Addressing children's violence toward or intimidation of other children is not just the role of teachers and school administrators, say child health experts. Parents also play a crucial role in recognizing and reducing opportunities for such behavior.
Parents should assume their children "are either involved in bullying or have seen it," said Bennett Leventhal, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. The trick is getting them to talk about it.
Leventhal's suggestion: Rather than asking "if" kids have seen or been involved in bullying, ask, "What about when you were bullied?" and "When have you picked on other kids or just stood by and watched when it happened?" Then ask how the situation made them feel and ask if you can help.
Some changes in behavior patterns may also signal a child's involvement in bullying -- either as victim or perpetrator. But since these warning signs may also have other causes, say experts, it is important that parents talk with their children and seek professional help if needed.
* Signs of being a bully
Aggressive, spiteful, oppositional, dominating, manipulative behavior.
Enjoys insulting and teasing others.
Fighting and getting into trouble at school.
Using physical means to express anger.
* Signs of being a victim
Bruises, cuts or other injuries with no credible explanation.
Damaged clothing or lost possessions without good explanation.
Loss of interest in school or fear of going to school or taking school bus.
Drop in grades.
Choice of unusual route to go to school.
Changes in eating, sleeping and other habits, including poor appetite, nightmares and mood swings.
Symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches.
* Tips for parents
Seek the help of your child's school psychologist, counselor or social worker in addressing bullying concerns. Ask if there are anti-bullying school programs you can join.
Reward good behavior with positive feedback. Avoid using physical methods to punish children for bullying. Be a good role model by not being aggressive or bullying in your own interactions.
If you observe bullying, stop it right away.
* To learn more
Operation Respect www.operationrespect.org.
National Association of School Psychologists www.naspcenter.org/factsheets/bullying_fs.html.
U.S. Department of Justice, "Addressing the Problem of Juvenile Bullying" (a fact sheet) www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/ojjdp/fs200127.pdf.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "The Bully Roundup" (an interactive board game) www.bam.gov/sub_yourlife/yourlife_bullyroundup.html.
-- January W. Payne
Sources: Expert interviews and the National Association of School Psychologists Bullying Fact Sheet.