We’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t experienced some form of bullying in their lives, either as a child, teenager, or even as an adult. Sometimes, we accept it as normal, it’s just something that happens to children all the time, kids being kids. But coping with bullying is not something that parents should leave to chance, or be minimised, bullying victims can have their entire lives shaped by the trauma of the events.
How many children are bullied?
Childline (a UK counselling service for children and teens) reports that they had over 25,700 contacts with children and teens about bullying in 2015 alone. Your child’s weight. Their ethnic background. Their teeth. Eye glasses. Family income level. Clothing. Speech impediments, or learning difficulties/disabilities. Different rates of development in puberty. Sexuality. The pain points for a bully to pick on can come from anywhere.
And the bullying itself can come from any direction. The obvious source is from other pupils, often friends (friend-enemy the frenemy), but it can also come from teachers, siblings, or groups (e.g. racial hate, homophobic groups, or when a mob mentality takes over). It happens online and in the real world. It can take many forms – spreading rumours, sharing embarrassing information, physical attacks, public shaming, negative comments, stealing food/belongings.
Bullying isn’t something that is done and then forgotten. The impact from bullying can play a major part in shaping the adult that your child grows into, because it directly impacts on a child’s sense of self, and self-confidence. Bullying trauma can also result in social anxiety, or further trigger anxiety that already exists in your child. And at its absolute worse, bullying can lead to serious consequences, as you’ve probably seen covered in the media.
Here’s how parents can deal with bullying…
Recognise that there is a problem
Not always, but often a bullied child can often display changes in their temperament and behaviour, especially if the bullying has become severe. Some of those changes include:
- pre-existing social anxieties being triggered at a more rapid rate
- eating difficulties or the development of eating disorders
- sleep difficulties
- temper tantrums (especially if they last longer than you’ve experienced before)
- physiological pains that don’t seem to have any medical cause
- emotional meltdowns with no apparent triggers
- stubbornness and behaviour problems
- your child finds reasons to not to go to school or to a club/activity
There’s no shame in getting help
Your child might be too embarrassed or scared to ask a teacher for help. But use your own life as an example – if someone was threatening you, an adult, your response would be to seek help from the police. You wouldn’t feel ashamed of asking for help in this situation, so why should your child feel any different?
It’s important that your child knows that they aren’t alone in dealing with bullying, there are plenty of people who want to help, most of all you. Your child needs to have the confidence that you are behind them, you will speak to teachers, and support your child through any process.
Along those lines, it can help if your child positions themselves where it’s nearly impossible for a bully to try anything without an adult being able to notice. Have your boy or girl eat lunch in an area patrolled by teachers, walk home along routes populated by adults, and so on.
Make sure your child knows you’re on their side
There’s nothing worse for a child than feeling like nobody is on their side. No matter what happens, make sure your child knows that you have their back through thick and thin, and you will do anything to protect them.
Teach your child about escalation
Bullies generally test the waters with a victim via verbal abuse. How the victim responds is what leads the bully to either escalate or give up. So make sure your child knows it’s best to stand up for him or herself right off the bat because it can get worse further down the road. Some parents feel that it’s best to ignore it in the beginning, see what happens, but its best to take a stand right away.
Help your child recognise that they are not the same, nor do they need to be!
You’re going to have a much easier time helping your child cope with bullying if they learn to recognise that they’re not the same as other children, and that they don’t have to be. They’re going to have their own interests, talents, faults, ways of dressing, tastes in music and TV, and so on. Encouraging confidence in their own decisions will help them be less vulnerable to bullies who often preach conformity to their own tastes and strengths.
Let your child express their feelings
When you talk to your children about what they’re going through it’s important to remember that it’s about what they are feeling, not about how you want them to feel. And they have the right to experience any feeling they want or need to.
Part of this goes to what we talked about above – conformity. If you keep pushing your own notions and feelings on your child, then they’re going to feel pressured (and maybe even bullied) into trying to see the world through your lens, instead of developing their own. Developing confidence in their own set of values is important in helping them defend themselves against bullying. Especially, as bullies often target differences to make children feel uncomfortable and insecure in their choices.
Grow their EQ
Emotional Quotient is like IQ, except it focuses on the ability to recognise the feelings of one’s self and those of others. One of the most valuable lessons in life that a parent can teach their child. I will be providing some useful resources soon on how to increase your child’s EQ, if you’d like to receive these please sign up using your email address.
By teaching your children to express their own feelings out loud, they’ll better be able to understand what they have to do to improve their situation. This can be a formidable tool if your child suffers from any form of social anxiety. At the same time, learning to recognise the feelings of others can help them recognise potential minefields. It can also put the kibosh on bullying activities if your child is the bully instead of the victim.
To aid your child’s EQ growth, ask them about how they’re feeling, and make sure they understand that it’s perfectly cool with you for them to tell you everything, and feel anything. Their feelings are a natural part of who they are, and are not something that should ever be the source of shame.
Also, model compassion for your child. Show them respect and love, rather than trying to make them fear you or using force to get your way.
Practice social skills
If your child has trouble joining groups or making friends they might look like a tasty target for a bully, since bullies tend to pick more on outliers than on kids who belong to a group, and seem secure. So if your child experiences social awkwardness teach them how to observe the group they want to join, and how to integrate themselves into a group. Read up on social skills training – this is another topic I will cover in future.
Give them a model
What’s good for the gosling is good for the goose. If you yourself have been the type to easily back down, now’s the time to start standing up for yourself, get assertive. Your children are going to look to you to see how they should handle different situations, so show them how you handle people that are trying to push you around.
Teach them poise and posture
Physicality can help your child gain confidence. Slouching, inward-turned postures can be blood in the water for bullies. So teach your child to keep their head up with their shoulders back, and to not be afraid to look people in the eye (in a non-aggressive way of course). Introverting their body language can be the beginning of retreating from the outside world, which is seen as scary, encouraging them to practice their body language at home might help with this.