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Experts offer tips for children to avoid being targeted by bullies

Aug. 9, 2007, 10:03 AM

One of the more difficult challenges for families of school-aged children heading back to school is how to deal with the potential of bullying. While schools often have tough policies to reduce acts of bullying, many children still end up feeling “picked on” or teased and it can affect their school experience and even their grades in the long run.

Seth Scholer, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, has worked on a video-based kit to help parents learn ways to prevent aggressive behaviors in their children. The program, called “Play Nicely,” has been used in educational settings all over Middle Tennessee.

Scholer says while it is difficult to say why some children become bullies, one of the best ways to prevent problems from escalating is to help children avoid becoming a target. He says there are behaviors that might put children at higher risk of being bullied.

“Most bullied children fall into the passive category,” Scholer said. “Through their actions, they may portray themselves as having low self confidence, anxious, and/or being overly sensitive. Bullied children may frequently act as though they are unsure of themselves.”

Since parents are not around to see how their children present themselves in the first few days of school, Scholer suggests some tips to avoid bullying right from the start. “The most basic help a parent can offer a child is to strengthen his self-confidence,” Scholer said. “Parents can look for age-appropriate programs through schools or after school that can develop a child’s strengths and interests and put them together with other children who have similar interests and strengths.”

Before school begins, parents can work with their child to avoid becoming a target for those who might bully. Tips include:

  • Talk to your child if you notice he/she is displaying annoying, irritating or provocative behavior.
  • Role model with your child what they can do the next time they are bullied, emphasizing the use of firm words and keeping a brave face.

Parents can also be vigilant in looking for signs a child is being bullied. Signs include a child who:

  • Is afraid or unwilling to go to school
  • Comes home with unexplained torn clothes, bruises or cuts
  • Has behavior changes, such as being downhearted or fits of anger
  • Does not want to socialize with others from school
  • Has physical complaints such as stomachaches or headaches

Media contact: Carole Bartoo, (615) 322-4747

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