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When Kids Are Cruel
 by Mary W. Quigley

Excerpted from an Article originally in Good Housekeeping
Edited here by Marti

"...But whether the cruelty is an isolated case or part of a pattern, parents' handling of this sensitive issue can make the difference between an event that's chalked up to part of growing up, or an emotional scar that a child carries for decades.

"Making home a safe haven -- but not a hideout -- is the first and most important step a parent can take. 'The family must be supportive and nurturing,' says Alan Hilfer, PhD, a psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. 'Tell your child that there are other kids out there who will be her friends, and she needs to give it time. The family's role is to pick a child up, dust her off, and then send her out again.'

"But being sensitive to your child's suffering is also crucial... It's important not to give up too easily on a child who does not want to talk....

"Experts suggest keeping an eye on your child's activities, particularly if she won't talk about her problems. Is she spending an unusual amount of time alone in her room? Have after-school and weekend outings dropped off or the number of phone calls she's getting decreased? If you're concerned, try volunteering in her classroom or going on a field trip as a way to get a sense of what's going on. Teachers are also a good source of information about who's being picked on and why.

"How can you help if you determine that your child is being victimized? Therapists and parenting experts have this advice:

"Think twice before stepping in. Unless children are in the early elementary grades, it's not a good idea to telephone the other parents or confront the kids who are doing the bullying...

"Ask your school to send the message that harassment is unacceptable. Although it doesn't always solve the problem, enlisting the support of school officials 'is' important...

"Don't let your child obsess about the problems. Peer problems can seem overwhelming to your child, so no matter how worried you are about the situation, it's important not to show an excessive level of concern. Kastner urges parents to offer sympathy and understanding, talk about a solution, and then end the conversation and move on to homework, dinner, and other topics...

"Help her make better friends. When you suspect a friend may be manipulative, issue a 'buyer beware' warning...

"Encourage activities that might win respect.... Giving your child a chance to identify and demonstrate other talents is an important part of helping them to develop friendships...

"Teach her to walk away. Turning one's back on supposed friends can be difficult. 'Most kids want to be nice, thinking that will make the cruelty stop,' says Susan O'Leary, a psychologist at the State
University of New York at Stony Brook. Learning to walk away can actually improve a situation...

"Keep a sense of perspective. In _Smart Girls Too_, author Barbara Kerr recounts the lives of 33 women from scientist Marie Curie to artist Georgia O'Keefe and reveals that none were popular with their peers in childhood. 'Parents should know that the kids who are rejected are often kids who work the hardest and learn from defeat,' says Hilfer. 'They use what they have learned to cope with future adversity and are usually more successful for that reason.' "

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