Unfortunately, bullying can begin at a very young age, long before some children have even heard the word "bully." Children who are the targets of bullies tend to be different in some way -- a different race or religion, an unusual physical characteristic, or even just very shy. Bullies tend to target kids who they believe will not stand up for themselves. That's why it's important to teach your child ASSERTIVENESS (see previous post on this topic) and to encourage them to stand up to bullies with clear, firm, and appropriate statements like "leave me alone" or "stop that right now." While some bullies may persist, most do not continue to target someone who is assertive and confident (SELF REGARD must be strong to withstand a bully's attack). Instead, the bully will seek an easier target, one who visibly reacts to the bullying by being upset or engaging in behavior that reinforces the bully (walking away with head down, avoiding eye contact, etc.).
How can you tell if your child is bullied? Younger children may tell you about bullying behavior, even if they don't label it as such. Most children, however, don't tell an adult because they are embarrassed or fear strong retaliation from the bully. So, watch for signs of trying to avoid school (stomache, headache), pleading not to ride the bus, coming home and rushing to the bathroom or being very hungry (the bathroom and cafeteria are some of the top locations for bullying behavior), frequently "losing" their lunch money (it may have been taken by the bully),a drop in grades or interest in school, and more withdrawn behavior at home. Over time, being bullied can rob a child of SELF-REGARD, OPTIMISM, and HAPPINESS, three key areas of emotional intelligence. Learning to react ASSERTIVELY (NOT aggressively!) to the bullying is the best defense.
If you think your child may be a bully's target, read some of the more highly-rated books on bullying and how to help your child overcome it. You cannot stop the bullying by your actions alone though. You must also equip your child with the right tools to successfully stand up to a bully.