Most local kids began the school year last month, including my good friend’s 6-year-old niece, so I was shocked to learn my friend wouldn’t be sharing with me the expected happy first-day-of-school photos and stories. Instead, the story she shared stopped me in my tracks. Her niece came home from school having learned a new word — fat — and it wasn’t learned during a reading lesson.

“No one that young should even be concerned with weight, let alone have to deal with being called fat,” was my friend’s exclamation.

‘Fat-shame’ is a semi-new word that is used more and more since officially being added to Oxford Dictionaries in 2015. It’s defined as a verb and means “to cause (someone judged to be fat or overweight) to feel humiliated by making mocking or critical comments about their size.” In other words, it’s a form of bullying, and with the school year kicking into gear, there will be plenty of name-calling, teasing and even some fighting occurring in the school hallways.

Bullying is nothing new. I remember the class bullies in my schools and have memories of being picked on by peers. However, I’m thankful to have finished school before the days of social media and mobile phones. There’s no doubt in my mind these two factors have created another host of problems in preventing and dealing with bullying (hence the term “cyberbullying”). In 2014 the Center for Disease Control and Department of Education established the first uniform definition of bullying: unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition. The definition also identifies two modes (indirect and direct) and four types (physical, verbal, relational and damage to property) of bullying.

According to StopBullying.gov, the effects of bullying can impact a child into adulthood. Children may experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness, changes in sleep and eating patterns and loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. Children may also complain of feeling ill or sick and can also exhibit a decline in academic achievement. Students who are bullies are more likely to miss, skip or drop out of school.

Oftentimes parents already face challenges in getting their children to open up and communicate problems they may be having with other classmates. But parents don’t have to feel helpless if they suspect their child is being bullied. They can help respond to bullying and prevent bullying by:

  • Recognizing the warning signs. Talk to your child if they display any behavioral or emotional changes.
  • Learn what bullying is and isn’t.
  • Learn what cyberbullying is and isn’t. Cyberbullying typically requires different strategies than face-to-face bullying.
  • Use tips to talk to your child. Having an open line of communication before your child is involved in bullying can encourage them to discuss bullying if it happens.
  • Work with your child’s school to help prevent bullying.
  • If you suspect bullying has occurred, learn how to find out what has happened with your child. This can help in communicating with school officials about the situation.
  • Learn how you and school officials can work together to support your child, whether they were bullied, bullied others or witnessed bullying.
  • Learn about Louisiana’s anti-bullying law. Learn also about federal laws that require schools to address harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex and disabilities and ways to report situations.

For more information on bullying, visit StopBullying.org