Bullying can take many forms. For example, physical bullying includes hitting, punching, kicking and other types of physical harm, as well as destruction of a child’s property. Verbal bullying includes teasing, name-calling, taunting, racial slurs, as well as spreading gossip and malicious rumors. Cyberbullying includes harassing e-mails or instant messages, as well as intimidating or threatening web sites or blogs.
Bullying can have serious consequences, especially for children and adolescents who are already vulnerable and, therefore, easy and attractive prey for bullies. Children who are bullied may be afraid to go to school. The may complain of headaches or stomach aches and have difficulty concentrating on their schoolwork. Long term consequences may even be more severe. Children who are bullied have higher rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other mental health conditions. Children who are bullied are more likely to think about suicide. Some of these wounds may linger into adulthood.
It is important that parents be on the lookout for signs of bullying, some of which are often subtle and, therefore, hard to detect. Children who are being bullied may often remain quiet out of fear, shame, or embarrassment. Some of the warning signs are:
- few friends or close contacts
- headaches, stomach aches, or other physical complaints
- trouble sleeping or eating
- poor school performance
- reluctance to go to school
- unexplained bruises or other injuries
- damaged or missing clothing or other personal belongings
What can you do if you suspect your child is being bullied? First and foremost: take it seriously! Encourage your child to share his or her concerns. Remain calm, listen in a loving manner, and support your child’s feelings. Remind your child that he or she is not to blame for being bullied. Learn as much as you can about the situation so that you are in the best position to be helpful. Find out what your child may have already done to try to stop the bullying. Teach your child how to respond to the bullying, such as simply having him or her asking the bully to stop, walking away, sticking with friends when bullying occurs and asking school officials for assistance. Contact school officials, especially if your child has been physically attacked or threatened with harm. Under some circumstances, the police may have to be involved. Boost your child’s self-confidence, so that he or she may be better able to cope with bullies more effectively. Know when to get professional help if you believe that the consequences of your child’s unfortunate experience have already led to problems with his or her self-esteem and general well-being.