How to save your children from bullying

Published On: January 2, 2021 07:00 AM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

Look for physical marks such as unexplained bruises, scratches, broken bones, and healing wounds. Be alert when your child fears going to school or joining school events.

The thought of bullying takes me back to the day I got slapped, trying to make friends in a park, in Kolkata, around the late fifties. I was six years old.

The next was in the late sixties as a ninth grader. I was the only Nepali girl in school, and the older girls wanted to dominate me. I tolerated their harassment for a few days, then one day, I had enough. I yelled at the other girl so loud, she was shocked, and started crying. She did not expect that of me. Later, I apologized. That was the last of being bullied. It is sad but bullying happens.

 Bullying is the use of force, coercion, or threat to abuse to intentionally aggressively dominate or intimidate the other person. It is basically verbal, physical, psychological (emotional or relational), and cyber. If your child complains of being bullied, take it seriously and carefully listen. Usually, children are reluctant to tell adults about instances of bullying.

Sometimes, children feel it is their own fault that someone bullies them.   They are scared that if the bully finds out that they reported being bullied, it will get even worse. Hence, they do not complain. They worry that their parents will not believe them or do anything about it. They are worried, their parents will urge them to fight back when they are scared to. It embarrasses them it is happening or they worry about upsetting and disappointing and making their parents angry, or even reactive. Hence, when your child talks about being bullied, praise him/her for doing the right thing by talking to you about it.  As a parent, you need to stay calm, offer comfort, and support their feelings. Let them know that it is normal to feel hurt, sad, and confused. Remind them they are not alone.   Lots of people get bullied in their life. Explain to your children that it is the bully who is behaving badly and not them.

Understanding the problem

It is heartbreaking to watch your child experience the physical and emotional pain of bullying or cyberbullying. Just because bullying happens does not mean you have to let it happen to your child. So, how to identify bullying? Parents can identify bullying because it has three characteristics, intent, repetition, and power.

A bully’s primary intention is to cause pain, and for that, they will repeatedly use anything from physical harm, hurtful words, or destructive behavior. Your son is likely to experience physical bullying, while your daughter is likely to experience psychological bullying. Parents, please understand that bullying is a pattern of behavior and not an isolated incident. For those parents, who do not follow their children’s activities, it is difficult to know, when their children are bullied. Some parents might not even know that their children are the victims.

 Even if they are aware of the situations at school or on the playground, they are confused how they can intervene when their children are bullied. They are also puzzled, how to help their children and protect them from bullying and violence.

Your child has the right to a safe, nurturing school environment that respects their dignity. To ensure that atmosphere, the first thing to do is to make sure that your children understand bullying, even if they are not yet victims. Once they are aware of bullying, they will be able to identify whether it is happening to them or to someone else. It is a parent’s responsibility to talk to their children openly about the issue. The more you talk to your children about bullying, the more comfortable they will be telling you if they see or experience it. Check-in with your children's daily activities and ask about their time at school and their activities online, inquiring not only about their classes and activities but also about their feelings.

You also have the responsibility to help your children to be a positive role model. Help them understand that there are three parties to bullying: the victim, the perpetrator, and the bystander. Even if children are not victims of bullying, they can prevent bullying by being inclusive, respectful, and kind to their peers. If they witness bullying, they can stick up for the victim, offer support, and/or question bullying behaviors. You also need to build your children’s self-confidence. Encourage your children to enroll in classes or join the activities they love in your community. This will help build confidence and be with friends with shared interests.

 Parents need to be a role model and show their children how to treat other children and adults with kindness and respect. You can show them they can do the same to the surrounding people. Show them by speaking up when others are being mistreated. Most children look up to their parents as examples of how to behave, including what to post online. You can attempt to be part of their online experience. You can work with them to familiarize themselves with the various platforms they use to communicate with their friends on the web. Have a discussion with them to explain how the online and the offline world are connected and warn them about the different risks they’ll face online if they are not careful.


Watch them well

Even after all this, you are still not sure if your child is a victim of bullying, the best thing to do is to watch them closely for symptoms.  You need to observe your children’s emotional state, for some children may not express their concerns verbally. Look for physical marks such as unexplained bruises, scratches, broken bones, and healing wounds. Be alert when your child fears going to school or joining school events. Observe if your child is anxious, or very vigilant. Pay attention if your child has few friends in school or outside of school. Notice when your child is losing friends suddenly or avoiding social situations. Notice your child’s torn clothing or when electronics or other belongings are lost or destroyed or if they are often asking for money.

If his/her academic performance is declining, or you notice absenteeism in them, or if they are calling you from school, asking to go home, it’s time to talk to your child. It is possible for a child who is bullied to stay close to adults. Sometimes they may not sleep well because of nightmares. It is common for them to complain of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments. They might regularly show distress after spending time online or on their phone (without a reasonable explanation). Sometimes they become unusually secretive, aggressive, or have angry outbursts. To have a conversation with your child, you need to rely on your communication skills.

Parents need to build good rapport with their children and speak openly with them. Focus your conversation on what they think is good behavior in school, in the community, and online. It is important to have open communication so that your children will feel comfortable telling you about what is happening in their lives. Parents can help kids learn how to deal with bullying if it happens.

Some parents can react and tell their children to fight back. After all, you're angry that your child is suffering. Maybe you were told to "stand up for yourself" when you were growing up. Or maybe you are worried your child will continue to be bullied, and you think that fighting back is the only way to put a bully in their place. It's important to advise your children not to respond to bullying by fighting or bullying back. It can quickly escalate into violence, trouble, and someone getting hurt. Instead, it's best to walk away from the situation, hang out with others, and tell an adult. Make the school your ally in planning ways to prevent future bullying.

Discuss with your children about some other ways with which they can improve the situation and feel better. The first is to avoid the bully and build a buddy system.  Advise your children to use a different bathroom if a bully is nearby and not to go to their locker alone.  If they really have to go, ask them to be with their friends, so they are not alone with the bully. Advise them to be with their friends on the bus, in the hallways, at recess, or wherever the bully is. Your child should be confident to offer to do the same for their friend. The next demanding job for a parent is to teach their children to control their anger.

Yes, it is natural to be upset by a bully, but that's what bullies thrive on. It makes them feel more powerful. It’s a parent’s responsibility to teach children to act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully. It is difficult, but children need to learn to firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop then walk away. Practice ways to ignore the hurtful remarks, like acting uninterested or texting someone on your cell phone. By ignoring the bully, you're showing that you don't care. Eventually, the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother you.

Your child needs to practice not to react by crying or looking upset. It does take a lot of practice, but your child needs to understand that it's a useful skill for keeping off a bully's radar. Sometimes kids find it useful to practice "cool down" strategies, like counting to 10, or remembering their angry words but not mentioning them, take deep breaths, or even try walking away. Sometimes the best thing to do is to teach kids to keep their faces calm until they are clear of any danger. Caution them against smiling or laughing at a bully because that will only provoke him/her. It is also up to the parents to suggest their children talk about bullying to their teachers, principals, and lunchroom personnel at school and seek help in stopping bullying. Also, encourage them to talk to someone they trust, such as a guidance counselor, teacher, sibling, or friend. They may offer some helpful suggestions. Even if they can't fix the situation, it may help them feel a little less alone.

Finally, a parent should take more interest in the activities of their children. Even though everyone is busy with so many problems at home, being able to spend some time with children will solve long-term problems that might become unmanageable later on. Parents need to spend some time with their children. If you don’t, they will find someone else and that person might not be what your children need. 

Give a thought to this aspect of raising children, will you?

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