How Parents Should Talk to Their Children About Bullying Posted on October 28, 2016 By: Robert D. Keder, MD All children are at risk to be involved in bullying, but kids who are perceived as “different” are at more risk of being the target of bullying. Children with special needs are 3-5 five times more at risk for being the target of bullying. This includes children with ADHD, learning disabilities, medical problems, food allergies, autism, an IEP and/or a 504 Plan. Research shows that children who are overweight, from families that do not speak English at home, who identify as LGBTQ, and children who are part of a racial or religious minority group tend to be at higher risk as well. What should I look out for? Children who are targets of bullying may have sudden changes in their behavior. Here are some of the things to look for: Grades going down Major changes in friendships Little interest in things they like to do Coming home from school upset or wanting to be alone Lower self-esteem Major changes in eating or sleeping habits Major changes in mood Feelings of loneliness or sadness, anxiety Not wanting to go to school or skipping school Vague complaints of headaches, stomach aches, or other aches and pains You should be concerned if your child comes home with unexplainable injuries or lost/destroyed belongings. Some children may even hurt or injure themselves; if this is the case call your child’s doctor or 211 right away. For cyberbullying, keep an eye out for children who pull away from technology like their phone or their computer. If you notice any of these things, talk to your child. My child is being bullied. How should I speak to them about it? Children usually do not want to talk about bullying. It is an uncomfortable topic to talk about especially for a child who is being bullied. Bullying is a traumatic experience. The best way to handle talking about bullying is to help children understand what it is, that bullying is not okay, and to check in with them. Keeping lines of communication with your child is important. Checking in with your child every day is important. Children who feel connected to their parents are more likely to ask them for help and to talk about tough decisions. If you are worried that your child is being bullied, here are some strategies that can help: Start general. Let them know that how they are feeling is normal. Ask how school is going. You can then say, “I hear kids get teased sometimes, have you been teased at school? Has anyone been a bully?” Let them know if you are worried and give them permission to talk about it. How can I best explain what bullying is to my child? There is a difference between teasing and bullying. Brother and sisters (and even parents) tease children. If it is done in a friendly, playful, and mutual way it can be fun. When teasing becomes unwanted, mean, hurtful, and constant it becomes bullying. In 2014 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognized bullying as a public health problem and published a definition of bullying to help understand it better and prevent it. Bullying has 4 key elements: It is an unwanted aggressive behavior It happens between people with a power imbalance It is repeated or likely to be repeated It may inflict harm or distress For example, bullying is technically not making a mean joke once. That is still not okay but also not technically bullying. If someone makes a mean joke every day about someone, then it is bullying. Helping children understand the difference between things like having an argument with someone (not bullying), accidentally bumping into someone (not bullying), and intentionally mean behavior that happens more than once (definitely bullying) is important. You can also let them know that bullying can happen in 4 different ways: Verbal bullying. This is saying or writing mean things. It includes things like repeated teasing, name calling, taunting, and threatening. Physical bullying. This is when behavior hurt’s a person’s body or belongings. It includes things like hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing, tripping, and taking or breaking another person’s things. Relational or Social bullying. This form of bullying is when someone attempts to hurt another person’s relationships or reputation. This involves things like spreading rumors, telling others to not be friends with a child, leaving someone out on purpose, or publicly embarrassing someone. Cyberbullying. This is when any kind of bullying (usually verbal or relational) that happens online. It can happen on social media (Facebook , Instagram, etc.), text messages, e-mails, and in chat rooms. What should I do if my child is being bullied? If your child is being bullied, let your school know. Talk with your child’s teacher or counselor. You can also stop by the main office. Connecticut state laws require that every school have a way to anonymously report bullying and have a policy with how to treat it. Need more help? Check out these websites: StopBullying.gov Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center Connecticut State Department of Education Still need more help? Consider making an appointment at Connecticut Children’s. Dr. Keder is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician who specializes in working with children with special needs and helping children and their families who are involved in bullying.