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How to talk to your kids if they're experiencing bullying, depression

The Oklahoman 3/10/2023 Diane Pantaleo, Oklahoman
A memorial for Aiden Renner Reese is across the street from Edmond Santa Fe in Edmond, Okla., Wednesday, Feb.22, 2023. © SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN A memorial for Aiden Renner Reese is across the street from Edmond Santa Fe in Edmond, Okla., Wednesday, Feb.22, 2023.

Editor's note: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night. Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741. Help is also available by calling or texting 988 locally in Oklahoma.

In late February, a community in Edmond mourned the death of one of their own.

Aiden Reese, a 15-year-old freshman on the Edmond Santa Fe High School baseball team, died Feb. 20. The death was ruled a suicide, the medical examiner’s office said. Allegations of bullying within the team, including social media messages, have since surfaced, prompting an investigation from Edmond Public Schools.

GoFundMe for Aiden's memorial expenses includes a message from Teresa Reese, Aiden’s mother. She wrote that her son died “because of the mean and hateful behavior of boys that were his peers.”

Part of her message reads: “I have been getting requests of what we need, well here it is!! Talk to your children about BULLYING!”

Teresa Reese posted Thursday her experience navigating the bullying on Facebook.

"No one should feel isolated and bullied by their teammates, they were supposed to be a brotherhood," she wrote.

Related Facebook post

Shared from Facebook

Helping your kids through bullying and with their mental health is complex, and the signs that they are struggling are not always obvious. Here is some information and tools to help you navigate.

What are some signs my child or friend is being bullied?

According to Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, some signs that your child are being bullied include:

  • Physical injuries. A child may have trouble sleeping, or develop physical problems like frequent headaches and stomachaches.
  • They may "lose items," such as a favorite belonging, or they may come home hungry from having missed lunch. Bullying often includes taking belongings or stealing lunch.
  • Look for changes in behavior, such as frequent crying, or changes in their usual behavior. For example or an outgoing child may become withdrawn.
  • Sometimes children who are bullied respond by bullying others.

How can I tell if my child or friend is depressed?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry lists a few symptoms to watch out for. They include:

  • Feeling or appearing depressed, sad, tearful, or irritable
  • Not enjoying things as much as they used to
  • Spending less time with friends or in after school activities
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Feeling like everything is their fault or they are not good at anything
  • Having more trouble concentrating
  • Caring less about school or not doing as well in school
  • Having thoughts of suicide or wanting to die

How you can help if your child or friend is being bullied

Having open lines of communication is key to being a trusted person your child can come to if they are being bullied.

United States Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said in a video that preventing bullying requires "love, support and attention."

"Feeling connected to people at school and at home can reduce young people's risk of experiencing negative health outcomes such as substance use, violence and mental health struggles," Murthy said. "Just knowing that you are there can make a world of difference."

The federal website shares tips on how to talk to children about bullying, especially if you suspect they are being bullied or that they have bullied someone.

  • Don't wait for bullying to happen to bring up the subject. Have thoughtful talks with your child each day, such as what the best and worst parts of their day were.
  • Share your own age-appropriate stories of experiencing or witnessing bullying, to help them be more comfortable bringing up their experiences.
  • If you're concerned they are being bullied, ask general questions like "You seem stressed/anxious/upset – has anything happened?", "I’ve noticed that you’re spending more time alone/on your phone/in your room – is there anything you want to talk about?" or "Is there something going on at school that might be upsetting you?"
  • Questions to ask if they have been bullied include, "Is there history between you?", "Have there been past conflicts?", "Has this happened before?", "Are you worried it will happen again?" and "What will make you feel safer?"
  • Let them know the bullying isn't their fault, and that no one deserves to be bullied. Ask if you can reach out to their school or teacher to talk to them about it. Try and help your child come up with what they can do if it happens again.
  • If your child bullied someone, know that this behavior can be changed. Some questions to ask include, "What was going on for you when you did this?", "What were you thinking and feeling at the time?", "How do you feel about it now?", How do you think the child you bullied felt?" and "Looking back, are there other ways you could’ve handled this?"
  • Let them know that bullying is not OK, and that it needs to be addressed. Let them know you will be there to help them make things right and to learn new behaviors.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: How to talk to your kids if they're experiencing bullying, depression

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