Being bullied has unfortunately become very common these days. But the effects of bullying on a young mind can be quite devastating including poor school performance, anxiety, feelings of loneliness, loss of self-esteem, or even depression. Earlier it was believed that bullying happens only at middle high school, but only recently it has been found that it has become fairly common at primary school levels as well. Name calling, teasing, hitting, isolating the child from the rest of class, use of abusive language, spreading rumours are some of the examples of bullying, and in this new age of social media bullying has taken a new dimension called cyber bullying.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied at school or has become target of cyber bullying it’s vital that you help your child cope or deal with bullying, especially if the child is young and does not have the skills to deal with the bully. First and foremost is to identify whether your child is being bullied or is going through some transitional phase. It becomes even more difficult if the child doesn’t come to you on his or her own to share with you that he or she is being bullied.
1. Look for the signs and talk: If you notice any sudden change in your child’s behavior like skipping school or unwillingness to go to school; if your child becomes recluse all of a sudden and no longer enjoys activities that he or she used to enjoy before, poor performance at school; any visible signs of bruises or injury that the child is not able to explain, these could be signs that something is not right and it’s time to talk to your child. All of these could be signs of your child being bullied. Create a safe space with your child so that he or she feels comfortable and safe in sharing what has been going on. For this you need to become a good listener. Be supportive and stay calm while listening. If your child is indeed being bullied, be very cautious not to blame the child. Make the child understand that there’s nothing wrong with him or her; he or she is not responsible for being bullied; and it’s not his or her fault. Try to boost your child’s confidence as the child might be having doubts about his or her own abilities to handle the situation or defend himself or herself from the bully. Reassure the child that things will be sorted out.
2. Advise the child correctly: No matter how angry you may feel but refrain from advising your child to fight back with bully by bullying. Otherwise, this can often escalate the situation to more violent outbursts. Instead, advise the child to avoid the situations or places where bullying occurs; advise him or her to avoid places where there is no adult supervision; interact with other kids at school; and most importantly, to tell teachers or other adults at the school. You can encourage the child to engage in buddy system, where the child can be accompanied by another child to visit places where bullying is most likely to occur like, hallways, washrooms, locker areas, etc. In the same way, you can encourage your child to do the same for another child who is being bullied.
3. Reassure the child: Sometimes kids think that if they tell someone at home or at school like teacher, bullying will get worse. Give assurance to the child that sharing with parents or teachers at school or some other authority, will not result in more bullying, rather, adults can help the kid deal with the bully or curb bullying. But this does not mean that you, as a parent, should take this lightly, when the child tells that bullying will get worse. You also need to find a way to handle the situation in a way that does not escalate the bullying. Like instead of approaching the bully directly or approaching his or her parents, it is better to inform the authorities at school. Most schools these days have anti-bullying programs.
4. Teach skills to deal with the bully: Most bullies thrive on the reactions of their targets. So teach your child to hold his or her reactions in front of the bully. It is better not to show any reaction to bullying. Hold your anger, tears, and fears as these give the bully power. In many cases, when the target doesn’t show any reaction to bullying, the bully stops on his or her own. Teach your child anger controlling skills (counting to ten, deep breathing, etc.).
5. Assertiveness skills: Help your child learn assertiveness skills. Help him or her practice skills where the child firmly tells the bully to “stop.” You can use role playing techniques where your play the role of the bully and your child practices assertiveness skills and learns to say “No” or “Stop” to the bully and walks away from the bully.
6. Emotional support: The child might be having a lot of emotional difficulties during this time. Try to support your child emotionally by encouraging him or her to share all the emotions that he or she is experiencing. Encourage your child to give outlet to the emotions like anger, fear, frustrations, guilt, or apprehensions, etc. If the child feels like crying, let him or her cry in front of you. Assure him or her that crying is not a sign of being weak; rather it’s a good way to give outlet to all the emotions inside.
7. Believe in your child: This is a time when the child might be experiencing a lot of self-doubts and loss of self-esteem. It is very important to show your faith in the child. Highlight your child’s potentials and positive aspects of his or her personality. Your confidence in your child’s abilities will surely build his or her self-esteem. You can teach your child to focus on the positive aspects of the situation. Teach him or her to take a positive outlook of the situation and take it as a challenge rather than a problem. Assure your child that you are with him/her, no matter what, and that together both of you will definitely win this challenge.
8. Share with the authorities: Last but not the least, encourage your child to inform someone at school, like a teacher or counselor, or you can share the whole situation with school authorities yourself on your child’s behalf. But do ensure that things don’t get worse, like you can visit school when there is least chance of encountering the bully. Also, assure the child that adults have ways to tackle the situation.