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Speak No Evil? How to Get Kids to Talk About Bullying
Children are literally being bullied to death.
There's even a word for it now: Bullycide.
But it's more than a word to Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist who has written 23 books on parenting. It's a picture of an 11-year-old Canadian boy she keeps in her pocket.
He never made it to 12. Hounded by bullies, he killed himself, and his father gave Borba the photo after she gave a lecture on bullying. Borba, whose latest book is "The Big Book of Parenting Solutions," tells ParentDish she keeps the photo with her to remind herself she is talking about the lives -- and possibly the deaths -- of real children.
One in three children between grades six and 10 are involved in bullying as either victim or bully, according to Cox News. That's one reason Congress is considering the Safe Schools Improvement Act -- a federal bill that would give school staffers training on bullying issues.
Parents can help, but what if they don't know their children are being bullied?
A mother on the East Coast, who asked not to be identified for fear of her son's safety, tells ParentDish she noticed her 9-year-old's grades slipping. He frequently became ill and asked to stay home from school.
Yet he said nothing was wrong.
Something was wrong, of course. He never said anything because he was big for his age. In fact, that was both the reason he was being picked on and the reason he didn't want to say anything.
"He was told time and again: 'You're a big kid. How could these smaller kids begin picking on you?'" his mother says.
No story is typical, Borba says, but this mother's situation is very, very familiar.
One of the main reasons kids don't report bullying is humiliation. Younger kids often report bullying, Borba says, but older kids are embarrassed and fear retaliation.
The mother of the 9-year-old says parents who try to help often make things worse by applying adult solutions to the child's world.
"The kid world is not the same as the adult world," she says. "The child world is a jungle, and adults don't understand the jungle."
Plus, Borba says, parents often try to fix the problem with a few quick sentences.
"The stuff we're telling them isn't working," she says.
What parents need to do is recognize that bullying is a crime, Borba says.
As such, she says, it needs to be thoroughly investigated, and you need to be a detective.
"You have to play Columbo," Borba says.
First, you have to identify the problem. Kids who are being bullied often have similar symptoms, Borba says, which include:
- Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes or torn clothing
- A fear of being left alone or going to school, riding the school bus
- Only using the bathroom at home
- Headaches, stomach aches, frequent visits to the school nurse's office
- Increased hunger (a possible sign his or her lunch money has been stolen)
Ease into it slowly with statements such as, "Wow. A lot of kids are being bullied these days. Are you seeing any of that at your school?"
Borba suggests watching movies such as "Mean Girls" or "Dumbo" where characters are bullied as a possible springboard to discussion. The important thing, she says, is not to confront the child.
"You're giving him an out," she says.
Once the crime has been exposed, Borba says, it's time for more detective work. She calls it learning the three Ws and an H. Where did it happen? When did it happen? Who did it it? How did you deal with it?
Armed with this information, Borba says, you can create a case profile and better advise your child and work with school officials to end the bullying.
One of the best things you can tell your child, she adds, is to look bullies in the eye.
Researchers at the University of Toronto did a study on bullying to find out who are the most likely targets. Bullies will pick on just about any mental or physical difference they can pinpoint, Borba says, but researchers uncovered an interesting fact.
No matter the child's difference, bullies were less likely to pick on kids who looked them in the eye.
For parents, Borba advises them to befriend their children's friends to learn more about what's going on beyond an adult's field of vision. And above all, she says, let kids know they are not to blame for being victims.
There are 10 magic words when it comes to talking to the victims of bullies, she says: "I want you to know you didn't do anything wrong."
Related: How to Tell if Your Child is a Bully
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