Signs of bullying: Why it’s important to stop it early, talk it out

Signs of bullying: Boy sad and upset after being bullied

Sometimes, the outward signs of bullying are obvious.

An outgoing teen doesn’t want to talk anymore, or turns reclusive. Maybe there’s a change in his core group of friends, or maybe there aren’t even friends around anymore.

Other times, some signs of bullying—like depression, headaches and stomachaches or problems eating or sleeping—aren’t as obvious, said Tracey Fejt, RN, Injury Prevention coordinator and outreach manager. That’s why it is so important for parents and caregivers to talk candidly and often with their kids, so they have an idea of what’s going on in their lives. That’s the first piece of advice she gives parents of school-age kids: to get a two-way conversation going, even if it means your child wants to talk with another trusted adult, someone besides you.

“Open lines of communication can be the difference between kids who get help and kids who might not get the help they need because they don’t have anywhere to turn.” she said.

The key, after all, is to stop any form of bullying early on and then treat any problems that have resulted from it. Bullying affects the entire family, and the results can be long-term and devastating.

In an effort to reach out to young people facing bullying, Fejt and Banner Children’s helped create two short comic-style books on this topic. Both books encourage young readers to talk with their parents, a teacher or another adult if they’re facing a problem with a bully. Aimed at the elementary school crowd, “Proud to be Me” focuses on a young soccer player who gets bullied by a fellow student. For teenagers, “Be Strong, Speak Out” touches on some heavy topics, including the death of a young man who took his own life after being bullied and a young woman who deals with the pain of being bullied by cutting herself.

Along with the tips on how to deal with a bully, the books help readers identify exactly what bullying is and what it isn’t.

For example, readers learn that if they can say yes to one or more of the following questions that they are experiencing is bullying:

  • Does it make you very uncomfortable to be around them all of the time?
  • Do they make fun of you all the time and on purpose?
  • Do they take your things or often hit or bump into you?
  • Do they threaten you or send mean messages or cyberbully you?

Like the characters in the books, readers who answer yes to those signs of bullying are encouraged to make an adult aware of their situation.

The books also advise readers on how to deal with a bully using the following advice:

  • Walk away and avoid being in a one-on-one situation with the bully
  • Stand up for yourself
  • Keep your head up when walking past the bully
  • Don’t show your feelings
  • Sit in the front of the school bus, if possible
  • Talk with a friend

Fejt said many schools have anti-bullying peer groups; and if yours does not, see what can be done to start one because there really is strength is numbers.

“If kids stand up for themselves, ignore bullies and get other kids to rally around them, it doesn’t make a huge difference,” she said.

What to do if your child is the bully

It’s terrible to have a child who is bullied, but what about having a child who is a bully?

No one wishes for that, either, but the fact is many parents find themselves in that position. While no advice can guarantee to stop a child from bullying, two important components of character development—a healthy amount of self-esteem and healthy boundaries—may be lacking in kids who bully, according to Michael Weinberg, PH.D., Licensed Professional Counselor, Senior Manager of Behavioral Health at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center.

“If a child’s self-esteem or sense of worth is external and primarily comes from the outside of himself—it’s based, for example on how others look at him and value him or the possessions he has versus an internal self-esteem, one that tells him he is precious and valued and worthy of a good life—he has to get that esteem from somewhere,” he said.

And that can lead to bullying.

Bullies try to get “worth” from those around them, he said, and that works when everyone is compliant. When someone’s not compliant, a bully amps things up a notch and can become aggressive. And that touches on the other important component of character development: healthy boundaries. Parents need to teach their children boundaries, such as “It’s not all right to hurt others just so you can get what you want,” he said.

So, what can a parent do to instill a child with a sense of worth and boundaries?

Communicate with your child and encourage him to share the details of his daily like. In a word, listen. “Parents are often good at talking, but not at listening. Stop talking and start listening,” Weinberg said.

  • Let your child know he is worthy of a good life and happiness and teach him that self-esteem comes from within, not from an object like a trophy or a cell phone. “Toys are icing on the cake, but they’re not our sense of self-worth,” he said.
  • Teach your child how to compromise. Getting your way, or “winning,” isn’t the key to happiness.
  • Look at yourself and your household and be sure your modeling those two components of character development. “If you don’t get what you want, are you more aggressive until you get it?” Weinberg asked. Remember: your child is watching.
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