We, as parents, are genetically programmed to want to protect our young. When someone or something hurts them, it’s almost as if we can feel that pain ourselves. For this very reason, knowing that one of our children is being bullied can be an extremely difficult thing for a parent to hear, and to have to come to terms with. Unfortunately, bullying is a serious problem, and we need to be aware of what to look out for.
Signs that your child might be a victim of bullying:
There’s a good chance your child won’t walk up to you and say, “I’m getting teased and bullied at school, the kids are calling me names.” Instead, your child’s probably going to be saying, “I don’t want to go to school today.” or even something like, “I don’t like living here, I want to go and live (with Dad/Gran)…” . It is our job as Mom or Dad to play detective sometimes, and, if this seems to be happening a lot, consider the possibility that bullying might be the reason behind the sick days or the long list of excuses to not go to school. Also, look for signs that kids are hurting themselves. Self-mutilation can be a sign of internal frustration and torment. For boys, one classic symptom is that they are teased so much about being being ‘different’ (not into sports, not having those brand new sneakers etc.) that they become terrified to go to the bathroom at school. Since there’s only one way in and one way out of a bathroom, it’s an ideal place to tease other kids. Boys who are bullied often won’t go all day, which can lead to lifelong intestinal issues. What to look out for? If your child rushes home from school and races straight to the bathroom as soon as they’re in the door, every single day, it may be a sign that something, or someone, is creating a situation at school where they feel unsafe using the bathrooms.
If you’re a parent, teacher or health care worker, add “Bullying” to your radar when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on with a child—add the possibility that your kid is getting tormented at school. The injury is real when kids get teased—and left unchecked, bullying can cause lifelong, devastating self-esteem issues, and unfortunately, can sometimes lead to a young person deciding to do something as sad and irreversible as taking their own life.
We’ve established there’s a problem…what now?
Let your child talk about it. Give them the space to explain it from their point of view. Don’t ask questions like’Did you do something to make them tease you?’ because this puts the responsibility for the bullying on them.
Try to be non-judgmental about both your child and the one doing the bullying. Don’t try to solve the problem. Rather ask, “What happened? How did that make you feel?” and try to draw your child out. Try to find out more about the kid who’s doing the teasing, but don’t say, “Wow!, what a rotten kid,” because you’re just getting a part of the story, and by taking sides, you’re injecting yourself into the middle in a way which you shouldn’t. Your child doesn’t need to see you to go crazy (it really doesn’t help the situation) or take the problem on as your own. If you do end up getting involved, it needs to be as an authority, parent figure, ie, by contacting the school, and not as a buddy-buddy or friend ie. by choosing sides and ‘ganging up. The most important thing is that your child knows that he has been heard, and that his feelings matter. Once you’ve got the whole story out, depending upon what’s happened, you can take your next step. For a parent to be explosive about the situation will cause a child to recoil. If I march to school and confront the bully on the playground, my child is not going to feel safe telling me anything about this again.
So now what? Is there a way to stop this nonsense?
Basically, ask your child what his ideas are. “What do you think you can say next time? What do you think might work?” Help your child see what the outcome might be of their words and actions; help them see that this is a problem they can try to solve on their own terms. For example, your child might come up with the idea of saying to the bully, “Leave me alone, you jerk.” Instead of the parent saying, “That’s a bad idea,” respond with, “What do you think is going to happen if you do that?” Let them figure out that the bullying might escalate if they resort to name-calling. By doing this, you allow your child the chance to learn a little about social interactions in the safety of ‘role play’ with you. Your child will hopefully realize that retaliating with name calling is not the best answer and come up with another answer, such as “I could walk away from the bully.”
You have to be honest with your child about how hard it is to face a somebody that is bullying you. If you have been bullying in the past, perhaps tell your child a little about it so that they do not feel so alone. And ask your child this question: “What’s going to make you feel better about this situation?” But make sure you’re not the one coming up with the solution. It’s important that your child feels like they’re solving the problem on his or her own terms. It’s a skill you can teach them that will last a lifetime.
When is it time to mention it to the teacher/school?
Actually earlier than you’d think… if your child mentions being bullied more than once a week, make an appointment to see the teacher. You don’t need to wait for your child to come home with bruises or a black eye to take action! That said, it is important to make an appointment, it holds more weight and the teacher will take you more seriously. When you go to see the teacher, remember the following…
Before you approach the school, list all the facts: what happened, who was involved, when it occurred, who witnessed it, anything your child did that may have provoked the incident, whether it was a one-off or series of events.
Don’t arrive at the school unexpectedly: Make an appointment with the class teacher or head of year.
Aim to work together with the school and make it clear that you are seeking the school’s help in finding a solution.
Avoid accusing the school: Remember that teachers are usually the last to find out that bullying is happening at school. The sequence is “friends first, then parents, lastly schools”.
Be patient: Allow the school time to deal with the problem but stay in touch with them and arrange a follow up meeting to see how the situation is being resolved.
If things still don”t improve
Keep a bullying diary. It is extremely important to keep track of exactly what happened… who said what, who did what. Write down every incident as soon as possible after it happens. Include the date, what happened, who did it and who saw it. Include the effect on your child, whether your child told anyone and what they said or did and any later effects. Really, as much detail as possible.
Tell the school every single time that a new bullying incident occurs. Write down what they say or do and whether or not the actions have any effect.
If your child is hurt, take photographs and see your doctor (and the police if the assault is serious).
Schools have a variety of options for dealing with bullying. These range from a warning, seeing the bully’s parents and detention to internal exclusion within the school, fixed term exclusion and permanent exclusion.
Most importantly, when you talk to your kids about bullies, remind them of this. Bullies are cowards! You’ll hardly ever find a bully teasing a group of kids, it’s only because he feels he can overpower and trample some down when their on there own. Encourage your child to believe in themselves, and to be confident enough to show that they don’t approve of bullying when it is happening to others. In the end, small gestures can save lives.
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