According to StopBullying.gov, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. While the term "bullying" has become a buzzword, it's also important to understand what it means. The Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Education define it as a pattern of unwanted aggressive behavior that causes physical or psychological harm.
"As a high school counselor for over 10 years, I've witnessed bullying and its impacts in different ways — from working with administrators and teachers to put a stop to it in classrooms, to supporting parents and students as they attempt to heal and find the best path forward," said Carol Heavin, a school counselor for Arkansas Virtual Academy who has been in education for 28 years.
One of the best ways to help prevent bullying is to empower parents with useful advice, including warning signs to watch for, tips on how to talk to your kids about bullying and information on where to go for help. Because the long-term effects of bullying can be serious for a child, a parent's actions and support can help protect them from harm. Heavin offers the following warning signs and tips:
As a parent, you know your children well and what to expect from them. While some changes in behavior can be noticeable or sudden, others can be hard to spot.
If you suspect your child is a victim of bullying, watch for these warning signs:
* Change in your child's attitude or visible loss of confidence; this includes nonverbal and verbal changes, from how they carry themselves (dejected, slumped posture) to expressing suicidal thoughts
* Any unexplained, physical bruising or injuries
* Withdrawing from usual hobbies and interests
* Change in dress
* Change in friend group or sudden loss of friends
How to talk to your kids
If you notice these warning signs and suspect your child could be a victim of bullying, talking to your child is a critical step to understanding what is happening and building trust. Keep these things in mind as you decide how and when to talk to your child:
* Be available to your child and schedule at least one weekly family dinner or outing to connect and check in
* Ask your child about their day, every day, to keep the lines of communication open
* Find a time to talk to your child in a relaxing environment, such as listening to music, watching a sports game or doing an art project together
* Start the conversation with your child with topics that interest and build a rapport with them
* As hard as it may be, don't push them to share something they may not be ready to share; consistent reminders that you are available to talk are important cues
What to do
After you've identified warning signs, and you believe that your child is a victim of bullying at school, there are a few things you should consider and keep top of mind.
* Take a deep breath and stay as calm as possible
* Document as many details as you can from your child, including what is being said or done to them, who may have witnessed the repeated behavior, etc.
* Speak to the school administration, sharing as many documented details as you can
* Ensure your child is a part of an environment that uplifts them (i.e., church events, sports, other clubs)
* If possible, remove them from the bullying situation and consider other academic opportunities, such as a tuition-free online public school
Children can be cruel, and adults can't chaperone 24-7. For this reason, many times schools don't find out about bullying until it's been taking place for a long time. Students are embarrassed and uncomfortable speaking freely about what's been happening to them. By following this advice, you're already helping to stop bullying and protect your child. For more information, visit www.stopbullying.gov.
For more information on tuition-free, online public schools, visit: www.k12.com.