You need to be able to recognize the signs of bullying, and know how to approach your child to open up discussions. It is recommended that you start early. Teenagers who have been engaged with their parents as a young child, are more likely to open up to them as a teen or pre-teen.

Children who are experiencing bullying may be afraid of how they are getting to school. They may or may not indicate they would like to make changes to their schedule. They may become afraid to go to school entirely. They may complain about undiagnosable pains or illness. Their schoolwork may suffer. They may appear less confident. They may withdraw, or they may become aggressive with other children. They may become anxious. You may notice appetite changes. They may not fully explain any bruises, cuts or scratches. Their property or money may be missing or ruined. They may give excuses that don’t make sense.

If you see any of these symptoms, it is important for you to approach your child.  Some ideas:

1. Try not to make a big deal of the approach, especially with older children. Make use of an activity together, or a time when you are driving with your child, to explore how his peer friendships and relationships are going.

2. Even if you are not concerned that your child is experiencing difficulties, this is good practice. Starting to talk about peer relationships early sets the scene for talking about them in the later childhood years, when it tends to become more difficult.

3. If your child does not disclose any problem, but you are still concerned, focus on what you have seen. Tell your child about the changes you’ve noticed in him and ask what he thinks the cause might be. Give him details of what can be seen in the outer world. Ask directly if your child is being bullied at school. Assure your child that he can work with you on how to solve the problem.

4. Be careful not to create a victim where one did not exist before. A child may be experiencing bully actions, but if he is able to handle the situation on his own, with your coaching, he begins to gain his own life experience. Remember that conflict is a part of a child’s life, just as it is a part of an adult’s life. Conflict in childhood is the training ground for managing conflict well as an adult. When a parent takes over for a child, rather than coaching a child to handle their own small conflicts, opportunities for learning are missed. When conflict is minimized and a child is not coached along, learning opportunities are also missed. We need to acknowledge the conflict in our children’s lives and be aware of what they can handle on their own, and when they need adults to intervene. When a parent intervenes, it must be done in a way that is proactive, positive and resolution focused.

5. If you are re reacting strongly as a parent, self examine that. Were you bullied in school? Are you being bullied now? We tend to react strongly to situations that we connect with emotionally. It is not helpful to your child, in a bullying situation, for you to overeact. Plan your post-disclosure actions well, and clearly understanding why you are taking your chosen steps.

6. Before approaching the school, do a risk assessment. Does your child feel he is in grave and immediate danger? If so, it is necessary to take action quickly. Don’t be afraid to pull a child out of school until you figure out the situation, particularly in cases where situations have already become severe.

Excerpted from No Such Thing as a Bully – Parent Edition – by Kelly Karius & Ron Graham