The hardest thing in the world is watching your child go through something difficult and upsetting, and you feeling absolutely helpless to help them through or keep them safe.
Bullying at school is a prime example of this. Unfortunately it is an activity that goes on far more often than it should. It can present itself in many different forms. In this day and age of advanced technology, sadly it has a reach extending far beyond the schoolyard.
The national definition of bullying for Australian schools says:
Bullying is an ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm.
It is such a complex issue!
Research suggests that one in 6 children from the ages of 6-17 reporting to being bullied at least once a week. Almost 1 in 3 students aged 10-11 years reported being bullied or picked on by peers. And it’s name calling that is far more common than physical bullying.
What are some of the forms of bullying?
- Verbal (most common, most painful & longest lasting impact) e.g. teasing, harassment and name-calling
- Malicious rumours
- Physical violence
- Damage to property
- Cyber bullying (may be traced and blocked) – e.g. texting, facebook, phone, manipulating photos, YouTube. (Up to 50% of girls from grade 6 – year 12 report being cyber bullied!)
- Anti-social (exclusion, gossip and non-verbal body language)
Teasing or bullying may seem like a small insignificant issue that almost everyone has to deal with at some stage in their life. But the consequences are often devastating and long reaching. And while there is no one-size-fits-all solution, childhood bullying has been linked to mental health problems in adults. It also affects academic performance, can lead to violent behaviour, self-harm, and substance abuse. So it is important to be well aware of the signs.
What can parents do?
By observing and becoming aware of the situation before it has a chance to escalate and get out of hand, you can put in place a plan of action. It can greatly contribute to your child’s overall happiness and well-being both at school and home.
The last thing you want is for your child to start hating school! So keep reading for 5 tips to help your kids cope with any type of bullying at school.
Look out for warning signs
The warning signs to keep an eye out for in a victim of bullying are dependent entirely on the specific situation and the child. They are likely to keep quiet out of embarrassment or fear but there are many physical, psychological, and emotional signs you can look out for including:
- Sudden mood changes or aggression
- Signs of physical abuse such as bruises, scratches, torn clothes, and broken belongings
- Insomnia or other sleeping issues such as nightmares or bed-wetting
- Abrupt changes in eating habits
- Avoidance of social situations
- Self-destructive behaviour
- Unexplained distress after spending time online
- Poor performance in school or not wanting to attend at all
- Constant physical complaints such as headaches or stomach-aches
It’s important to keep in mind that these are generalised things and may not necessarily always be signs of bullying.
Create a safe place and encourage your child to share
Remain calm and create a loving, safe environment for your child to come home to. Ask simple questions and listen carefully when they answer. Never belittle or criticise your child.
Here are some good general questions to open up a conversation about your child’s day and get them talking:
- Did you have a good day at school?
- What did you do at lunchtime today?
- What classes did you like/dislike?
- Is there anyone you would like to invite around one day after school?
Remember to stay composed and praise your child for opening up to you if they do (for example ‘I am really pleased that you have talked to me about this’).
Learn about the situation
If you are observing obvious signs of bullying in your child, it may be time to take the next step. Arrange a meeting with their teacher or the school principal to address your concerns. Ask them if they have seen any signs of bullying.
Even asking your child’s friends or parents of their friends can help enlighten you to what is going on. Collect as much information as you can about the situation. This includes the kind of bullying occurring (physical, verbal, and/or emotional), the children involved, and where and when it may be happening.
You may be tempted to approach and organise a meeting to discuss things with the parents of the child doing the bullying. However this can make things worse so should be avoided. Ideally it is always safer if you go directly through the school or organisation rather than trying to take things into your own hands.
Teach your child how to respond
Don’t promote the idea of your child fighting back to a bully, as this rarely solves any kind of problem.
Some positive, empowering ways to respond to bullying are:
- Simply ignoring them and walking away. Bullies gain satisfaction from reactions so teaching your child not to respond may result in the bully losing interest.
- Standing up to the bully and telling them firmly to leave them alone.
- Use the ‘buddy system’ and encouraging your child to stick with a friend or classmate wherever the bullying tends to occur. Your child is less likely to be targeted if they aren’t alone.
- Telling a teacher or principal what is going on.
Boost your child’s confidence
Encourage your child to engage in activities they are good at and enjoy so they can make new like-minded friends. By actively pursuing something that emphasizes their talents, their shattered self-confidence will get a much needed boost. Gently guide your child in the direction of other kids that you think will have a positive influence on them. Make sure they know that you are always there for them, you believe in them, and will do whatever it takes to make things better.
If you feel the situation is out of your control, there are always further steps you can take to get involved including chatting with the school, doctors and mental health providers, and even the authorities if the circumstances call for it. Have a discussion with your childs’ teachers and see if there are any programs being implemented at the school to tackle these issues.
There are a number of resources available online to learn more about bullying programs and government initiatives where you can also learn more. If you want the policies for each state, go to: https://www.education.gov.au/state-and-territory-anti-bullying-policies