When ‘back to school’ means back to bullying, how to help kids

Back to School

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When classes begin for the new school year, some kids may face a return to a bully at school as well as their coursework.

“Bullying is something that’s on many childs’ minds, so it should also be on the grownups’ minds as well,” said Dr. Jennifer Jencks on Tuesday. She’s the director of the Access Center at Bradley Hospital in Providence, which helps evaluate kids or adolescents and determine whether they need inpatient or outpatient care.

“If parents are doing everything they can to support their child, and their child is still feeling very anxious or depressed — that they can’t go to school, secondary to bullying — outpatient therapy is always tremendously helpful,” Jencks said.

Parents should feel encouraged to be in active conversations with their kids about school.

Parent Guide: Bullying Prevention »

“There are lots of ways to talk about bullying without even having to say the word,” Jencks said. “Asking questions, ‘Did anything happen today? This week? That made you feel uncomfortable?’ or ‘Are you seeing anything at school that you don’t like?’ as well as ‘What happened today that made you happy?'”

Of course, sometimes your child can be a bully themselves. That’s important to take seriously, Jencks said.

“The best thing they can do is work with a mental health professional and try and get at the cause of that behavior,” she said.

And if your child isn’t the one being targeted by a bully, there are still ways they can stop it.

“They’re a bystander — they can intervene and can have a huge impact on what’s going to happen for that child going forward,” Jencks said.

Lifespan operates a phone hotline, Kids’ Link RI, for children in emotional crisis or behavioral problems and their parents. It’s available 24 hours a day at 1-855-543-5465.

In 2017, a survey from the Rhode Island Department of Education found among 83,000 students surveyed in grades 3 through 12, 24 percent of them — nearly 20,000 students — reported being bullied on school property within the past year.

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