Bullying. It’s something we’ve all heard about, whether you have kids or not. It’s the topic of countless social media conversations, and for the past ten years bullying has had a national awareness month. But even though October has been Bullying Prevention Awareness Month for a decade, many parents still struggle with how to respond to the issue.

What is Bullying?

One of the challenges surrounding bullying is how to define it. The federal government describes it as follows:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

“The key aspects are a power imbalance and repetition,” says Dr. Megan Kuikman of SSM Health Dean Medical Group. “But from that definition, there can be a variety of ways someone can bully, or be bullied.”

There are three main types of bullying:

  • Verbal bullying includes actions such as teasing, inappropriate sexual comments and threatening to cause harm.
  • Social bullying involves hurting a person’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes spreading rumors, embarrassing someone in public or telling other children not to be friends with someone.
  • Physical harm takes form through hitting, kicking, tripping or breaking someone’s possessions.

All three types can lead to serious and long-lasting problems.

The Warning Signs

One of the main jobs as a parent when it comes to bullying is to watch for warning signs. Those can come in many forms, whether your child is the victim or the aggressor.

Here are some of the signals that your child is being bullied:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Lost or damaged school supplies or clothes
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations

On the other end of the spectrum, here are some of the signs that your child may be bullying others:

  • Increased aggressiveness
  • Unexplained extra money or new belongings
  • Frequent visits to the principal’s office or to detention
  • Blaming others for problems and not accepting responsibility for their actions
  • Extreme competitiveness and worries about reputation and popularity

It is vital to keep an open eye and an open mind regarding these warning signs. Odds suggest that your child won’t come to you for help, as federal statistics show that an adult is notified in only 40% of bullying incidents.

“There are all sorts of things going on in a child’s head when they’re being bullied,” says Dr. Kuikman. “They may choose not to tell someone for fear of backlash or being seen as a ‘tattletale,’ or simply because they’re humiliated and don’t want parents to think they are weak.”

Communication is Key

Opening lines of communication before your child is involved in bullying will make it easier for them to tell you when something happens. Try to check in often to see how things are going in their daily life.

“Always use specific questions, like asking them to tell you one good thing that happened that day, along with any bad things,” adds Dr. Kuikman. “Kids may feel hesitant at times to open up about tough things like bullying, but establishing clear and consistent communication will help when those challenges arise.”

It is a difficult topic, but make an effort to address bullying in your daily talks. Discuss what bulllying is and how your child can deal with it, if the situation arises.

The latest recommendations are to encourage your child to look his or her bully in the eye and tell them to stop in a calm, clear voice. They can also try to laugh it off, which can catch the bully off guard. If speaking up is too hard or not safe, simply walk away and stay away, because acting tough won’t serve as a solution to this complex problem.