Now that school is in full swing, I want to discuss a few important topics that come up every year and have recently come up in both my practice and the national media. First is bullying. As you know, bullying is when one child picks on another child repeatedly. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or even social. It can happen at school, on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighborhood, or over the internet. Next, I want to talk about backpacks and safety issues for your child.
First let’s discuss if your child is being bullied. Oftentimes, it can take a while to discover what is going on. Some kids are embarrassed, and some feel threatened if they “tell” on the bully. Look for clues, especially a sudden fear of school or the playground or even someone’s house. Bullies prey on fear, so if it is happening, here are some ways you can teach your kid to respond.
First, teach your child to look the bully in the eye, stand tall and stay calm in a difficult situation, and then walk away. This seems so simple, but a bully only wants to pick on someone who is scared and fearful. Then, teach your child how to say in a firm voice: “I don’t like what you are doing” or “Please do NOT talk to me like that!” The other important keys are to teach your child when and how to ask for help. If it continues to be a recurrent problem, then alert school officials to the problems and work with them on solutions. And last but not least, make sure there is an adult who knows about the bullying and can watch out for your child’s safety and well-being when you cannot be there.
Now, the flip side is when your child is the bully. While none of our children would “ever do anything like that,” the reality is: it happens. So, be sure your child knows that bullying is NEVER o.k. and set firm and consistent limits on your child’s aggressive behavior. And be a positive role model. Your children learn the majority of their behavior at home. So, show children they can get what they want without teasing, threatening or hurting someone. And when it comes to disciplining your child, use effective, non-physical discipline, such as loss of privileges. If it becomes a frequent problem, then work to come up with practical solutions with the school principal, teachers, counselors, the child’s physician, and, most importantly, the parents of the children your child has bullied.
If your child has witnessed any of this, then tell your child not to cheer on or even quietly watch bullying and remind your child to tell a trusted adult about the bullying. Help your child support other children who may be bullied and encourage your child to include these children in their activities. And certainly teach your child to join with others in telling bullies to stop.
The last thing I want to touch on are backpacks. With every year, it seems kids have more books to carry from class to class and back and forth from home to school. This weight can cause a lot of problems with back, neck and shoulder pain. It’s important to have a backpack that is lightweight, but sturdy and has two wide, padded shoulder straps and a waist strap. To help prevent injuries, remind your kids to always use both straps and tighten them close to the body. In addition, pack all of the heaviest items closest to the center of the pack and remind them to bend down using both knees instead of at the waist. And most importantly, encourage frequent stops at lockers, and only carry home what they need. If symptomatic, see your doctor to discuss some back strengthening stretches and exercises. As always, good luck this school year and check out the resources on aap.org.