The American Medical Association estimates that each year 3.2 million kids in the U.S. are victims of bullying, and that a whopping 3.7 engage in bullying. With those numbers, no one can assume it’s something that just happens to other people’s kids. We all need to be aware.
As a pediatrician, I am able to see the physical effects of bullying. But as the old saying about sticks and stones goes, the real damage is so often not the visible kind. Kids who are being bullied can show a lot of symptoms that go beyond bumps and bruises. Their whole personalities can start to change. They can become more withdrawn, lose their self-confidence, and not show any interest in their friends, family and doing the things they’ve always loved.
While you hope that your child will tell you if there is any trouble they have in their lives, victims of bullying often suffer in silence. But there are signs you can watch out for, including:
Physical symptoms: Even if they’re not having physical confrontations, bullying can affect your child’s body in many ways. If you start to notice headaches, stomach pains, sleeping problems, frequent illness or even faking illnesses to avoid school, these could be signs of trouble.
Problems at school: Bullying can be all-consuming, causing even the best of students to have trouble concentrating. If they feel school is an unsafe place, that will affect their ability to learn.
More combative: Being bullied can lead to a sense of frustration, helplessness and anger, which could result in your child lashing out at friends or siblings, and even picking fights.
How to help
No one could blame you, after learning your child is being bullied, for wanting to get right in the bully’s face, or confront his or her parents. But while that might feel like the right thing to do, it most likely would just make the situation worse. Here are some helpful do’s and don’ts.
What not to do:
- Don’t minimize, rationalize or explain away the bully’s behavior.
- Don’t rush in to solve the problem for your child.
- Don’t tell your child to fight back.
- Don’t confront the bully or the bully’s parents alone.
What to do:
- Tell your child, “I am here for you. I believe you. You are not alone in this.”
- Tell your child, “It’s not your fault.”
- Report the bullying to school leaders.
Once everything is out in the open, you can go about making sure your child is equipped to handle these kinds of situations in the future. Help build their self-confidence by encouraging them to participate in activities that make them feel good, whether it’s athletic, academic, creative, technological, etc. And keep in mind that kids learn by example, so the next time a driver cuts you off in traffic or an umpire blows a call, make sure your reaction is one you would want to see in them later on.
Writing off bullying with a “kids will be kids” is largely a thing of the past, and with good reason. It’s only in taking the problem seriously that we’ll truly be able to help kids live their lives bully-free.
Our online bullying education and prevention program
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is committed to keeping kids healthy and safe. That’s why Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin launched an online bullying education and prevention program for parents of children in grades K4 through high school called Act Now! What Parents Need to Know About Bullying.
The program is free, user-friendly and features a series of short video-based segments that include information on a variety of bullying topics tailored to your child’s age group.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Mayfair Pediatrics in Wauwatosa. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Michael O’Reilly, MD.