“Bullying amongst children? Oh, they are just kids!”. Have you come across such reactions with raised eyebrows when you try to find a solution to your child’s situation? Well, for a long time bullying, per se, has been associated with only teenagers and college-goers. Unfortunately, for younger children, bullying is simply labelled as “being kids”. But in reality, it is not the case.
Bullying is really just another form of abuse: It’s about kids using power to control other kids, sometimes with the intention to cause harm. Being bullied is hurtful and humiliating. It’s not an accident or a joke. And the worse part is, the difference between the bullying that happened during our time and what’s going on now is that today’s kids can’t get away from it. Social networking and cell phones allow kids to be bullied 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and their humiliation is often widespread and long-lasting.
Is Your Child Being Bullied? Know The Signs
If your child is being bullied, they need guidance, love and support, both at home and at school. Your child also needs to know that you’ll work with the school to prevent any further bullying without embarrassing them or putting them in an awkward position.
The fear of the latter is the main reason most kids aren’t going to come home and tell you that they’re being bullied. In fact, some won’t say anything because they never realise that they are being bullied. Your child might feel ashamed or worried that they are to blame somehow, or that them reporting it will lead to further ostracization.
But there are a few noticeable signs your child may be being bullied that you need to know as a parent:
- Reluctance to go to school/ playground or activity class.
- Your child’s mood changes after looking at their cell phone, going online, or meeting any specific set of classmates/friends.
- Your child may not want to get on the school bus; begs you for rides to school every day.
- Is frequently sick, with headaches and sleeping problems and often wants to stay home from school.
- You might notice damaged or missing belongings, or that your child keeps losing money or other valuable items.
- Unexplained injuries or bruises.
- Your child doesn’t seem to be eating his lunch. He comes home unusually hungry, or his lunch comes back home with him.
- He might be moody, anxious, depressed, or withdrawn.
While exhibiting one or more of these signs might not necessarily mean that your child is being bullied, these are important things to pay attention to if you suspect something is going on.
How Should Parents Address Bullying?
What can or should you do if your child is being bullied? Whether your child tells you outright that he’s being bullied at school or you simply suspect it, you need to listen to what he has to say around this subject, take him seriously, and empathize calmly. Support him by assuring him that what’s happening is wrong, and let him know he has a legitimate right and a responsibility to put a stop to any kind of harmful behaviour that goes on and that you will get him some help with the problem.
When you find out your child is being bullied, you naturally feel anxious, upset and angry. Your first reaction is not always going to be the most effective way to handle the situation, though, because it’s probably coming from emotion and not from a calm, objective place which is where you want to be when you talk with your child. Here are some good rules for parents to follow when dealing with this difficult situation.
1. Listen To What Your Child Has To Say
Being a good listener is an important piece of your role when your child is being bullied. One of the best questions you can ask your child is: What can I do to be helpful?
When your child tells you what’s going on at school, as much as it hurts to listen, be open and able to hear what he has to say. Try to be supportive but neutral when he’s talking. When you react too strongly to what your child is saying, he might stop talking because he’s afraid he’s going to upset you.
The other side of listening is not blaming your child. Don’t ask, “Well, what are you doing to make the kids pick on you? You must be doing something”.
Don’t put the responsibility for the bullying on him or try to find a reason for it; there is no good reason or excuse for what’s happening. There is often no reason for a child to be picked on, other than that they are in the line of sight of another child who wants to taunt or hurt them. There is no justification for bullying. Blaming your child will only make them shut down or worse, blame themselves for what’s happening. Instead, let your child know that it’s not them, anyone can be a target.
2. Respond, Don’t React
Many of us remember being bullied as children ourselves, and so our child’s situation drags up feelings of pain, shame and humiliation. You might feel angry and anxious and want to rush in and fix everything at first, but that’s not going to help your child most in the long-run. If you do this, they will feel powerless not only from the bully but also from you, because they see you worried, falling apart or charging in. It’s really important to calm down so you can listen and make a plan together. Don’t forget to strategize with your child because this will enable her to learn how to deal with this situation in the future (more on this later).
3. Don’t Minimize Or Belittle The Situation
Keep in mind that you don’t want to underreact either, by minimizing the problem or telling your child he’s being too sensitive. This is not a time to leave your kid alone. He needs someone more powerful than the bullies to advocate for him and help him handle the situation.
4. Be A Coach
Bullies tend to pick on people from whom they can get a reaction. They choose kids who get upset and who take the teasing to heart. They also look for kids who won’t stand up for themselves, or who they can overpower. It’s important to teach your child how to react. You can do role plays together where you practice not reacting to what the bullies said.
5. Have Open Conversations
Talk with your child about your own experiences. Empathize with them and their situation by being authentic with them. It’s okay to say, “I feel so sad when I hear what you’re going through. I’m here to help you.”
Do your best to have the kind of relationship where you keep the lines of communication open. Encourage them to talk to other adults in their lives who they might be close to, as well, sometimes an aunt, friend or teacher can give advice and say things that you might not be able to say.
6. Strategize With Your Child
You can help your child by having problem-solving conversations around bullying and coming up with strategies together. Here are a few you might suggest to your child:
Teach your child not to react out of fear: Let your child know that reacting out of fear or anger is going to set them up for more of the same: either way, it’s just going to fuel the fire. I think the simplest way to change the dynamic is to make the bully feel uncomfortable with their own behaviour. Tell your child to say something that’s short, simple, and neutral but that doesn’t necessarily egg on the other person more, and then leave the scene.
Have some ‘one line’ responses ready and then walk away: One simple phrase like “Cut it out” or “Stop” or “I’ve had enough” or “Not funny” can be very effective when your child is being bullied. Walking away and not engaging with the child who is bullying them is one of the best ways to defuse this situation.
Ignore the bully: As hard as it is for kids in this situation, tell your child to try to ignore the bully by either pretending they don’t hear or by keeping a straight face and not reacting to the taunts. It’s often very effective for kids to act as if they are uninterested in the insults and to simply refrain from responding to them. You can practice with your child at home, too, by role-playing the situations they face at school. Help them practice not showing anger or fear.
Use the buddy system: Tell your child that there is strength in numbers; when your child is with a friend, it makes it harder to be isolated or targeted by bullies.
7. Involve Your Child In Activities They Are Good At Or Enjoy Doing
Bullying takes a toll on a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s the most sensitive aspect of their growing years and thus needs to be addressed first. Help your child feel good about himself by finding something he can do well. Choose some activities he’s good at and reinforce it verbally. Remember, every time he succeeds, it helps him develop better self-esteem, which is the opposite of how the bullies make him feel.
8. Talk To An Adult
Encourage your child to approach the teacher, or a school administrator when they are being bullied. It is the duty of school officials to hold anyone who is bullying another student accountable. Overcoming a bullying episode takes support, and it takes everyone working together as a family to make it happen.
9. Know When It’s Time To Step In
If things have escalated to a point where you need to step in and take more official action, tell your child you’re going to help him and work with him so the situation doesn’t become worse.
When The Tables Turn: How To Prevent Your Child From Being A Bully
It can be shocking and upsetting to learn that your child has gotten in trouble for picking on other kids or been labelled a bully. As hard as it may be to hear this news, it’s important to deal with it right away. Whether the bullying is physical or verbal, if it’s not stopped it can lead to more aggressive antisocial behaviour and interfere with your child’s success in school and ability to form and keep friendships.
Helping Your Child Stop Bullying
First things first, let your child know that bullying is not OKAY and can bring serious consequences at home, school, and in the community if it continues. Try to understand the reasons behind your child’s behaviour. In some cases, kids bully because they have trouble managing strong emotions like anger, frustration, or insecurity. In other cases, kids haven’t learned cooperative ways to work out conflicts and understand differences.
A few ways to help your child in such a situation are:
1. Take Bullying Seriously
Make sure your kids understand that you will not tolerate bullying at home or anywhere else. Set rules about bullying and stick to them. If your child acts aggressively at home, with siblings or others, put a stop to it. Teach more appropriate ways to react, like walking away.
2. Teach Kids To Treat Others With Respect & Kindness
Teach your child that it is wrong to ridicule differences like race, religion, appearance, special needs, gender, economic status. Try to instil a sense of empathy for those who are different. Consider getting involved together in a community group where your child can interact with kids who are different.
3. Learn About Your Child’s Social Life
Look for insight into what may be influencing your child’s behaviour at school (or wherever the bullying happens). Talk with parents of your child’s friends and peers, teachers, guidance counsellors, and the school principal. Do other kids bully? What about your child’s friends? What kinds of pressures do the kids face at school? Talk to your kids about those relationships and about the pressures to fit in. Get them involved in activities outside of school so that they meet and develop friendships with other kids.
4. Encourage Good Behaviour
Positive reinforcement can be more powerful than negative discipline. Catch your kids being good. When they handle situations in positive ways, take notice and praise them for it.
5. Lead By Example
And keep your own behaviour in check too. Sometimes unknowingly our own behaviour goes unnoticed by us but children catch it very fast. For example, how you treat house helps, how you treat people with a different appearance, race, colour and ore. Think about how you talk around your kids and how you handle conflict and problems. Kids who live with yelling, name-calling, harsh criticism or physical anger from a sibling or parent/caregiver may act that out in other settings. If you behave aggressively toward or in front of your kids, chances are they’ll follow your example. When conflicts arise in your own life, be open about your frustration and how you cope with your feelings.
Remember, bullying is not something your child is going to get over immediately, be it as a victim or a bully himself. It can be a long process. What matters most is how, as a parent, you express your unconditional love and support for your child.