Mar 10, 2014

Dr. Cindy Gellner: So it's not just about stealing lunch money or being teased on the playground anymore. Bullying has become a very serious concern these days. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner and that's what I'd like to talk to you about today on The Scope.

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Dr. Cindy Gellner: Bullying at school is becoming more and more of an issue that I address on a weekly basis. There is a good chance that your child or a child you know is being bullied. You might also know a child who is a bully. No child is immune to this; it's not just the geeky kids, it's not just the kids that don't seem to fit in because of their clothes or hobbies. Any kid is vulnerable.

Schools are doing a good job of trying to make children aware of bullying and that it should not be tolerated, but what can you do if your child is being bullied or is a bully?

If your child is victim of being bullied there are going to be some things that you need to watch out for. Some kids make excuses to not go to school. Some are wanting to take something like a knife to school to protect themselves.

Some will come home with unexplained bruises or torn clothing that they really try to come with ideas as to how they got them, but it just doesn't make sense. Some are always losing things; they don't sleep well. They suddenly stop wanting to eat.

Their grades go down and that's a big key. Or they start acting differently. They start showing secretive behaviors, sullen behavior, they just are not the happy kid they used to be, or they're starting to have a temper outburst where the slightest little things will make them fly off the handle.

They make a lot of trips to the school nurse, especially during lunch or recess. Lunch and recess are the two biggest times for a child to be bullied.

So talk to your child. If they're showing any of these signs talk to them. Say hey, I've noticed a couple of things going on here that aren't normally you. Let's talk about that. What's going on?

Your child might be physically bullied, where they're hit, or punched. They might be verbally bullied where the kids are teasing them, making threats towards them; sexual bullying, usually involving the teenagers when the girls start wearing bras. The boys can come up and snap their bras; they can have unwanted advances toward them.

Cyber bullying, I actually have a couple of patients who have been cyber bullied to the point where it's actually really affected their self-esteem. People spread rumors about them on Facebook or Twitter and it really gets to the soul of that child.

You want to make sure that if they are having any one of these you listen to them, you take what they say very seriously and you are their parent. You are their advocate; you are the one that can help stand up for them, because quite often children feel like if they stand up for themselves, they are going to get hurt more.

So how can you help protect your child if you think they're being bullied, or how can you protect them from being bullied in the first place? You want your child to be confident. Children who are confident are less likely to become victims. They feel better about themselves.

They are able to focus on things that they're good at and so when someone says, "Oh, you're not good at this. You're worthless. You're this," they're like, "No, I'm not. I know that I'm a good kid. I know I'm good at this. Hey, I'm good at soccer. I'm a great reader." They have things that they can do to give themselves little silent pep talks when they're feeling like they're being picked on.

If your child is a social butterfly, make sure that they have a lot of friends around them. There is strength in numbers, it's true. Bullies tend to go after the child who sits alone in the lunchroom, or walks down the hall by themselves, plays by themselves on the playground. You want your child to be surrounded by close friends because those friends will help protect your child if they start getting bullied.

Body language; bullies will notice a child who looks weak. Encourage your child to stand up, hold their head high, and have your child just act like it's not a big deal. If your child's getting bullied, have them use their body language to say, you can't hurt me. I'm a strong person and I'm just going to walk away from you.

The one thing a lot of parents often say is, "Well if my child is being bullied I'm going to teach them karate so that they can fight back." That's actually not a good idea. Bullies are usually stronger; they have a lot of friends, and if your child fights back, the bully's going to take revenge and it's going to end up being worse for your child.

Make sure that children always know that if they're being bullied they should tell an adult; tell the principal, tell the teacher, tell the recess duty, tell you. Your child should not be afraid to report a bully.

If your child tells you that they're being bullied go and talk to the school. Don't back down. Go to the principal and say, "This is what my child told me. What can you find out?" The principal and teachers should take your concerns very seriously.

You want to talk to your school about bully proofing. Most schools have programs where there are phone numbers that your child or you can call to report a bullying incident. Many elementary, middle, and high schools have assemblies about anti-bullying. Make sure your child pays attention to those and knows what to do if it happens to them.

If your child is being bullied, as much as you might want to tell your child, you know what, that kid is not a good kid and I want you to just knock his lights out. Try to avoid doing that. Give your child some better strategies, holding their head up high, being confident in who they are, knowing they are not the kid that that bully is trying to make them think they are.

Reporting it to the proper people who can take action towards that bully and that bully's action and just reminding your kid about how special they really are.

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