Back to School: Spotting and preventing bullying

Bullying can happen in classroom, in the hallway, in the playground or online. It was once considered a rite of passage, but we know now it can affect a child, physically or emotionally, and sometimes for life.
"It could be happening on sports teams and other extracurricular actvities. It could be happening in any of those contexts where kids may be vying for higher social power or dominance over other people," says Dr. Bridget Biggs, a child and adolescent psychologist with the Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Biggs says the targets of bullies are often perceived as "different" or less powerful than their peers.

Many children being bullied don't speak up out of fear, shame, or embarrassment, so adults need to be aware of the signs.

They can be vague, and some mimic mental health issues, but be alert for:

* Poor school performance, or reluctance to go to school
* Lost or destroyed clothing, electronics, or other personal belongings
* Abrupt loss of friends or avoiding social situations

* Headaches, stomach aches or other physical complaints
* Trouble sleeping or frequent nightmares
* Abrupt avoidance of electronic devices

In most cases, while a child is being bullied, other children witness it.

Dr. Biggs says we should encourage kids to act if they see bullying.

"Talk to them about how to respond when they see aggressive behavior happening, so that they're the ones who discourage it," says Dr. Biggs.

She says helping kids develop healthy relationships de-fuses bullying.

"Help them get into environments in which they can connect with likeminded kids, or even kids that aren't so like-minded, but people they can connect with and feel good about spending time with," she notes.

Dr. Biggs also notes parents and caregivers need to be proactive about bullying.

Know your school's bullying policy, curriculum, and action plans and if it happens, keep a record and any evidence to share with the school.
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