When Bullying Hits Home

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Published June 15, 2009

| FoxNews.com

Most adults remember being bullied or witnessing bullying during their school days. Most current students cite the same experience, but how bullying is being handled has changed.

Bullying has become a top priority for schools across the country, and many are working hard to prevent it. Bullying is the repeated imposition of power from one child to another and can include verbal threats or insults, physical threats or abuse, or non-verbal threats or abuse, such as spreading rumors about another child. It's important to know that this can take place in person or via the internet, such as through social networking sites.

Boys and girls typically bully differently. Boys typically resort to more physical methods, while girls typically utilize verbal strategies, although it is not uncommon for each group to use other approaches. Signs your child is being bullied include becoming quiet or withdrawn, frequent trips to the nurse's office, refusal to go to school, and withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities, such as teams or social groups. Acting out is not typically associated with children who are being bullied. As a parent, knowing your child is being targeted is one of the most painful and difficult things you can encounter.

Here are some tips to help guide your child through this complicated time_

Be supportive. Listen to your child as he shares his experience and feelings about being bullied. Praise him for speaking about the situation, especially if he was brave enough to approach you without prompting. Children who are bullied are often afraid to report their situations for fear of retribution for "tattling." By opening up, he has begun the process of ending the bullying and should be reinforced for doing so.

Build confidence.Find activities that build your child's confidence and occupy her time. Individual sports, such as karate or swimming, may be best to start with as your child may worry about becoming a part of a team and opening herself to more uncomfortable social situations.

Contact your child's school.Even if the bullying has not taken place on school grounds, it is important that staff is aware of the relationship between your child and the person or people who are intimidating him. Many schools have videos or books on bullying that they can share with you and your child. You can also establish a safe place for your child to go if he feels he is being threatened, such as the principal's office or the guidance counselor's office.

Use the buddy system. Encourage your child to seek one or two safe friends at school and stick with them, especially during times bullying is most likely to occur, such as recess and traveling to and from school. Establish relationships with the parents of your child's friends and make them aware of the situation. If bullying typically occurs during the trips to and from school, drive your child or ask a neighbor or friend to do so. Although this step alone may not end the bullying, it provides your child with a bit more security and safety.

Stay involved. Have access to your children's email and social networking accounts so you can monitor their activity. Your child could be bullied while sitting right in your living room. Knowing your child's circle of friends will also help you monitor appropriate or inappropriate relationships, and will help you keep track of friendships that are deteriorating. You can broach the subject by saying "I notice you are not hanging out with (name) much anymore. Why is that?" If your child does not give you a direct reason, there may be more to the story.

Many professionals frown upon advising children to ignore the bullying, as it sends the message that adults will ignore it too. If you are still unsure of what to say to your child and feel you need more extensive support, seek the help of a health care professional, such as a psychologist or social worker.

Bullying is not just "kids being kids." It is hurtful, unhealthy, and has the potential to cause long-term emotional and physical damage. Being informed and involved may save your child from this painful situation.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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