No parent wants their child to be bullied. However, should you discover it's been going on, be confident that you can help them through this traumatic time. We explain a little about bullying and how it manifests itself - and then consider ways you can look to deal with the problem.
Every situation is different
Bullying takes on many forms, from name calling to manipulative behaviour and physical threats, and more recently using technology including text messages, social networking sites, and messaging apps. It is important to realise that every bullying experience is different - and so while this article offers a summary of ways to deal with bullying, each situation needs careful consideration of what has been going on, and the children involved.
What to look out for
It's worth noting that even as an adult, it can be difficult to realise you are the victim of, say, office bullying. It's perhaps easy then to understand how children can often be in a position where they don't realise they are being bullied. All they may realise is that they are unhappy with certain people around them or ill at ease in certain situations.
As a parent, there are often visual signs that might suggest your child has been the victim of bullying. These could include bruises or damaged or ruined personal possessions. Other times there may be clues through reported headaches or stomach aches - real or imagined. Other signs can include behaviour changes such as becoming withdrawn and spending more time alone, sleeping badly and having nightmares, wetting the bed, and - perhaps understandably - not wanting to go to school.
At school, it may be that homework and school performance levels drop too, or there are frequently observed negative feelings expressed about themselves or life in general. Another thing to look out for is a sudden change in friendship circles. Whatever you suspect or are curious about, it is important to not to jump to conclusions though, and you should always be mindful of any other situations such as changes in home-life circumstances that may be affecting your child.
Helping a child who is being bullied
The following suggestions from Bullying.co.uk should help you deal with things and bring an end to such a distressing problem.
- Talk to your child, and listen to them. If you can see that your child is struggling to talk, don't pressurise them. Let them know that you will always be there for them when they feel ready to talk. Reassure them that they haven't done anything wrong to deserve to be treated in this way. It isn't uncommon for children to feel as though they deserve this treatment so regular reassurance is vital
- Never insist that your child stands up to bullies. No two children are the same and this might actually put your child under additional pressure. Remind them though that being bullied is not about being a weak person, nor is the bully a strong person.
- Encourage your child to always keep themselves around friends to avoid them being targeted on their own. Never encourage them to physically or verbally provoke the bullies.
- Try some role play with them - this could involve acting out a scenario with their toys or talking through what happens. This might help you to get a clearer perspective on what might be going on. Encourage them to talk about the way they feel. A calm environment is vital for this but don't be put off if you don't get results straightaway. It can be hard to appear confident when you are not feeling it, but perhaps you can rehearse with your child how they might react so as not to give the bully the reaction they are looking for.
- Introduce other strategies to help them cope - writing things down or drawing pictures will mean that they have a release for their feelings which might avoid bottling things up.
- Sometimes as a parent we might be a little too close, so think about whether there might be another trusted adult that could step in.
- Ensure you liaise with the school and obtain the name of a teacher that your child can go to if they feel frightened.
- You should also ask the school a copy of its anti-bullying policy, and ensure you keep note of all incidents and evidence you have. You should write to the headteacher at the school asking them to take action, and expect a positive response. Doing things in a formal way is important - and your child may well dread you storming off to the school and making a scene.
- If the school fails to resolve the situation, you can escalate the matter via the school's board of governors, and if necessary the local education authority. You can find letter templates and further guidance here.
- If your child is older, think about whether an assertiveness workshop might help. Kidscape offer free one-day workshops in London for children between the ages of 9 and 15. They will learn strategies to help them deal with bullying and will be around other children that have also been through similar experiences.
- We have lots of resources on the Bullying.co.uk website including some for parents, educators, and children too who can join our online forums or call our helpline. Another helpline that can offer advice and support is ChildLine