We want to protect our children as much as possible, but when bullying happens we might feel like we don’t know what to do.
One of the biggest issues schools face yearly is bullying, with many concerned parents wondering how they could possibly help their children. Statistics have shown that more than 3.2 million learners are bullied yearly in South Africa, with more than 67% of bully victims not telling a teacher or parent. Bullying has transcended into the digital sphere too, with 16% of learners admitting they have experienced cyberbullying. Kids may feel ashamed and embarrassed about being bullied and may not want to tell others about it. However, recognising early on that your child is being bullied will help lessen its effect on them later in life.
Signs of bullying
Children may not tell us outright that they’re being bullied, but we can notice changes in their behaviour:
► The simplest one is to notice any physical injuries to the body, clothes, or personal items.
► Unexplained loss of personal belongings such as stationery and lunch.
► Fear of going to school, riding the school bus, sudden clinginess.
► Changes in personality or behaviour such as sullenness, withdrawal, loneliness.
► Nightmares, insomnia, bed-wetting, frequent crying.
► Bullying siblings or younger children.
► A drop in grades or difficulty focusing.
► Not wanting to use school facilities such as the bathroom.
How to help
► Learn about the apps and media your children are exposed to.
► Set clear rules about using the internet, and discuss the seriousness of cyberbullying.
► Teach them about true friendship and less trustworthy ones (online and in real life).
► Teach them assertiveness and how to stand up for themselves; stop ‘early’ rescuing. But lead by example – show them how to stand up for themselves while still being kind and respectful. Encourage them to also stand up for others who might be bullied.
► Learn the bullying ‘hotspots’: bathrooms, hallways, buses, playgrounds.
► Identify teachers and students that will support and help them at school.
► You can also show support to your child by letting them know you are there for them.
► Teach kids their worth and how to be confident, and let them know that you value them as a person.
The bully-proof vest
Teach these habits to your kids that will help them if they or anyone else is being targeted:
► Appear confident in front of a bully. Look at the talker’s eyes or bridge of their nose.
► Do not let bullies know they’ve upset you. Stand up for yourself, but don’t threaten or insult them.
► Stay cool and calm – bullies look for reactions, so it’s better to shrug them off or simply walk away.
► Most bullying begins verbally – how you respond the first time makes a big difference to attacks that follow.
► Respond with a simple ‘No’ or ‘Stop’. Do not plead, as it gives into the reaction that bullies want.
► Get help from other children or adults after leaving the scene. It may be frightening, so seeking the solace of others will help to calm you down.
These are a few ways to try and help any child who may be bullied. It’s always a good idea to seek out professional help if bullying becomes too overwhelming.
What if my child IS the bully?
– Children often become bullies because it makes them feel powerful and in control.
– In most cases, bullies come from homes where parents themselves are bullies, angry or cannot handle conflict well.
– It can also stem from their psychological needs not being met, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and anger.
– They may find themselves trying to fit in with a group that encourages bullying.
– They might not recognise behaviour as bullying, and believe it to just be teasing.
– They might be quick to blame others and not accept responsibility for their actions.
How to help them
– Stop bullying before it starts – teach them that what they’re doing is wrong and hurtful.
– Work on your home life and be a positive example by having good relationships with others.
– Explore why your child is displaying a certain behaviour. Ask them how they’re feeling, if they themselves are being bullied or are under peer pressure.
– Seek professional help – sometimes behavioural disorders or limited social skills may be mistaken as bullying.
– Teach empathy, respect and compassion, and help them understand the consequences of bad actions.
– Seek support from the community and develop an action plan to help the situation.
– Provide positive reinforcements and be realistic about your expectations.
Text: Saadiqah Schroeder; Photography: cottonbro