Bullying is an issue that is likely to affect every child, including yours. It is an ugly feature of growing up and can take many forms. It can also cause enormous stress to parents as well as to the child victims and can lead to disastrous consequences.
As a result, knowing how to identify bullying, how to approach your child and how to deal with the problem is an enormously useful tool for any parent to possess. Bullying can be dealt with and prevented, and your child can move on from the experience to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Parents first need to recognize that their child is likely to be bullied. Think back to your childhood and adolescence and remember the way that other children treated you. Some of these actions could be classed as harmless banter or light-hearted teasing. Other actions, however, were acts of bullying.
What is bullying?
Bullying is a series of actions that are deliberate, repeated and occur within a power imbalance. The bullying can be physical, mental or emotional, it can happen in the real world or online, and it can be perpetrated by anyone who has any form of power over the victim.
Physical bullying includes poking, hitting, kicking, pushing and beating up. Verbal bullying encompasses yelling, taunting, name-calling, insulting and threats, while relational bullying refers to excluding, spreading rumours and getting others to hurt someone.
Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs online and is particularly prevalent on social media platforms where so many children now spend so much of their time.
How do I know my child is being bullied?
Bullying can be challenging to identify firstly because that is exactly what the victims want. They don’t want anyone to know they are being bullied, because they feel bad about it, and because they fear that if anyone challenges the bully, it will only make the treatment worse. Furthermore, bullying often hurts on the inside, so there are no cuts or bruises.
In the case of cyberbullying, it is extremely difficult for parents, teachers or other adults to know that a child is being bullied because children retreat to cyberspace to escape from adults.
Signs that your child is being bullied include:
- Physical scars, bruises, cuts, scratches or even severe injuries. These can include injuries from self-harm.
- Withdrawal – children no longer engage in conversation, display less emotion, do not want to join in usual activities.
- Mood swings – victims feel angry and may release their anger and frustration in random situations. They may also cry more often or use bad language uncharacteristically.
- He or she refuses to go to school or wants to change classes or opt-out of certain activities. Conversely, they do not want to walk or catch the bus to school.
- Loses their appetite, or seems hungrier after school because someone is taking their lunch.
- Closes up when you try to discuss school or other personal issues.
- Goes to the clinic at school or uses other methods to avoid going to class.
- Their academic performance drops, and they lose interest in school work.
Victim or bully?
- As much as you may not want to admit it, there is a chance your child could be the bully, and these signs may indicate that this is the case:
- Your child displays a lack of empathy and always needs to be in control.
- They have underdeveloped social and interpersonal skills and seem to gain pleasure from seeing others suffer.
- They attack before others can attack.
- A parent, sibling or peer has bullied them.
- They show contempt for children who are different and refuse to associate with certain children.
- Persist with ugly behaviour, even after admonition.
- They are very conscious of being popular and taunt or tease other children.
- They enjoy regular violent video games and hurt animals.
- Finally, a bully can be identified if they are copying the bullying behaviour of someone else.
Boys and girls
Is bullying different for boys and girls? The research, and the tales from victims themselves, would indicate that this is true.
Generally, girls report that bullying includes social isolation, name-calling, criticism of their physique and/or dress sense. Excluding one girl from a social group is a common form of bullying among girls.
Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to be bullied physically. Bigger, stronger and more assertive boys will use their superior physical strength to dominate their victim. Boys will also use name-calling, and it is still common for boys to be bullied through the questioning of their sexuality.
Of course, boys and girls can both suffer from any form of bullying.
How do I start the conversation?
Talk to your child about the issue before it occurs (and hopefully, it never will) Research children’s books of all ages which deal with the topic, and access other resources online, through local libraries or schools.
Understand your child’s rights and their right to be free from bullying, and arm yourself with this knowledge, especially if your child is more prone to bullying because of their race, physical ability, sexuality, religion, gender or physical appearance.
How should I treat the bully?
The following steps can be used with the bully, even if your child is the bully:
- Talk about what happened.
- Show the child that their actions are wrong.
- Create opportunities for the bully to do good.
- Teach social and friendship skills.
- Occupy the child’s time constructively and limit or remove opportunities for them to engage with destructive content online. This includes limiting their screen time.
- Make the child take ownership of the problem and do not allow shifting of blame.
- Have the child find a way to solve the problem they created.
How can I help my child?
- Limit their screen time.
- Also, ask yourself, does my child need a smartphone?
- If they need a phone for emergency contact and safety, would a handheld phone suffice? Most technology-based problems, including cyber-bullying, occur when children connect to the internet. They can still phone and text with a handheld phone.
- Instill in your child healthy self-esteem. Create opportunities for them to challenge themselves and succeed, and nurture their talents.
- Coach your child on positive self-talk.
- Offer specific phrases and teach children to learn from their mistakes.
- Talk about, model and roleplay friendship skills.
How can I prevent my child from being bullied?
Ideally, you would like to ensure that your child is never bullied again. You’ve seen the side effects of bullying, and you don’t want your loved one to go through this experience again.
Create an identity.
Aaron says he was bullied at school. He recounts his experience:
“I was bullied, but not severely. It made me feel bad about myself and bad about the world but not as bad as some other victims of bullying.”
“I went to an all-boys school, where rough sports and physicality were important. I was fairly skinny and very, very shy, so it was easy for other boys to pick on me. The bullying made me feel powerless and ruined my self-esteem, and I’m sure it affected my grades.”
“In the first few years of high school, the bullying was physical. Many boys would physically pick on me to prove their own strength and improve their status; I was an easy target.”
“This began to change in the last three years of high school.”
“It changed because I created an identity. I worked hard at sport (long-distance running), and I won a few races for the school – rep sport was a big deal at the school. I also got involved in some other extra-curricular activities, and I made friends across different social groups. More importantly, though, I became known as ‘Aaron the runner.’ If anyone mentioned my name, boys would reply;
“He’s the runner” or “The White Kenyan” or refers to the name of a famous runner of the time. I was perfectly happy with that.”
“The punching and pushing stopped. I’d earned some respect. I was still shy and quiet, but I am certain that a lot of the bullying stopped because I had created an identity for myself.”
In Aaron’s case, he created an identity, improved his self-esteem and made himself a harder target for the bullies at his school.
Experts also suggest training your child to be assertive, including through role play. Encourage them to nominate teachers or friends they can turn to if being bullied. Remind your child not to bully back, to avoid showing the bully any signs that they have succeeded. Also, walk away and try to avoid being alone.
Finally, seek professional help before bullying dominates your child’s life.
Last but not least
Bullying is an unfortunate reality for many children, but it can be stopped. Teach your children how to avoid, cope with and report bullying, and seek professional help to ensure that bullying does not prevent your child from living a full and prosperous life!