4 Sep 2022

How to handle childhood bullying

We’ve all observed, or been victims, of this behaviour, which is a pattern of repeatedly targeting, humiliating and harming others. This is an all-too familiar playground problem, often starting as physical aggression and then becoming refined into a more exquisite form of torture, involving spreading rumours, disrupting friendships and social exclusion.

The best way to stop a bully in his/her tracks is for bystanders to intervene; bullies thrive on attention, but are cowards at heart. Parents should teach their children that this kind of behaviour is not tolerable and that there is strength in numbers when it comes to raising red flags. If you can encourage your child to be a champion against bullying, who is willing to stand up for friends and call out unacceptable behaviour, you should be very proud.

Children are often reluctant to discuss problems with bullying with their parents. They can all too easily perceive their victimhood as a humiliating failure, or will simply react to bullying with fatalistic acceptance – after all, they have limited experience to draw on and will find it hard to put their experiences into perspective.

Tell Tale Signs of Bullying

• Coming home with damaged or missing clothes or inexplicable cuts and bruises.

• Unaccountably having trouble with schoolwork.

• Showing a marked reluctance to go to school or out to play.

• Being inexplicably, or disproportionately, emotional or irritable.

How to Help a Bullied Child

• Listen. If your child feels able to talk about the experience, don’t be dismissive, or come up with hackneyed tropes like “it’s all part of growing up” or “we’ve all been through it”. Suggest your child keeps a diary, detailing bullying incidents, or at least cooperates with you in creating one – it might be useful if you’re involving third parties in the problem.

• Offer support. Your child will need reassurance that the bullying they are experiencing is not their fault; it is not something they have brought upon themselves. It can help if you are sympathetic and empathetic – you may have your own stories of being bullied as a child. The main thing is to reassure them that you are in this together.

• Gather your thoughts. You will feel understandably angry on your child’s behalf, and you must resist the temptation to rush down to the school and berate the bully yourself. This will only make the situation worse.

• Enlist help. It’s really hard to tackle bullying on your own, and nobody should have to suffer in silence. Inevitably, you will have to involve teachers, parents, and the children themselves in finding a solution. You might discover that a bullied child finds it difficult talking to their parents, and is happier confiding in a friend of his/her parents, a godparent, or a grandparent and you should certainly encourage this.

• Consult. As long as your child is happy for you to do so, it is a good idea to make an appointment with their teacher, who may not be aware that there is a problem or may have heard a very contradictory account of the incident.

• Record. Agree what action the school proposes to take to solve the problem and agree on a timeframe. Make a note of this proposal and stay in touch with the school. It is important to let them know if the situation is improving, or if there are still problems.

• Take if further. If you feel the school is not providing an adequate response to your problem, you can speak directly to the head, or get in touch with the school governors.

Your school should have a written anti-bullying policy and coordinator, who should be able to address any problems.

How to Help a Bully

Every parent dreads being told that his or her child is a bully. However, it is important that you address the problem, rather than just reverting to a kneejerk, defensive response, which is blinding you to the reality of the situation.

If you can overcome your initial feelings of defensiveness and denial and bring yourself to accept that there is a problem, you will have to have to help your child to modify their behaviour. You will be more supportive if you can understand why your child is behaving in this way – is there a problem at home? Has there been a major disruption in home life (a death, divorce, separation, redundancy etc.)? Is your child also the victim of a bully? The victimised are often prone to adopting bullying behaviour.

Ultimately, you will need to talk all these issues over with your child. They may not fully understand the impact their actions have had on the child they have bullied, so you need to address the question of empathy – “how do you think you’d feel if someone did this to you?” It is also constructive if you can enlist the assistance of the school, which may well be aware of the situation and ready to help.

Taking it Online

Playground confrontations, or incidents in classrooms or dining halls are witnessed and reported. Online bullying is a much more insidious form of torment. Increasingly, children may find themselves teased, threatened, embarrassed or humiliated online by bullies who are exploiting the full potential of social media and mobile phones. Often children are trapped into foolish behaviour online and are terrified and ashamed. They become isolated and anxious, sometimes with devastating consequences.

If you want to protect your children from this danger, take the following steps:

• If your child seems upset or withdrawn consider the possibility that cyberbullying is taking place. Sometimes it’s easier if the computer is set up in a family room, where you can monitor your child’s reactions.

• Talk to your child about online bullying and advise them that not responding or retaliating is the best policy – don’t let cyberbullies know that their abuse is working. Sometimes switching off the computer and walking away is the best defence.p

• Make sure your child knows how to block abusive messages online.

• Report anyone who is bullying your child online by notifying the platforms that host the abusive images, -messages, videos or audio.

• Talk to the school about online bullying – all schools have a responsibility to protect their pupils from bullying, whether it is happening in plain sight or on the internet.

• If online bullying strays into the areas of hate crime or pornography, you should report it to the police.

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