Q:

My child has just told me that he doesn't want to go back to school. Of course this is impossible, as he is just in seventh grade. It comes out now there was a group of kids who teased him unmercifully about his very curly hair. He had never mentioned this before. How would you handle this? -- Too Curly

A:

First, you have to find out how serious this situation really is. Could it just be anxiety about returning to school? Or is it in any way a threatening situation? If it appears that he is depressed, he may require help from a mental-health professional.

Listen very carefully to what your son says about how he is being bullied.

As you know, bullying is a big problem, with close to three-quarters of all children having been bullied. Your son needs to learn how to respond to verbal bullying. Should the bullying become physical or escalate to threats of violence, school personnel must be brought into the situation at once.

Sometimes the response children make toward verbal abuse causes the bullies satisfaction and so the bullying continues. There are books that will give your son ideas about how to deflect bullying. A good choice is "Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain."

Advise your son that this is a new school year and he might no longer be a target of the bullies. If he still is, you can advise him to ignore the bullying, have a snappy rejoinder that will make everyone laugh, stay with his friends or simply avoid being around the bullies, if possible. Hopefully he has friends who will support him. This can really help.

If your son continues to be upset about the bullying, the school must be advised of the bullying so it can be stopped. If he is reluctant to do this, you must contact the school.