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Backpacks, Bullies and Back to School

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Kids Health Watch is brought to you by our friends and Magnolia Springs Pediatrics

Another school year is almost upon us! I want to discuss two important topics that often come up in my practice and recently in the national media, bullying and backpacks.

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.

Let’s discuss what to do 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, look the bully in the eye, stand tall, stay calm, 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 becomes a recurrent problem, alert school officials and work with them on solutions. 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 that it happens. So, be sure your child knows that bullying is never okay and set firm and consistent limits on your child’s aggressive behavior. Also, be a positive role model. Your children learn the majority of their behavior at home. Show children they can get what they want without teasing, threatening or hurting someone.

When it comes to disciplining your child, use effective, non-physical discipline, such as loss of privileges. If it becomes a frequent problem, 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 bullying, tell them not to cheer on or even quietly watch, and remind your child to tell a trusted adult about the situation. Help your child support other children who may be bullied and encourage your child to include these kids in their activities. And, certainly, teach your child to join with others in telling bullies to stop.

The other issue I want to touch on is backpacks. 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 back, neck and shoulder pain. It’s important to have a backpack that is lightweight, but sturdy, and that 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.  Most importantly, encourage frequent stops at lockers, and only carrying home what they need. If symptomatic, see your doctor to discuss some back strengthening stretches and exercises.

Good luck this school year and check out the resources on aap.org.

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