Scared of School - Warning Signs of Bully Behavior and How to protect your Child

By: Dwight Bain

School should be one of the safest places instead of a scary place because of bully behavior. Yet the recent number of horrifying acts of violence from bullies toward shy and introverted kids has everyone concerned, from the President to local school and law enforcement officials. However, the most important group to take positive action to protect their kids at school is always their parents who are the most tuned in to the needs of their children. 

It is essential to know what to look for in protecting your child from the dangers of bully behavior.

Here are the classic warning signs of a child who is being victimized by bullies:

  • Talking about being scared to walk to school
  • Acting scared to ride on the school bus
  • Plead for you to drive them to school instead of ride the bus
  • Develop a phobia about going to school
  • Act sick on school mornings
  • Lie to avoid school.
  • Skip school
  • Failing in school work
  • Have mysterious broken or damaged books, backpacks or torn clothes
  • Always hungry, (from bullies taking lunches or lunch money)
  • Verbal changes, especially stammering or inability to express fears
  • Develop eating disorders, inability to eat or excessive over-eating
  • Discussing suicide or threats to harm themselves instead of going to school
  • Develop sleeping disorders, active night terrors or nightmares
  • Mysterious disappearance of personal possessions, (cellphones, ipads, etc)
  • Missing money or stealing money to bribe bullies
  • Silence about the major changes in their behavior
  • Mysterious appearance of bruises, cuts, scratches or broken bones
  • Passing on the pain by bullying younger siblings
  • Major changes in behavior, completely withdrawn or totally aggressive
  • Lies and deception to cover up all of the major changes in behavior

(If you aren’t sure how to spot the more dangerous warning signs from gangs, weapons, substance abuse or when a fight is going to erupt, there are a number of web links at the end of this article to give you greater insight of what to look for, and more importantly, what to do to keep your child safe).


Here are five key strategies you can use to protect your son or daughter from bully behavior at school or in the community.

1) Listen to your child’s fears and frustrations

Sadly many of the kids who felt like committing suicide to escape bully behavior held all of their fears and frustrations inside until they began a self-destructive cycle ending in their death. Bully behavior at school is not a new problem. However these days there are dangerous gangs and violent individuals in or around just about every school environment. Sometimes the bully violence comes from neighborhood gangs, but it’s far more likely that the threats, harassment, intimidation, fights or acts of violence will come from someone inside your child’s school. Student’s who use weapons against other students, like the Virginia Tech or Columbine shooters for example, often make threats long before acting on them. It is essential to listen to what is going on so you know how to respond.

Become more involved in talking about safety with your child, instead of just talking about academics or daily activities. Ask your kids direct questions and then really listen to their fears and frustrations about what’s happening around them at school. Keep the conversation age appropriate and allow your child to do most of the talking as you hear about their experiences with bullies or other situations that might have made them feel uncomfortable or afraid while at school, (Remember to change the conversation slightly depending on the ages of your kids and the pressures they may be facing at school, since it’s important to talk about safety to kids of all ages so they know what to do to stay safe while at school or away from their parents).

2) Get involved at their school & ask direct questions to teachers and administration
 
The greater the level of parental involvement the greater the chance that your child’s school will have less intimidation from bullies. When kids are involved in healthy after-school activities like sports, music, drama or scouting they are less likely to be in a dangerous situation, because everyone is engaged and involved, instead of bored or detached. Parents can spot and then quietly solve a lot of problems that may be in the ‘shadows’ by getting more involved in the lives of their children and encouraging greater involvement in healthy activities. Sometimes the easiest way to avoid becoming victimized by bully behavior is to be involved in activities with others instead of feeling insecure and isolated when threatening people or situations come along.

Kids need their parents to be involved in their lives at every age and life stage, either as classroom volunteers or to help with after school sports or extra-curricular activities. The extra support for your child builds a greater sense of connection and self worth since these activities are essential to develop important social skills and personal confidence. It also provides another set of ‘eyes and ears’ on the school campus to notice what pressures your child is facing from their peers.

If you see anything that makes you feel uncomfortable don’t be afraid to bring it up to your child’s teacher, school administrators or school safety officers. Also, if you are unsure about the safety at your child’s school to deal with more serious crisis events like school violence, then ask to see a copy of their critical incident preparation training guide, or school safety plan so you can review it with your son or daughter and then pass it along to help other parents as well.

3) Use national media events as springboards into serious discussions with your child and their friends

Much of the televised news reports about death by suicide to avoid school bullies is shocking to say the least, however, you can use news stories from the paper, television or an Internet news source to bring the facts of a national story out in the open to then ‘springboard’ into a more personal discussion with your son or daughter about how to deal with issues they might one day face on the local level at their school.

This can especially be important with older teens who may believe they are invincible to the harsh realities of violent and aggressive bullies who direct their rage toward innocent people in public places, especially schools. Something about seeing a group of crying teens gathered around a makeshift memorial to honor their fellow classmate who died tragically makes it more real… because it shows regular kids, just like them, who were victimized by dangerous bullies at or around school. Asking, “what would you do if you saw someone being bullied in a locker room?”, or “does anyone at your school make threats to hurt you, your teachers or other classmates?” are all ways to get directly involved in protecting your child, as well as preventing the next breaking news story about another school tragedy from happening on their school campus.

4) Have open family meetings about bully issues on a regular basis, don't go silent on this potentially life-threatening issue

Every family should have regular discussions on how they would need to respond to bully behavior. Education officials encourage parents to have a plan for their personal safety should bully behavior happen against them. Knowing what to do and then reviewing that plan monthly will remove a significant amount of panic because planning removes panic.

If your son or daughter received a threatening note or heard about an act of violence from a bully, do they know who to call to protect themselves? When your son or daughter has insight on what to do when facing a bully they are better equipped to manage their fears, instead of internalize them which can build up into self-destructive behavior. 

5) Pray for your children, for their friends, their class and their teachers
 
We can prepare our kids to know how to respond to bullies at their schools, but ultimately we can’t protect our kids from everything. Bullies can infiltrate just about any school setting. However, we know that God is bigger than any bully and that He is always a safe place to turn throughout the hours of the day when we can’t be there to guard our kids.

Many parents have the habit of praying for the safety and strength of their kids throughout day when they are apart. Why not give it a try so you can move from feeling scared about what you can’t do, to feeling secure in knowing that God always hears your prayers. Moving away from panic through prayer is a powerful way to get through any crisis and it’s a great practice to model for your kids. When your children learn to pray as their first step in dealing with pressure situations, they will have a remarkable power and peace in dealing with any situation, at school, work or in personal relationships as they grow into an adult. Prayer is a life skill that makes any situation easier to deal with, because you don’t have to carry your problems alone.

The bottom line is to take positive action to protect your child from experiencing more pain in the future from bullies at school, in the neighborhood or anywhere they may face tough people who want to intimidate them. Building your child’s confidence now will protect them for a lifetime.

 

For more detailed information about school bullies to review in preparing to talk to your kids visit:

 
US Department of Education http://www.ed.gov/category/keyword/bullying

 
National Crime Prevention Council http://www.ncpc.org/


For helpful resources to save time by solving other parenting challenges from a Faith based perspective visit:
http://www.LifeWorksGroup.org/
http://www.Family.org/ 

Most of all - never give up on staying connected and involved with your child's life. The more engaged you are, the more you can be their safe place against the challenges they will face in every grade. You never stop being a parent, and in protecting your children from bully behavior you are protecting them from a lifetime of pain..
 

 

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About the author-
 Dwight Bain helps people re-write their story to find greater significance and success. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.

 

 

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