Some parents tend to think of bullying as a normal part of growing up. Unfortunately, the wounds that bullying inflict on children can be far-reaching. In fact, some experts believe that being bullied leads to a low self-esteem, which predispose children to truancy, rebelliousness, academic failure and even criminal behavior later in life.
As parents or teachers, it might be difficult to differentiate bullying from the teasing and playful banter that occur during play. Just as it is important to be vigilant about the possibility of bullying in schools, it is also important not to unnecessarily intervene in children’s play. There are a lot of interventions that can be employed to stop bullying but it takes a lot of discernment to identify when it is necessary to do so. One good definition of bullying is that it characterized by repeated, intentional hurtful acts, which may be physical, verbal, emotional or sexual in nature.
Ensuring your child’s safety in school begins by teaching your child the life skills necessary to cope with being in a new environment. I’ve been a volunteer teacher to a community literacy program on and off in my late teens. One of the things that helped me stay sane was to teach children the skills necessary to settle disagreements among themselves. I prefer to call it three F’s of survival: follow, fight or find a way.
Follow. For instance, does your child know when it is healthy to follow and obey? Do your children have healthy relationships with you—their primary authority figures?
Fight. Does your daughter know when to fight for herself and how? A lot of literature that deals with bullying these days tends to downplay the significance of teaching children to fight back. The trends of thought about conflict resolution nowadays tend to be pacifist. I believe that as last recourse, especially when their life and wellbeing is being threatened, children need to know that fighting back is a viable option for them. More often than not, once the “pecking order” is set and children have established themselves as a force to reckon with, the bullying stops as well.
Find a way. Is your son equipped with basic problem-solving skills that will enable him to find solutions to his difficulties? Have you discussed possible options he can explore when he is having trouble in school (like talking to his teachers or enlisting the help of peers)? Are you in tune with his struggles? Do you know what’s going on in school?
Telltale signs of bullying to look for include: torn clothing, changes in appetite, changes in sleep pattern, a lack of desire to go to school, mood changes and recurrent illness.
Once you suspect that your child is being bullied, you should immediately reassure your child that you will be there to help him through it. Alert your child’s teacher and principal to make sure that appropriate intervention and effective monitoring is done to ensure your child’s safety. I would suggest that we limit the urge to confront the bully ourselves because that may reinforce the belief that your child does not have what it takes to stand up for himself. Involving the bully’s parents may be a last recourse as well—children who hurt others are also hurting themselves. Bullies typically come from families where there is abuse, neglect and/or inappropriate or inadequate discipline. Instead, volunteer as a teacher aid or as a playground supervisor until your child feels safe enough to go to school. Encourage your child’s school to ask each class to develop its own code of conduct which could look like this:
We don’t want any hitting, punching or kicking.
We don’t want any name-calling or put downs.
We include everyone when we do group activities.
We help others when they are bullied.
In the final analysis, you are your children’s greatest advocate against them being bullied.