What to do if you think your child is being bullied
It is now several weeks into the school year, and you are noticing things that disturb you.
Maybe your child is increasingly unwilling to go to school; has trouble sleeping or has nightmares; is not eating normally; and is not interested in doing things with friends.
Then maybe you notice a small injury on your child.
These all can be signs that your child is being bullied.
If you are worried about your child's interactions at school, start by talking to your child.
"In general, it's important to have regular dialogue with your child about what's going on at school -- what is good and what is challenging," said Jacqueline A. Rhew, LCPC, clinical consultant and community liaison at Amita Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital Hoffman Estates.
These regular conversations help you stay aware of what is happening in your child's life -- and how he or she is reacting to that. It also is a good opportunity to talk to your child about how to react to and manage situations on his or her own.
When your child talks about something concerning that happened at school, such as bullying, listen to the way the child describes the event or the interaction.
Remain calm, Rhew said. Don't interrupt and call the other child names, for example.
"If a child feels the parent is going to overreact or intervene, they might be less likely to talk to the parent," Rhew said, adding, "And you don't want to respond to the child in a way that suggests he or she is fragile or weak."
Instead, ask your child about how he or she managed the situation, and help the child consider other approaches to dealing with conflict with peers.
Rhew said that many children lack some basic social skills, such as how to talk to each other; how to handle conflict; how to be kind and how to make friends.
Parents can help their children develop these skills by talking through social situations with them. As part of the conversation, talk to your child about what he or she can do to stand up for other children who might be being bullied.
You also can talk to your child's teacher. The teacher observes the child in the larger context of classroom interactions, and so might be able to provide some insights that the parents are not aware of. "It's important to see the whole picture," Rhew said.
"If your child comes to you about bullying, you do want to take that seriously," Rhew said. As a parent, your first responsibility is to keep your child safe. Most schools have a procedure for handling claims that a student is being bullied, and it usually is best to start there.
But it also is important to distinguish between bullying and meanness. Not all childhood disputes are bullying. Most children are mean to other children occasionally, while bullying is continual harassment directed at a specific child over a period of time.
"We don't want children being bullied," Rhew said. "But we do want them to learn how to work through uncomfortable situations."
• Children's health is an ongoing series. This week's article is courtesy of Amita Health, which is comprised of 19 hospitals and more than 2301 sites of care, including Amita Health Alexian Brothers Women & Children's Hospital, Hoffman Estates. For details about Amita Health's programs and services, visit www.amitahealth.org.