Imagine your child’s lunch is ripped out of their hands and slammed to the floor while the entire lunchroom laughs uncontrollably. Picture your child being embarrassed and brought to tears because of the clothes they are wearing. Have you ever heard the term, “What are those?” If you have, you know that term refers to a child’s sneakers not being “in style”.
Can you feel your child’s emotional state when they are harassed, roasted, and shamed? Imagine the fear children go through on a daily basis; afraid to spend the 5 minutes it takes to get to class.
Picture an orange being hurled at your child’s face while walking down the hallway! As shocking as that sounds, that was a true story told to me by a heartbroken mom. That story is one of the thousands of terrorizing moments children suffer during school.
Some adults feel a little bullying is healthy for a child, “Every child goes through a bit of teasing now and then, it’s all a part of growing up”. While that may be true, does it really have to be true? How bad does a “bit” of teasing have to get BEFORE, enough is ENOUGH?
IS ENOUGH, ENOUGH WHEN A CHILD TAKES HIS OR HER OWN LIFE?
No child should feel the sting of abuse (emotionally and physically). A simple day to day activity such as walking down a hallway or sitting down for lunch becomes torturous. Children in fear of their bullies suffer from severe emotional stress. More often than not, they are hesitant to report abuse to school officials due to the fear of extra retaliation, being labeled a snitch, or because they start to feel “Maybe I DO deserve this”… “Maybe, I’m NOT worth it”.
As parents, it’s never too bold to declare, “My child will not go through this!” As a parent, it’s ALWAYS ok to declare, “This will not happen, not on my watch!” As parents, it’s time to become aware and look out for obnoxious behavior from bullies who may be tormenting your child. It starts with becoming aware of the warning signs.
StopBullying.gov defines bullying as:
Unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
The stress of repeated, unwanted, and aggressive behavior is more than any adult can bear, let alone a child.
As bullying has become a topic of concern, school districts across the country have stepped up their efforts on combating the bullying epidemic. While we applaud these efforts, parents cannot rely on schools alone to identify and stop the progression of bullying. Parents must be fully aware.
Bullying can start at any stage of schooling, however, it’s important to look for warning signs early, starting with Elementary school. Yes, small children that are just cute as a button on the outside can make other children feel terrible on the inside and are most often tormented themselves from another source. Those children who have not identified how to control their aggression carry the same behavior into Middle school and worse, High school. As children age, the lasting impact of bullying deepens.
The first thing any parent can do is look for warning signs.
1. Not Wanting to Attend School
Not every child wants to go to school every day, that part is normal. However, be sure to assess how severe this behavior is becoming. Is your child making up excuses they never did before? Are they constantly faking being ill to skip school? Are there meltdowns in the morning?
If so, your child may be trying to avoid something specific, something torturous; a bully. Dig a little deeper; don’t be afraid to ask specific questions,
“Is there anything going on?”
Tell your child, “It’s important that you tell me everything,”
“I can’t protect you if I don’t know what’s going on.” Repeat this every day until they get the message.
If they laugh it off because they really and truly just want to lie in bed every morning, drill those messages into their brain anyway; it may prevent a serious situation in the future.
2. Difficulty Sleeping
How many times have you had difficulty falling asleep or have woken up in the middle of night tormented by the stress of life? Being bullied can cause kids to have the same effects, especially if they live in fear of the next day.
Check-in on your child in the middle of the night, look for periodic tossing and turning, and pay attention to their alertness in the morning. Ask your child questions,
“How did you sleep last night?”
“Do you wake up in the middle of the night?”
“What did you dream about?”
Tell them, “It’s important that you talk to me. It’s important that you’re ok.”
3. Socially Withdrawn
Look out for changes in your child’s personality. Is your child smiling, joking, or laughing less? Do they no longer want to play with a favorite toy, read, or watch movies with the family? Do they prefer to be alone more often?
Children that once used to be excited about their special skills, don’t seem to care about them anymore. The things they absolutely loved and thrived in such as math, writing, art, dancing, or fashion suddenly don’t matter anymore.
A social butterfly that is suddenly a wallflower is indicative of a specific change that’s going on in their life. Does your child get defensive when you mention a particular “friend”? Does your child get defensive when you ask about school?
Encourage your child more than ever during this time, tell them how amazing they are at their unique gift, and whatever may be going on, it’s not worth throwing it away because someone else (who doesn’t matter) wants them to feel inferior. If your child is being bullied because of their gift there may be some jealousy going on; we will address this topic in detail, but for now, let’s stick to the warning signs.
If your child is on social media, spend some time reviewing their posts, comments, and private messages. Kids today are far more technologically savvy than previous generations and are using Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat as a “cool” outlet to express themselves outside of school, and bullying on social media has become rampant.
Tell your child to block everyone on social media who doesn’t have any positivity for their lives. Tell them it’s healthy to take a break from social media. Tell them that if they wish to use social media to support their dreams, then haters will come; tell them to keep believing in the end goal.
4. Change in Eating Habits
A change in eating habits can start with eating less or starting to eat too much. The point is to notice a change in any eating patterns. A decrease in appetite or binge eating may be a sign that something more serious is going on. Look out for signs of changes in weight.
If your child is being bullied about their lunch, they may want to change what or how they eat. Smaller children may want to change the type of food that is packed in their lunch because of bullying. A lunch story went viral online of an Asian child who loved his delicious Bento Boxes (probably couldn’t wait for lunchtime), but started to request changes to his lunch because he was bullied for the “strange” food he eats. In the end, the teacher made his Bento Boxes a lesson on diversity by passing out samples from the Bento Box; everyone in the class ended up loving the food! The bully took a little time to come around, but he dropped his pride and loved it too!
Of course, kids in high school may not get a cute lesson in diversity, and slamming someone’s lunch on the floor may not be addressed so cutely.
Look out for the signs. If your child is coming home hungrier than ever, something more serious may be going on during lunch; maybe his or her lunch is being stolen.
Be aware, assess these changes, and use this moment as an opportunity to discuss the changes in their food habits. Ask specifically, “You used to like this [food], what happened?” “Why are you so hungry all of a sudden?” “Tell me, is there anything going on during lunch?” It’s quite possibly your child is just really tired of Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, so don’t get too alarmed. Care and be aware.
5. Sudden Changes
For three weeks straight, your child loves their new sneakers. Suddenly, out of the blue, your child despises those sneakers and wants a completely different brand. Suddenly your child wants a change in their wardrobe. Thousands of kids are being bullied for not wearing the “coolest” clothes. Your children’s sudden desire to change their style may be a sign of something serious going on
Now, there will be a point in time when Sketchers and those cute light up shoes are not a thing anymore. That’s ok. You have to assess your budget; can you spend an extra thirty or so dollars on a better brand? Or do you need to teach your child to be proud that mommy or daddy has bought them sneakers that they can afford? If you can’t afford the brands that are in style, encourage your child to tell others, “I love my
Has your child taken a sudden interest in learning how to fight? A child wanting to defend themselves is a good thing, however, taking things into their own hands may lead to suspension or expulsion. Give your child those self-defense lessons. However, also teach them that using the skills they learned from boxing or karate classes should be the last resort.
Encourage and embolden your children to be themselves. A bully will always pick on the weak and insecure.
6. Self-Destructive Behaviors
Everyone child handles the stress and anxiety from bullying differently. Some children may shrug it off and choose to ignore it and others confront their attackers until the bullying stops. Some children are unable to vocalize or confront their pain and turn to self-destructive behaviors.
Look for signs of aggressive patterns in behavior such as mood swings, snapping at regular questions you ask, slamming doors, extra loud aggressive music (music that your child never listened to before), getting to altercations with siblings, cursing and more. Be aware; recognize a downward spiral of destructive behavior that suddenly appears out of nowhere or slowly over time.
You may think your child would never be drawn to cutting themselves, but some kids resort to this aggressive behavior in an attempt to release the pain that they are feeling. In this extreme case, contact your family physician! If your child is exhibiting physical self-destructive behaviors by attempting to hurt themselves or others then this type of behavior will need to be addressed immediately.
If your child is resorting to aggressive behavior, HUG, HOLD, and offer HELP. HUG your child and show them that your unconditional love is not going ANYWHERE. HOLD your child a little longer than a regular hug; let them know that you are very concerned and that they matter. Offer HELP to your child; insist that whatever is going on, you will never stop until the abuse stops.
If your child is thinking of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Program the number on their phone.
Advocate for your Child
Bullying can make your child feel helpless, lost, lonely, and unworthy. Support your child. Love your child. Listen to your child. Listen for the words left unsaid.
If you suspect your child is being bullied at school, ask questions, contact the teacher, school counselor, and principal. Reach out the parents of their friends in confidence and ask them questions,
“Is your child ok?
“Did your child mention anything strange happening lately?”
“Do you mind talking to your child about anything going on?”
In addition to advocating for your child, teach your child to be their own advocate. Children of any age should be encouraged to speak up if someone is hurting them, emotionally or physically. Teach them that abuse is NOT OK. Tell them,
“You have a right to walk through life happy.”
“You have a right to be you.”
“You are you, sorry not sorry!”
What is your experience with bullying? Do you know of anyone that suffered through bullying? Combating bullying is a community effort, maybe your experience can help someone else. Please comment below.
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