Bullying at school and how to combat it
Over the years there has been a lot of discussion over the issue of bullying at school. With technology spreading the news faster than ever and new bullying incidents being revealed all over the world, parents are becoming more and more concerned about their children’s safety at school. Fortunately, there are a lot of things we can do to protect children and make school a safer place for all.
Is this bullying?
A lot of times people are not sure if a certain behavior can be considered as bullying, so first things first: what is bullying?
Bullying is any type of (potentially) repeated aggressive behavior that is performed among school aged children. This behavior also involves an imbalance of power that can either be real or children may perceive it as real at the given time. It is important to note that power imbalance does not necessarily have to be physical. Many times it derives from the difference between the popularity, the cognitive ability, etc. of the child who bullies and that of the child who is being bullied.
As mentioned above, there are different types of behaviors that can be considered as bullying. Apart from physical bullying, which refers to physically attacking a person by hitting them, making gestures or taking their things, there is also verbal bullying (saying or writing mean comments about another person, threatening them, teasing them etc.) and social bullying, like embarrassing someone in front of others, spreading rumors about them or excluding them from a group.
As far as place and time are concerned, bullying can take place either at school during school hours, but also after school, when children walk home, at a playground or even on the Internet.
How to tell if your child is being bullied at school
Children who experience bullying at school will usually try not to talk about it with their parents, mainly because they are afraid of the consequences. Most of the times, they have been threatened by the children who bully them and they fear that talking to somebody about what is happening to them will result in them being further attacked. So, how can you find out if your child is being bullied?
First of all, you should pay attention to any unjustifiable changes in your kid’s behavior. Do they suddenly try to avoid going to school, even by pretending being sick? Do they seem overly stressed when going to school? Has their school performance worsen without any obvious reason? All these may be signs that your child is experiencing a difficult situation at school and tries to feel safe. In cases of physical bulling, you may also notice some unexplainable injuries or realize that your kid’s personal belongings may be destroyed or even lost. Your child’s appetite could also be a sign. A child that suddenly starts coming home starving, may not have eaten at school (bullies may have taken their food). On the other hand, a child who starts skipping meals could also be facing aggressive behaviors thus getting depressed and losing their appetite. Even worse, a child may acquire self destructive behaviors, such as having suicidal thoughts or harming themselves.
I know my child is being bullied. What can I do?
Discovering that your child faces such attacks at school can be very upsetting. Trying to figure out what is happening and how to protect their child, sometimes parents tend to react sharply. However, children need to feel safe and free to express their feelings and ask for help. So, in order for your kid to feel comfortable talking to you about what is happening to them, you should be calm and supportive. Avoid using phrases that may make your child feel that it is their fault or that they have caused this behavior. Instead, listen carefully to what they have to say and ask them how they feel. It is important for your child to feel that they are being heard.
Ask your child to make a list of the incidents. What happened and when, who was involved, who were the witnesses etc. Go through that list and discuss each incident separately. Help your child see what they could have done differently, so as to stop the bully. Encourage your child to appear confident, even if they do not feel so. Children who bully tend to leave the kid alone if they realize that they are not afraid. Try to work on body language and voice tone, so that your kid knows how to to seem confident. You can also do some role playing and help your kid practice possible answers to stop the bullying. In general, try to make your kid feel that they can have an active role on what is happening and that they are strong enough to face it. Do not forget to mention some examples of famous people who have been bullied. Children in such situations may feel that their suffering will never end and mentioning such examples will help them see that this is something that many people face and that the future can and will be different.
As far as school is concerned, make an appointment with the class teacher, as soon as you have a complete list of the incidents. Avoid going to school unexpectedly and make sure that you show teachers that you are there to ask for your help and not to put the blame on them. Most of the times, teachers do not know that a child is being bullied, so it is unlikely that they have left your child unprotected on purpose.
After you have exposed the problem to the teachers, allow them some time to take action, but be sure to stay in touch. If the bullying incidents continue, record every detail and inform the school immediately. Schools apply different methods to combat such behaviors that range from a simple warning to permanent exclusion.