by Karin Gerber
No parent can argue that sending their child to school for the first time goes along with a host of emotions: pride and excitement for reaching this incredible milestone, but also a tinge of fear and anxiety. Questions like “What if my child does not cope?” or the dreaded “What if my child gets bullied?” might run through your mind, leaving you feeling slightly stuck for not knowing what to do if this becomes a reality. Here are a few pointers:
What is bullying?
Firstly, it is important to remember that conflict between children is natural, as it is part of healthy social and emotional development. They are learning how to co-operate with peers and understand their emotions, which can lead to conflict when things do not go their way. However, this is not the same as bullying. Bullying is defined as deliberate, repeated aggressive behaviour by a person or group of people towards another person. It encompasses any behaviour that isolates, humiliates, belittles, or physically hurts another person.
What are the types of bullying?
- Forcing a child to do things they do not want to
- Taking a child’s belongings (food, money etc.)
- Damaging a child’s belongings
- Kicking, hitting, punching
- Teasing, mocking, insulting, taunting
- Spreading false/hurtful rumours
- Deliberately excluding a child from a group or activity
- Scaring/intimidating a child
- Humiliating a child
- Using technology such as cell phones, the internet or other digital platforms to threaten, torment, humiliate or harass a child
- This includes Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, BBM, Instagram etc.
* Source: Gauteng Department of Education – Stop Bullying (www.education.gpg.gov.za)
What are the signs my child is being bullied?
In most cases, your child won’t tell you outright that they are being bullied; instead you will notice a sudden change in behaviour such as:
- Fear of going to school
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, bedwetting
- Unexplained loss or damage of belongings, as well as unexplained bruises
- Becomes moody, sad, aggressive, anxious and/or withdrawn
- Starts bullying younger siblings at home
- Sudden change in scholastic performance (marks dropping, poor concentration in class)
- Physical complaints such as stomach aches and headaches
- Running to use the bathroom the moment they arrive home (from avoiding going at school all day)
What can I do as a parent?
If you suspect your child is being bullied, it is important to address it as soon as possible. Keep the following in mind:
- Always hear what your child has to say and don’t brush it off. Your child needs to know you are on his/her side.
- Remain calm, objective and supportive when your child admits to being bullied, by asking what happened, and how it made them feel. Refrain from commenting on the perpetrator’s behaviour (“He/she is such a bad person!”) or overreacting (“I am phoning the principal right now and demanding an apology!”). Your child needs to feel heard and supported, and also witness how the problem can be resolved in a mature and responsible way. Peggy Moss, a renowned advocate against bullying in the United States, said in an online article on Empoweringparents.com: “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. I’m taking on his battle for him.”
- Do not attack the bully and his/her family. Social worker, Janet Lehman (Empoweringparents.com), says “As tempting as it might be to take matters into your own hands and retaliate against the bully or his family, don’t do it. This is where you have to set some examples for your child on how to problem solve. It’s very difficult to hear that your child is being threatened; of course you want to immediately stop the hurt. But remember, retaliating won’t help your child solve the problem or feel better about himself. Instead, take a deep breath and think about what you can do to help your child handle what he’s facing.”
- Don’t panic if your child does not want to talk to you about being bullied – they are often scared of how you might react, or scared of what might happen if they admit what is going on. BUT it is still crucial that your child talks to someone. “If you feel your kid can’t talk to you, swallow hard and say, ‘OK, my child is not talking to me, but they’ve got to talk.’ Put someone else in that room with them that they can talk to, whether it’s an aunt or uncle, teacher, counsellor, coach or family friend. Unless that conversation can start, it’s very hard to get to the heart of the problem,” says Peggy Moss.
- The next step is to set up a meeting with your child’s teacher, where you can discuss your concerns. Once again, it is crucial to remain calm and avoid being confrontational, because often the teacher might not be aware of the bullying happening – not because the teacher is not doing his/her job, but rather because children are smart enough to do it behind the teacher’s back. The main objective of this meeting would be for you and the teacher to look for solutions together, instead of entering into a blaming-battle. Remember that your child will be in school for many years to come, and it is more beneficial (for you and your child) to build close relationships with the teachers rather than creating barriers by being defensive. In preparation for this meeting, ensure that you have looked at the school’s bully policy, so that you know what you can expect from the school in dealing with this matter.
How can I empower my child?
A healthy relationship with your child from the very first moment of his/her life is the foundation of an emotionally strong child. By tuning into your child’s needs and making time – every day – to talk and listen to your child (no matter how busy and chaotic your day is), you are equipping him/her with the necessary skills to deal with the inevitable challenges they will face as they grow older. A healthy relationship with your child provides the safety and security he/she needs when they do approach you about being bullied, as they will rely on you to guide them. But apart from a healthy relationship, here are a few practical tips to empower your child:
- Foster problem-solving skills by asking your child to come up with solutions, like what to do when it happens again. Possible answers could be walking away without reacting (seeing as bullies often want to elicit a reaction), or telling an adult they trust as soon as it happened. It is important, though, to allow your child to come up with the solutions on his/her own. Your role would be guiding them to acceptable responses (for instance, not to resort to name-calling or retaliation themselves)
- Teach your child to stay in groups of trusted friends, as bullies are less likely to target groups
- Talking about the different types of bullying will help your child identify when they or someone else is being bullied. It is important for children to know that they must report bullying immediately.
Kenridge Primary School, Van Riebeeck Avenue, Kenridge, 7550
Call: 072 822 8474