Talking to kids about racial and religious bullying

They are stories that can be hard for parents -- and children -- to understand.

In October, anti-Semitic graffiti was scribbled on the playground of an Atlanta elementary school.

A month later in suburban Dacula, Georgia, a young Muslim American high school teacher, who wears a religious head scarf, received a note telling her to “hang yourself” with it.

WebMD medical editor and pediatrician Dr. Hansa Barghava recently wrote a blog post about these type of bullying incidents, arguing they can be teachable moments for parents.

"I think a lot more children are being bullied than we know,” Bhargava says.  “We have reports of it being one in five."

And Dr. Bhargava says racial or ethnic bullying, like any kind of bullying, has three players:  the bully, the victim, and the bystander, who witnesses what's happening.

“We often forget that with bullying or racist acts that the bystander is also affected,” she says.  “They can have anxiety. They can have shame.  They can feel, like, "I should have done something, but I didn't."

Bhargava believes it's important for parents to talk to kids on an age-appropriate level about what bullying is, why it's wrong, and what they can do safely to stop it if they see another child victimized.

"Say, you know, ‘Hey, don't do that,” or “Come sit by me at the lunch table,” she says.  “And that will actually help the child feel so good about themselves as well as helping another person."

Dr. Bhargava says one of the best ways to confront racism is education.

So, she says, talk about what you believe, and why it’s important to respect people who may be different from us.

"If we can show our kids the amazing number of different races and cultures we have, that's going to make them have a broader understanding of everything,” she says.  “And they're probably not likely to hang out with that person who is racist."

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