“They dumped a can of insects on me… and I thought they were my friends”, 17 year old Tanya (name changed for this article) told me bravely while I shuddered on hearing that. She was a survivor of bullying. Today she is a confident teenager who is active in debating, theatre and writing. But, not many people know about the baggage she carries from the days she got badly bullied – the panic attacks. Surveys show 1 out of 3 children in the age group 7-14 get bullied and it can be very scary. Many parents wonder what can they do to protect their child from bullying.
Bullying could leave kids with short term and long term side effects. It could be physical or psychological. It could happen at any age from kindergarteners to adults. So, something has to be done about it! Here, there are 10 tips that you can utilize to protect and support your child in the fight against bullying.
1. Keep your communication channels open
Many studies have come up with the finding that more than anything else, kids are looking for someone to talk to when they get bullied. Signe Whitson, the author of the 8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for Parents & Schools and Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Ages 5-11 to Cope with Bullying says “Encourage your child to tell trustworthy adults about any instances of bully behavior, either in his own life or that he sees occurring with a peer.”
Does your child feel comfortable enough to share excerpts from their life with you? When your child is able to share their mistakes and shortcomings with you without being criticized, you are helping them to develop their trust in you. Develop this trust as early as you can so that they will let you be in their life when they most need you.
2. Involve your child in finding a solution to the situation
Even after suffering bullying for a few years, Tanya’s parents did not know what she was going through. “I have a very supportive family. I talked to them after getting bullied for the first time, they went to school and spoke with the teachers about it. This is what many parents do. But, in my case, it backfired. The bullies retaliated and took revenge on me. I was young and I was scared. To protect myself from further retaliation by the bullies, I hid every such incident from my family thereafter.”
Your child is not always looking for your direct involvement in the event of bullying. Many a times, what they need is your tips and unconditional support in handling the situation. Discuss your plan with your child, incorporate their suggestions and tackle it together. Your support will give them the strength to handle the situation with confidence. This will develop their self-confidence to handle similar situations in the future.
3. Help your child feel proud of their strengths
I spoke to a group of 10-11 year old boys about their observations on bullying, during a workshop. They said they see bullying more on a verbal level than on a physical level when it starts. Usually it starts in the form of teasing. The topics of ridicule vary from appearance, learning difficulties, speaking styles, unique strengths and many more.
In Tanya’s case, the bullying had started when her friends came to know about her learning difficulty.
Diversity is becoming the way of life. People come from different backgrounds with various skills and abilities. Being able to understand and respect people different from themselves will pave your child’s way towards acceptance by others.
Rather than your child feeling embarrassed about their shortcomings and loosing confidence, focus on boosting your child’s confidence by giving opportunities to showcase and excel in their talents. With this you are not only protecting your child from bullying, you are also empowering them to protect themselves.
4. When friends become bullies, what can you do to protect your child from bullying?
Many a times, you will come across friends turning bullies. This is what happened to Jay (name changed for this article); even he didn’t realize he was getting bullied. It started with his friend Nate (name changed for this article) pushing him into a swimming pool one day. Jay insisted to his parents that his friend did it unintentionally. Over the years, many such incidents happened which, Jay convinced his parents, were not intentional bulling. Finally, one day when Nate teamed up with another bully and kicked Jay, Jay realized how his good heartedness was taken for granted.
Teach your child what real friendship is. If your child needs to make unreasonable sacrifices or suffer insensitive ridicules from their friends, perhaps it is not a friendship worth investing in.
5. When the bullied becomes the bully
If your child is a survivor of bullying, there are two things that you need to check:
- Your child continues to remain safe and confident
- Your child is not bullying anyone.
Tanya told me she had developed a tendency to bully others once she learned how to stand up to the bullies. She said, “I am not sure why I started doing that. Perhaps I wanted to show my ex-bullies that I am strong and bold and they can’t touch me any more.” Luckily in her case, she realized her mistake at a very early stage and was able to nip it successfully.
In another bullying incident I witnessed, the mom of the bully could not believe her son had bullied. She said, “My son always used to be at the receiving end of bullying. I don’t believe he can bully others.”
When you instil confidence in your bullied child, ensure that they are developing confidence not arrogance. This is essential in protecting your child from bullying as well as protecting them from becoming bullies.
6. Does your child show bullying tendencies?
Many children may not understand some of their actions are bullying in nature. If your child is showing bullying tendencies, make them understand the effects of their behavior.
Bullying is all about power. Some kids turn to bullying or hang around with bullies to avoid being victims themselves. Bullies feel the world treat them unfairly. So they need help as well.
One mom told me it is better for her child to bully than be bullied. Bullying is not a childhood behavioural pattern that vanishes once the child gets into adulthood. If you do not nip bullying in the bud, it turns into other serious forms of aggression as the child grows up.
If you see your child speaking or behaving in a negative way, your child needs to explicitly hear from you it is unacceptable.
7. Not all disagreements are bullying
Children are developing their social skills during their school years. Give them opportunities to express their viewpoints. Let them understand it is ok to have a opinion different from others. The difference between disagreements and disputes is in the way opinions are expressed.
Help your child to develop their communication skills. This will prepare them to express their viewpoints effectively and to respond to other people’s viewpoints in the right way. Teaching effective communication skills are a major part of protecting your child from bullying.
However, if you observe repeated harassment, physical or psychological in nature, it is bullying.
8. Help your child’s school address bullying effectively
Encourage your school to develop policies regarding bullying. Work with your child’s school to support your child with protection against retaliation.
9. Get professional help if needed
Tanya’s parents came to know about her problems at a late stage. At that stage, they took her to a counselor and later relocated to another city. If you think your child is in a very difficult situation, get professional help.
10. Report to law enforcement officials, if you suspect something serious is going on
We have read and heard about many unfortunate incidents related to bullying. If you think the mental or physical harassment your child is facing is criminal in nature, do not hesitate to contact the law enforcement officials. After all, there is nothing worthier than your child’s life. So, protect your child from bullying.
Share this article with your friends and colleagues, so that they too are aware of this amidst their busy schedules.
Do you have any insights or tips that you use? Would you like to share that? Please use the comments section below and let us know!