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Take a Stand Against Bullies

If you suspect your child is a victim of bullying, talk to a mental health expert for tips on what to do. If your son or daughter is avoiding school, NCH's School Refusal Program—the first of its kind in the country—may be able to help. To learn more about the program, click here.

Halt the Harassment

Learn how to put a stop to bullying

No one likes a bully. Yet, they're not always easy to identify.

"Bullies are not isolated, low self-esteem loners who go around terrorizing other people. They have their own circle, their own social life. Bullying gives them power or control over others, which they thrive on," says Joseph Novak, PsyD, director of Mental Health for Northwest Community Hospital (NCH).

Dr. Novak outlines common signs of bullying—and smart steps parents can take to hit bullying head-on.

What to Look For

First, it's helpful to define bullying. "Bullying is an aggressive behavior that is intentional, and it causes great trauma to the recipient," Dr. Novak says. This includes cyberbullying—the use of texting or social media to spread rumors, insults or unflattering photos.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, look for these signs:

  • Anxiousness
  • Change in eating/sleeping patterns
  • Isolation
  • Loss of enjoyment in favorite activities
  • Moodiness
  • School avoidance
  • Depression

What to Do

A recent study shows as many as one in six U.S. students are bullied. If you fear your child is one of them, Dr. Novak recommends these strategies:

  • Stay—or get—connected to your child. "It's OK to say, 'You know, I've lost track of what you're doing, but I want to get reconnected.'"
  • Ask direct questions. "Point out the changes you're seeing, such as, 'You used to love tennis, but now you don't want to go. What changed?'"
  • Gather information. Talk to teachers, counselors and your child's friends. Check Facebook posts. "If you don't know your child's Facebook password, you should," he says.
  • Be persistent. "Send the message many times that you care," he says.

Finally, he urges parents to seek professional help. If school avoidance is an issue, NCH offers the nation's first inpatient School Refusal Program. The small 12-bed unit is a safe environment where adolescents 12-17 years old can acquire anxiety management skills, social skills and techniques to address negative thinking in an effort to overcome reluctance to attend school.

Joseph J. Novak, PsyD

Joseph J. Novak, PsyD

Psychologist and Director of Mental Health at NCH

  • Medical School: University of Chicago
  • Internship: Chicago Reed Mental Health Center
  • Residency: Illinois School of Professional Psychology

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Last Updated 04/10/2009