If your children know that they can come to you with the good, the bad, and the ugly - and that you will listen and offer your support, guidance, and wisdom - there is a chance they might tell you they are being bullied.
But even if they don’t volunteer the information, keep an eye open for the signs. Take time to talk with them about their everyday activities and stay involved in their lives. Listen beyond their words and look beyond their actions. Get to know their friends. It will help you notice signs of bullying.
Clues to Pay Attention To
There may be bullying going on when your child…
• Shows an abrupt lack of interest in school or a refusal to go to school.
• Takes an unusual route to school.
• Suffers a drop in grades.
• Withdraws from family and school activities, wanting to be left alone.
• Is hungry after school, saying he lost his lunch money or wasn’t hungry at school.
• Is taking parents’ money and making lame excuses for where it went.
• Makes a beeline for the bathroom when she gets home.
• Is sad, sullen, angry, or scared after receiving a text or instant message.
• Does something out of character.
• Uses derogatory or demeaning language when talking about peers.
• Stops talking about peers and everyday activities.
• Has disheveled, torn, or missing clothing.
• Has physical injuries not consistent with explanation.
• Has stomach-aches, headaches, panic attacks, is unable to sleep, sleeps too much, or is exhausted.
• Creates art that depicts severe emotional distress, inner turmoil, or outright violence.
How to Respond When You Suspect Bullying
You can ask outright:
• Are there any kids in your class who do mean or cruel things?
• If so, what kinds of things do they do or say?
• Are there any kids these kids tend to pick on?
• Do they ever say or do mean things to you?
No matter how you learn of the bullying, your first step is to respond to your child’s fears or signs of being bullied with encouragement, support, and love.
What you SHOULD Say or Do:
• I hear you; I am here for you; I believe you; you are not alone in this.
Say, “Tell me about it,” then listen. Ask open-ended questions so that you can learn about your child’s perceptions, concerns, and anxieties. Don’t jump immediately to the facts - it misses the most important part of the incident, that your child’s sense of well-being has been challenged. Gather the facts of who, where, and when after you’ve listened to the feelings.
• This is not your fault.
No one deserves to be bullied. Your child may have behaviours that aggravate or annoy a bully, but they are no excuse for bullying behaviours. This is no time for “If you would have. . . ” “If you didn’t . . . ” “If you weren’t so… ” Remember, the bully has already demeaned your child. Your child needs your help to counteract these ugly messages.
• There are things you can do.
You can help your child figure out ways to assertively stand up to the bullying, steer clear of dangerous situations, and take her power back.
Report the bullying to school personnel. Your child’s teachers need to know about the bullying - both the facts (date, time, place, kids involved, and other specifics) and the impact on your child. Follow-through to make sure the adults are actively protecting your child, and that the bully is being held accountable for the bullying.
What You Should NOT Say or Do:
• Don’t minimize, rationalize, or explain away the bully’s behaviour— Bullying hurts. No, the bully wasn’t just teasing or flirting or having a conflict; and yes, the bully intended harm.
Don’t rush in to solve the problem for your child.
Unless your child is in serious physical danger, taking over the situation will reinforce your child’s sense of helplessness. But you can’t put all the responsibility on children to stop the bullying, either. It is our job as adults to create an environment that confronts bullying.
• Don’t tell your child to avoid or ignore the bully as a long term solution.
That message inadvertently encourages running and hiding, remaining in fear that bullies can “smell.” Avoiding immediate and present danger is important, but it is temporary. To avoid is hard; to ignore is almost impossible.
• Don’t tell your child to fight back.
Do you really want to teach your child that fighting is the answer? Besides, the bully probably picked on your son because he saw him as a less than equal match. Teach him to defend himself, and to be assertive using his head and his feet. “This is a dumb place to be. I’m out of here.” Kids who respond assertively to the bully are more likely to successfully counteract the bullying than kids who try to fight back.
• Don’t confront the bully or the bully’s parents alone.
The bully learned to bully somewhere, and it might just be from his parents. They may be defensive and uncooperative and quick to blame the target. If at all possible, enlist the help of a school counselor.
Planned intervention in our schools can greatly reduce bullying and its impact on children with ADHD, the school community, and the entire community. Research has shown that bullying can be reduced if educators, students, and parents work together to create a climate in which all kids believe they have worth, and are capable human beings.
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