How to Bully-Proof Your Child
All children will experience teasing, on and off the playground, which is common especially amongst youngsters. But it’s important to know that it is not okay when the teasing becomes more than just banter, and that it isn’t “a normal part of growing up”.
For some children, teasing can turn violent and become abusive.
Bullying behaviour is often used in a damaging way to hurt others. It’s defined as negative behaviour by one or more persons who intentionally and deliberately mean to cause hurt, harm or humiliate. This can be physically or emotionally and can happen while at school, in the community, or online.
These are the four most-common types of bullying:
Physical bullying: Any bullying that hurts someone’s body or damages their possessions. This includes kicking, tripping, scratching, pinching and pushing, hitting, tripping and biting.
Verbal bullying: When someone uses verbal language to gain power. This includes name-calling, insults and negative comments, teasing, intimidation, homophobic or racist remarks, or verbal abuse.
Social bullying: Sometimes referred to as relational bullying, it is often harder to recognise and is usually done behind the bullied person’s back. It is designed to harm someone’s social reputation and/or cause humiliation.
Social bullying includes gossiping (verbal or written), lying and spreading rumours, revealing personal information to embarrass and humiliate someone, and damaging someone’s social reputation
Cyber bullying: A form of bullying or harassment using electronic means that takes place over digital devices like cellphones, computers, and tablets, and involves intimidating or harassing someone using a digital platform like social media networks.
This can include sending harassing text messages, posting unwanted pictures or messages to social media outlets, spreading rumours and hearsay online, and so on.
There are many reasons kids bully others. The person doing the bullying may have low self-esteem, may have experienced bullying or violence themselves, and in some cases, they might use bullying to “look cool” in front of others and to feel better about themselves.
It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether your child is being bullied, which is why it’s important for parents to keep the lines of communication open with their children, and to observe their child’s body language and habits.
To help prevent your child from the physical and emotional abuse, it’s important to better educate yourself as their parent.
Here are possible warning signs to be on the lookout for if your child may be experiencing being bullied:
– Faking illnesses to avoid having to go school. Headaches and stomach aches could be signs of stress and anxiety, especially if it’s something your child is bringing up often, and more so at night before having to go to school or in the morning.
– Trouble sleeping. If your child is feeling anxious about going to school the next day, they will often have a restless night, and/or nightmares.
– If you notice that your child is more emotional than usual, especially when the topic of school is brought up, it may be another possible sign of victimisation. Changes in mood, seeming sad, depressed or withdrawn are all signs that a conversation needs to be had with your child.
– Children are prone to the occasional bump and bruise, but unexplained bruises and injuries are a possible sign that they are being bullied, especially when they happen more frequently and your child cannot explain where these injuries come from, doesn’t want to talk about it, or their story changes.
If you notice some of these warning signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean your child is being bullied. But it might signal that it is time to talk to your child about what is going on at school.
Debbie Schäfer, MEC for education in the Western Cape, has urged parents and learners to report incidents of bullying, saying that parents are key to identifying behavioural changes in their children.
“If bullying has been identified at school, it’s important to address the situation as soon as possible, so that the appropriate actions and measures can be implemented,” she said.
The Department of Education has also set up a Safe Schools Hotline number (0800 454-647) for teachers, parents, and pupils to report crime and abuse. Children can also call Childline SA on 0800 055-555.
What parents can do
So what can parents do to protect their children and to bully-proof them?
Firstly, don’t ignore signs of the child being bullied. Explain that bullying is unacceptable and that no one should have to put up with it.
Make an appointment to see your child’s class teacher as soon as possible. Talk to your school’s guidance counsellors so they can keep an eye out for bullying during the school day.
If your child is being bullied online, make a point of printing out or taking screenshots of conversations, messages, pictures and any other items which can prove that your child is being cyber bullied. Keep a record of all of these incidents to help assist in the investigative process.
If your child is being threatened with physical violence, or if the bullying continues to escalate, get law enforcement involved.
What bullied kids can do
The South African Police Service has provided tips for children to follow if they are being bullied:
l Walk away from the bully. Bullies want to know that they have control over your emotions, so do not react with anger or retaliate with physical force.
If you walk away, ignore them or calmly and assertively tell them that you are not interested in what they have to say. In this way, you are demonstrating that they do not have control over you.
l Report the bullying to a trusted adult. If you do not report threats and assaults, a bully will often become more and more aggressive. In many cases, adults can find ways to help with the problem without letting the bully know that it was you who reported them.
l Repeat as necessary. In the same way as the bully, you may have to be relentless. Report each and every bullying incident until it stops.
l Find support from those who do not bully. Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience when being bullied. Reach out to connect with family and real friends. There are plenty of people who will love and appreciate you for who you are.
Technology can help
Technology by means of apps is a way for schools to give students a way to anonymously report bullying or harassment.
For example, St David’s Marist School in Sandton, Johannesburg, launched the STOPit app. This app is an anonymous reporting system that lets learners and staff members report bullying and inappropriate behaviour via their cellphone.
Once a school has subscribed to the app, children are able to download it. With the app installed on their cellphones or tablets, learners and staff members who witness or experience instances of bullying are able to anonymously submit reports consisting of text, pictures or videos. These reports are then received and managed by administrators at the school.
It is important to let your children know that bullying is not okay and that they should report it when it does occur.
Remember to always acknowledge your child’s pain. Recognising their pain and them hearing you affirm that what happened wasn’t fair or right is an important validation for your child.
The safety and wellbeing of your child should always be the foremost priority.
Erin Carelse is a mother of two and News Editor at The Southern Cross.