“Heartbroken” sums up how Mexican American mom Jeanie Kastas felt when she discovered that her 10-year-old son, Jonathan, was being taunted at school.
“The kids were calling him names like ‘wetback’ and saying things like ‘go back to your country,’” she says. It devastated her to see her jovial little fifth grader turning into a sad, angry person. “I wanted to fix it,” says Kastas, whose son is not alone, considering that almost 28 percent of Hispanic students report being bullied, according to the National Center for Education.
And while it can be difficult to get kids to admit that someone has been mean to them, it is not impossible with the right approach, says Honduran psychologist J. Maria Bermúdez. Here, the Athens, Ga.–based family therapist shares her tips on how to talk to your kids about bullying.
KNOW THE SIGNS
Sadness. Withdrawal. Anxiety. Low motivation. Faking illness. These are all red flags that something may be wrong with your child. In Kastas’s case, Jonathon kept complaining of a stomachache in order to skip school. “Don’t ignore the signs,” says Dr. Bermúdez, “as kids are afraid to tell their parents in fear of making it worse.”
CHECK IN WITH YOUR CHILD
Your son or daughter will feel more comfortable confiding in you about their friends and school if the lines of communication are always open. Dr. Bermúdez suggests initiating these conversations from the moment your child learns how to speak. “Talk to them regularly about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Ask them ‘What did you like about your day today? Who did you eat lunch with?’ and really listen to what they tell you,” she says.