Whether children physically go back to school or do virtual learning this fall, bullying and harassment continues to be a problem. That's why it's important for parents and children to know how to deal with this trouble.

Dr. Maurice Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University, said if there is a lesson to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic it's the need to be giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, to be treating each other with extra kindness and understanding. He said these are the messages parents need to be giving their children before they head back to school.

Elias said the best way to treat bullying is to prevent it. He said it's just not acceptable whether it's in school or online. But when children do experience bullying, they must know how to report it and who to talk to. Most schools in New Jersey have an anti-bullying specialist. Elias said students should know who that person is and how to contact that person.

He said they should also know that whenever something happens that makes them feel uncomfortable, it does not always have to be a physical act like hitting, but it could also be a verbal act.

"When a student feels like they are being demeaned and taken advantaged of, put down, threatened, they need to know which adult to go to and then they need to know that adult is going to follow up in a meaningful way," said Elias.

Parents need to recognize the signs of bullying and how to talk to their kids about it. Elias said the most obvious sign of bullying is when children show reluctance to go to school. Children who normally like going to school start hesitating, dawdling while getting dressed or heading for the bus. Some may even develop stomachaches they never had before. Often, parents will notice some departure from the norm. A talkative student, for example, may become quiet and reserved.

Elias said parents should regularly check in with their children and ask about their classes and friends. If they notice any of the above differences, it could mean they are being bullied or harassed.

Elias said parents should notice if children look nervous or hesitant when questioned about their day. He added that parents should not question their children in a threatening way but rather in a supportive tone and make it clear that they can come to mom or dad with concerns.

Elias said that bullying is an adult problem. When a parent sends their child to school, they expect them to be safe. It is the responsibility of the adult to make sure this does not happen, he said. It's not the responsibility of the child to have to defend themselves, especially if that child is being picked on for their skin color or physical differences.

"The school principal is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on in that building," said Elias.

If parents do not get results, they should go to the next chain in command: the superintendent. Nothing there? Then go to the school board.

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