losing interest in things they like to do, coming home from school upset or wanting to be alone, lower self-esteem, changes in habits like eating or sleeping, changes in mood, feelings of loneliness or sadness, anxiety. They may suddenly not want to go to school or skip school. They may have vague complaints of headaches, stomach aches, or other ache/pains. You should be concerned if your child comes home with unexplainable injuries or lost/destroyed belongings. Some children may even hurt or injure themselves; if this is the case call your child’s doctor or 211 right away. For cyberbullying, keep an eye out for children who pull away from technology like their phone or their computer. If you notice any of these things, talk to your child.
My child is being bullied. How should I speak to him or her about it?
Children usually do not want to talk about bullying. It is an uncomfortable topic to talk about especially for a child who is being bullied. Bullying is a traumatic experience. The best way to handle talking about bullying is to help children understand what it is, that bullying is “not okay,” and to check in with them. Keeping lines of communication with your child is important. Checking in with your child every day is important. Children who feel “connected” to their parents are more likely to ask them for help and to talk about tough decisions.
If you are worried that your child is being bullied here are some strategies that can help. Start general. Let them know that how they are feeling is normal. School in general, especially middle school when bulling can be at its worst, is challenging. Ask how school is going. You can then say, “I hear kids get teased sometimes, have you been teased at school? Has anyone been a bully?” Let them know if you are worried and give them permission to talk about it.
How can I best explain what bullying is to my child?
There is a difference between teasing and bullying. Brother and sisters (and even parents) tease children. If it is done in a friendly, playful, and mutual way it can be fun. When teasing becomes unwanted, mean, hurtful, and constant it becomes bullying.
In 2014 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognized bullying as a public health problem and published a definition of bullying to help understand it better and prevent it. Bullying has 4 key elements: it is an unwanted aggressive behavior, it happens between people with a power imbalance, it is repeated or likely to be repeated, and may inflict harm or distress. For example, bullying is technically not making a mean joke once. That is still not okay but also not technically bullying. If someone makes a mean joke every day about someone every day, then it is bullying.
Helping children understand the difference between things like having an argument with someone (not bullying), accidentally bumping into someone (not bullying), and intentionally mean behavior that happens more than once (definitely bullying) is important. You can also let them know that bullying can happen in 4 different ways:
Verbal bullying. This is saying or writing mean things. It includes things like repeated teasing, name calling, taunting, and threatening.
Physical bullying. This is when behavior hurt’s a person’s body or belongings. It includes things like hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing, tripping, and taking or breaking another person’s things.
Relational or Social bullying. This form of bullying focus on hurting someone’s relationships or reputation. This involves things like spreading rumors, telling others to not be friends with a child, leaving someone out on purpose, or publicly embarrassing someone.
Cyberbullying. This is when any kind of bullying (usually verbal or relational) happens on line. It can happen on social media (Facebook , Instagram, etc.), text messages, e-mails, and in chat rooms.
If your child is being bullied:
If your child is being bullied, let your school know. Talk with his or her teacher or counselor. You can also stop by the main office. Connecticut state laws require that every school have a way to anonymously report bullying and have a policy with how to treat it.
Need more help?
General resources: https://www.stopbullying.gov/
Connecticut bullying laws: https://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/connecticut.html
Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center: http://www.cpacinc.org/hot-topics/bullying/
Connecticut State Department of Education: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2663&q=334608
Still need more help?
Call us and make an appointment. Dr. Keder is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician who specializes in working with children with special needs and helping children and their families who are involved in bullying.