Unfortunately, numerous children are victims of either school bullying or cyberbullying. They might even be bullied for taking education seriously and having supportive parents – which other pupils might consider ‘uncool’. Bullying should always be taken seriously. Here are some tips and advice for parents dealing with bullying.
Children are often pressurised to conform with their peers. Any differences – hair style or colour, body size, schoolbag, race, ability or attitude – can make them a potential target for bullying.
This is not to say that your child has to change and conform to fit in – but schools and establishments need to have adequate procedures to prevent and deal with bullying, and your child needs to be resilient enough to seek help.
The NSPCC arranged 26,000 counselling sessions for young victims of bullying in 2015. The rise of technology and smartphones means that bullying even reaches children when they are ‘safe’ at home, leaving them afraid, depressed and isolated.
Bullying includes physical abuse; violence; intimidation and threatening behaviour; taunting; verbal name-calling – and more insidiously, forcing someone to do something against their will; isolating them, humiliating them or making fun of them; or exploiting their insecurities.
Even if your child isn’t being bullied, it’s a good idea to discuss the issue. Explain that bullying is unacceptable and if they are ever made to feel bad by others, or if they see others suffering, they should not hesitate to tell someone.
Your child may be reluctant to speak out, so recognise the signs early on. You might notice a change in their character, behaviour, mood or attitude. Perhaps they are quieter, more emotional, unhappy, depressed or lonely. Reluctance to go to school, do a favourite activity or even wear a certain piece of clothing, could all be signs they are being bullied.
The bullying may be physical, so you might notice unexplained bruises, marks or ripped clothing. They may also be hungry because lunch money has been stolen, or be missing some possessions through intimidation.
Confiding in you
Educate children about bullying and encourage them to share their feelings. Provide strong support at home if they are targeted.
Appreciate that they may not want to tell you, or the school, for fear that things will get worse. Explain the processes calmly.
Some children feel embarrassed that they are being bullied and start to believe they have done something wrong. Reassure them that it is not their fault.
Ask your child to confide in you and praise them for telling you. Listen to everything they say and stay calm. Don’t overreact.
If they won’t talk to you
They might speak with specialist services or people not directly involved, so ensure that they have access to support. Childline have a telephone helpline as well as online services. Nearly 45,000 children contacted them for support against bullying in 2013.
Schools have anti-bullying policies and take the issue very seriously. They should deal with the bully. Contact the school to raise the issue, book an appointment and, if necessary, involve the police.
Make sure that you have all of the facts such as names, dates, times and incidents and tell your child to log every confrontation.
After a bullying revelation, encourage your child to spend time with family or trusted friends and to do activities they enjoy, while school or authorities deal with the bullies.
If all else fails, your child might prefer changing class or school.
Show them Am I a Bully? Talk to them about their behaviour and its effects on others. Educate them, and contact the school if necessary.
Easy access to social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and WhatsApp) and mobile devices mean that cyberbullying could occur anywhere, anytime.
Being online or texting can give people a sense of ‘invincibility’ – they will say things they wouldn’t say face-to-face. 1 in 3 young people have felt threatened online. Instant messaging, forums, gaming sites, chat rooms and comments in anonymous websites like Ask, can all expose children to inappropriate people or material that can victimise them.
There is a minimum age (usually 13) for children to join social media sites, so ensure that your child respects this.
It can be difficult spotting the signs of cyberbullying, but if you notice that your child is sad or upset after spending time online, or you notice any social changes – unusual or increased activity online or on their mobile phone, or if you see unknown numbers contacting them – these might be signs.
Explain that bullying can happen to anyone. It is not their fault, but the bully’s. Even the bully has probably been bullied themselves, causing them to lack empathy. Pity them.
Bullying is distressing for everyone. Communication is vital. Educate children about bullying, so they are able to recognise if it happens to them or others.
Reassure them that they can trust you and all will be well. Make sure they know that you will protect and support them, and can make the bullying stop.
Last but not least, there is help and support for your child – and for you. Do use it.