Bullying IIMost children experience conflict of one kind or another while they are at school or participating in school-related activities.  Occasionally, normal conflict can unfortunately escalate into bullying.  The concern with bullying has been on the rise in recent years as more and more children have been seen to be suffering its effects, including depression, substance abuse, and tragically, even suicide.  You can play a large role in helping your child get ahead of bullying, and perhaps even prevent it.

Know the Signs
Since children and teens are changing all the time, it may be difficult to determine if a new behaviour is a phase or if it is caused by some other external factor, such as bullying.  Some changes do tend to point more toward the effects of bullying, such as inexplicable injuries, lost or destroyed possessions, a change in eating habits, declining grades, or difficulty sleeping.  A child who has been subjected to bullying may also begin avoiding school and social situations by feigning illness.  The most critical clues are self-destructive, such as self-injury, running away, and especially talk of suicide.

How to Cope
Once a child has become a victim of bullying, it can be difficult for them to overcome their experience.  It can diminish their self-esteem and confidence, leaving them feeling weak and isolated.  Help them rebuild their sense of self by encouraging them to spend time with their good friends or participate in their favourite sports, and let them know you are always there for them.  Many schools and communities have policies regarding bullying and include programs that teach children how to handle these situations.

Prevention
You might not be able to stop a bully from picking on your child, but you can take steps to keep them protected.  Communication is key when it comes to helping your children ward off bullies.  Keep yourself informed about their lives by asking them about their day at school and who they hang out with.  Maintain a friendly and conversational style so they don’t think they’re being put on trial.  This can assist you in spotting the signs of bullying and allow you to intervene as early as possible.  Talk to them about what bullying is, and let them know they can come to you with any problems they might be having.  Help them understand that they have a larger support network than they may realize, including other adult family members and teachers.  Even good friends their own age can make a difference by sticking together in groups.

Often, children won’t ask for help when they’re being bullied for fear that there may be greater retaliation by the bully once an adult has intervened.  They may feel embarrassed by the problem and want to handle it on their own.  As a result, it’s crucial to remain extra vigilant and keep your eyes and ears open for signs that your child may be having a problem. Educate yourself and your children to avoid major issues and, above all else, keep your kids safe.

For more resources on bullying, please visit:
PREVnet
OSSTF – Canadian Bullying Resources Online
RCMP – Bullying and Cyberbullying – Resources