It seems every playground has at least one — a bully who teases, hurts, threatens or intimidates other children. In fact, a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that about 75 percent of students are bullied, victimized or both during a given school year.

Typically, bullied children are singled out because of something that makes them unique, such as eyeglasses, body shape or academic excellence. And though these children did nothing to provoke the bullying, they may be reluctant to discuss it. It’s embarrassing to be the victim, and bullying is frequently accepted as a part of growing up.

Consequently, these children become anxious, begin to hate school and may develop headaches, stomachaches or even suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome, including nightmares, flashbacks, an inability to concentrate and suicidal thoughts.

If you see such signs, talk to your child to assess the situation. If your child reports being bullied, treat it seriously. Events that adults may perceive as minor incidents can be very distressing for children.

Talk about it. Frequently, children are admonished not to tattle. Be sure your child understands that keeping herself safe is not tattling.
Discourage your child from fighting back. It will get your child into as much trouble as the bully and can serve to escalate the bullying.
Help your child to make friends. Field trips, activities and sleep-overs all help to establish your child as a person outside of school and expand his support system.
Teach your child how to use humor to defuse a scary situation. He should be careful not to make the bully the butt of the joke, but rather to make a joke that will help him and the bully laugh together.
Brainstorm with and help your child problem-solve. Some situations will call for your child to be assertive and others to walk away. Determine what would most likely work for the specific situation, then role-play with your child to practice the response.
Identify adults who can provide support. A network of adults both inside and outside the home can be valuable to children who may face bullies in a variety of settings. Teachers, school staff and other parents can be especially helpful.
Because children who bully generally choose victims who reinforce their sense of power, helping your child develop confidence and problem-solving skills is key. These qualities will increase your child’s feelings of power and control — and their ability to socialize with a variety of other people in a positive way.

As published in the September 21, 2003 Edition of the La Crosse Tribune.