BLACKSBURG, Va. – As the new school year gets underway, a Virginia Tech expert is offering advice to address and prevent bullying.
Studies show that about one in four elementary school students experience bullying, but only one in five incidents are reported to parents or teachers.
Dr. Rosanna Breaux is the director of the Child Studies Center and an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Tech. She says bullying can have serious physical and mental health side effects, from anxiety to depression to suicidal thoughts.
She defines bullying as repeated incidents of aggressive behavior, whether it’s physical, verbal, social or online.
If your child is being bullied at school, Dr. Breaux says while it seems counterintuitive, it’s often best to try to teach conflict resolution skills at home first.
Emotional regulation and coping skills like taking deep breaths or doing a positive activity to get their mind off things can also help.
“Recognizing that this is a common occurrence and that unless you feel like your child is not safe, addressing it within your own home, helping equip your child with those skills, being able to problem-solve through what to do in those situations or how to be proactive to avoid those situations is probably your best bet,” said Breaux. “Jumping right to the school is not often the answer.”
She says the tough part is that most bullying happens when adults aren’t present and victims think that telling a teacher or parent might make the situation worse.
She says kids more at risk of being bullied are those with autism, ADHD, intellectual disabilities or anxiety disorders, as well as students from lower economic backgrounds.
If your child does open up to you that they’re being bullied, Breaux says validate, don’t minimize their experience. But if your child isn’t opening up and you think they might be a victim, look out for physical signs like bruises, stomachaches or headaches, damaged or lost items. Also watch for a change in your child’s baseline behavior.
“If you have a kid who had been doing well academically, that all of a sudden is not wanting to go to school or is having a drop in their grades. Or a kid who used to be social and wanted to hang out with friends or do things that is now not wanting to do that, that can be indicative of that there is bullying going on. It doesn’t mean necessarily,” said Breaux.