It is estimated that approximately 20 percent of the students in the country report being bullied in school. No matter in what form the bullying takes place, it can leave the child feeling threatened and unsafe. Emotional distress, anxiety, depression, violence and avoidance in children are often symptoms of bullying. Left unaddressed, it may also lead to suicide attempt or self-harm in some other form. As a parent, recognising these tell-tale signs can help to identify the cause of bullying, control the effects and help the child overcome the situation.
Need to Empower Children
Bullying is defined as a mean and hurtful behaviour that occurs repeatedly in a relationship with an imbalance of power or strength. It comes in many forms with verbal, physical, relational, and cyberbullying being the most common of all in the current time. Although schools nowadays are doing a lot to deal with bullying, parents are still the key to empowering their children to prevent bullying and stop it eventually.
It is highly necessary to develop children’s problem-solving skills so that they manage the conflicts on their own as it helps to prevent bullying better than emotional responses. The evolution of these skills in a child can help prevent bullying, or probably may not lead to any negative consequences. The role of parents and teachers in taking preventive measures is of the utmost importance here. It is up to them to assist in developing self-confidence in the children.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with the common types of bullying.
Verbal bullying or bullying with cruel spoken words involve the following activities:
- Ongoing name-calling
- Teasing someone in a hurtful way
- Making fun of someone
- Being sarcastic in a hurtful way
- Offensive comments
- Insults or jokes about someone and their family because of their race, culture, religion, disability, or sexuality
- Mean comments about someone’s body or physical characteristics such as their weight or height
- Hurtful comments about the way someone looks or behaves
- Inappropriate sexual comments
- Threatening to cause harm.
Example: When a child says to another child that she’s really fat, and so is her mom.
Spot the Signs: The first signs are that a child may withdraw, become moody, or show a change in appetite. They may tell you something hurtful that someone said about them and might ask you if you think it’s true.
What to Do: First, stress the fact of self-respect. Parents are the first teachers for a child. Through your behaviour, emphasize the point that how everyone deserves to be treated well – thank the teachers, praise friends, be kind to store employees. Help your kids to first identify and then appreciate their strengths.
The best shield parents can offer is to foster their child’s confidence and liberty, and to be willing to take action when needed. Parents should discuss and practice safe, constructive ways their child can respond to a bully.
Bullying with aggressive physical intimidation involves:
- Hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, biting
- Tripping, shoving, or intimidating another person
- Mean or rude hand gestures
- Touching another person when they don’t want you to
- Being made afraid of being hurt
- Stealing or damaging possessions.
Example: A child gets surrounded by a few mischievous colleagues in a playground and is beaten by them.
Spot the Signs: Many children don’t tell their parents when they are physically assaulted. Parents need to watch for possible warning signs like unexplained cuts, scratches or bruises, missing or damaged clothes, or frequent complaints of headaches and stomach-aches.
What to Do: If at all you suspect your child is being physically bullied, start a casual conversation with them. Ask questions about what’s going on at school, during lunch or recess, or on the way home. Based on their responses, ask if anyone is been mean to them. At the same time, try to keep your emotions in check. Press the value of open, ongoing communication with you and with teachers or school counsellors.
Be sure you note down the dates and times of the bullying incidents, the responses from various people involved, and the actions that have been taken as yet. Do not directly contact the parents of the bully or bullies, to resolve the matter on your own. If your child continues to be physically hurt, and if you need any additional assistance, contact the school management.
Relational bullying involves deliberately preventing someone from joining or being part of a group, whether it is at a lunch table, a game, a team sport, or any social activity.
Example: A group of children in class keeps discussing weekend hangouts over a team game or get-togethers, treating the one uninvited child as if they were invisible.
Spot the Signs: Watch for mood changes, withdrawal from peer groups, and a shift toward being alone more than usual. Girls, more likely than boys, tend to experience social exclusion, nonverbal, or emotional intimidation. This pain can be as strong as physical bullying and might just last even longer.
What to Do: Parents should make it a daily routine to talk with their kids about how their day went. Help them find things that make them happy, importantly, point out their positive qualities, and make sure they know some people love and care about them. Focus on developing their talents and interests in music, arts, athletics, reading, and after-school activities so your kids build relationships outside of school as well.
Cyberbullying involves criticizing someone by spreading mean words, lies, and false rumours through e-mails, text messages, and social media posts. Sexist, racist, and discriminatory messages create an aggressive atmosphere, even when it is not directly targeting the child.
Example: When someone posts on social media about a child in a defaming manner, or spreads some absolute lie.
Spot the Signs: Observe if your child spends more time online, but appears to be sad and anxious moments later. Even though if the child is reading painful things on a computer or phone, this may be their only social outlet. Also, take note if they have trouble sleeping, cries to stay home from school, or withdraws from activities the child once loved.
What to Do: Mean messages can be distributed anonymously and pretty quickly, leading to continuous cyberbullying. Hence, the parents first need to establish household rules for internet safety and agree on age-appropriate time limits. The parents should ideally know the popular and potentially abusive sites, apps, and digital devices before kids use them. Your kids should know that you will be monitoring their online activities and make it clear to them that if they experience cyber bullying, they should not engage, respond, or forward it to anyone.
Instead, they should inform parents so that you can print out the offending messages, including the dates and times of when they were received. You can report cyberbullying to the school and the online service provider. If the cyberbullying worsens to include threats and sexually explicit messages, the parents can contact the local law enforcement.
If your child does approach you about being bullied or about someone else being bullied, be supportive, praise their courage for letting you know, and gather information. Make sure you do not get angry in such a scenario, but be polite and responsive. This is what will give courage to the child to come up and speak his heart out.
Inspiration from children
Addressing the perils of cyberbullying, two teenage inventors from different parts of the globe, have been in the news recently. Meet 15 year old Gitanjali Rao, Indian-American scientist and inventor; who has recently been named as Time magazine’s first ever Kid of the Year for her app and web tool “Kindly” that helps detect signs of cyberbullying. Elsewhere in Bangladesh, 17 year old Sadat Rahman has won the International Children’s Peace Prize 2020 for his involvement in setting up social organisation and mobile app titled “Cyber teens” to stop cyber bullying.