Signs of bullying and how to help
Bullies are – and always have been – a part of life. And for school-age kids, the fallout from dealing with bullies can be everything from annoying to life-threatening.
A bully can make gym class uncomfortable and lunchtime unbearable. Most kids say that bullying happens at school. This makes it especially difficult for parents to be aware of its occurrence or be able to do something about it.
Being bullied can cause both physical and deep emotional scars. So, as parents, we need to be sensitive to its potential dangers, aware of how to identify it and able to offer coping strategies should it present itself, now or in the future.
When teasing crosses the line – identifying bullying
At some point, most of us have been the subject of teasing – and it’s okay in its own playful way. But when things get hurtful or are on-going, it needs to come to a halt. Bullying is intentional and can be verbal, physical or emotional. It occurs when one person is trying to exert control over someone perceived to be weak or a threat.
From hitting, mocking, threatening or spreading rumours, bullying can take many forms. And even though something physical is often more readily perceived as bullying, all forms are wrong and must stop. None should be thought of as “kids just being kids” and get dismissed, because to the one kid it affects, it is a matter self-worth. To ignore is to jeopardize that child’s well-being.
Unless your child tells you about or shows physical signs of bullying, it can be hard to spot. But there are some behaviors that can suggest bullying is occurring. A reluctance to go to school; frequent stomach aches and headaches; changes in friendships; sleeping troubles; crying and emotional breakdowns; avoiding spending time with family; avoidance of or obsession with devices; and, a general withdrawal from social situations can all be indicators of something wrong.
How to help as a parent
Once you know that your child is being bullied, provide support, offer comfort and stay calm. Tell them they are doing the right thing by sharing and let them know that it happens sometimes and it’s not their fault. Reassure them that something will be done about it.
Talk to someone at school; a guidance counsellor is a good first option. Depending on the situation, they will know the best course of action to take. Avoid confronting the bully or the bully’s parents without having spoken to the school or perhaps even local law enforcement.
What your kid can do
If the bullying occurs and you are not there, following are some strategies for kids that may help the situation, or at least not exacerbate it.
Buddy up: There is safety in numbers.
Don’t react: Often a bully is looking for a reaction, be it anger, fear, defiance, laughter.
Ignore and walk away: Easier said than done, but it can often diffuse a situation.
Tell a grown-up: Principals, parents, lunch monitors and teachers can all help end bullying behaviour.
Talk it out: Let a friend, sibling or adult know what has happened and how it made you feel.
What if your child is the bully
Whether it’s peer pressure, an inability to control anger or impulses or because they’ve themselves been bullied, having a child that bullies is unsettling. Once you find out, react swiftly and firmly to let your child know this is not acceptable and there will be consequences.
Try to determine the root cause, but don’t excuse it. Depending on the type of bullying, come up with an appropriate punishment, such as a lack of devices, a letter of apology, loss of privileges, etc. Work with the school to support its disciplinary plan. Never shame, embarrass or humiliate as a punishment. Work with your child to come up with new coping skills, increased self-esteem or healthier relationships.
Whether your kid is the bully or the victim, as a parent, the most important thing you can do is be there for them and listen. And if your child is neither, instill the importance of standing and speaking up for others.