Bullies are often a part of your child’s growing up years. If you feel things are getting increasingly difficult for your kid on account of the school or neighbourhood bully, do not hesitate to confront the other child firmly, but with tact.

When your child is a victim

Six-year-old Raghav’s parents moved to a new society a year ago. The boy quickly made friends in the building and enjoyed playing there, until 10 days ago. Now none of the children talk to him saying that ten-year-old Manish [who is somewhat a ‘leader’ of all the younger kids] has told them not to. After four days of no one talking to him, Raghav’s mother approached their neighbour’s seven-year-old who also said that he can’t talk to her son unless Manish ‘gives permission’. Raghav is devastated and even though his mother has tried to take him swimming and do other stuff three evenings a week, he needs and wants his peers as company instead of his mom. He has begun to show signs of utter dejection, and asks his mom, ‘Why does everyone hate me?’

The best one can do is talk to the bullying kid or his parents directly

Tackling a bully: approach one

In the situation, the best one can do is talk to the bullying kid or his parents directly. If you have the nerves, and think you can swing it, you could first, in front of all the kids [without your son present], just in passing stop by the bully and ask him nicely but in a firm, adult-to-adult way, whether he has asked the other kids to shun your son. If he denies it, then he looks less like a leader in front of the other boys, and you can swiftly and smoothly say, ‘oh, okay, everyone seems to have misunderstood’, and soon get your son down to play. And then watch how it goes. Hopefully things will get back to normal.

Tackling a bully: approach two

If the bully openly says that he has indeed asked the other kids not to speak to your son then you’re up against a real problem child.

In such a case, go to the bullying child’s home, and try to speak to his parents, stating that your son is younger, and new in the block and needs a little sensitivity. Hopefully his parents will show some understanding and be able to get their son to behave.

Bullies are a bore, and not brave or bold, is the message you will have to subtly send out—not just to your son, but to the other kids too.

Bullies are a bore, and not brave or bold, is the message you will have to subtly send out

Dealing with your own child’s nastiness

When we catch our kids being nasty and insensitive, we need to put in place a multipronged approach to getting them to reflect, unlearn some of their attitudes, and learn empathy.

Mrs Kapur was shocked to discover that her daughter and two friends in school were teasing a boy who is visually impaired. He has a severe squint and poor vision, but manages well in school. She just could not understand how and why it happened but was told that her daughter and friends began to call him all sorts of names and when he retaliated with some name-calling of his own, they began to spread tales that he stared at their chests.

The school the kids go to believes in a disability-inclusive mix of students, and they were punished at school, but her daughter seemed quite unashamed and even broke out into giggles while telling her parents what it was that she called him.

Her parents’ embarrassment at their daughter’s behaviour is quite understandable. Right now their daughter seems in a mood to not be receptive at all to any chastisement or any appeal to her emotional intelligence in this matter.

What they, as well as the school, could do on an ongoing basis is to involve a counsellor or person working in the field of emotional and social intelligence to come up with a programme for young people to be empathetic and emotionally intelligent. It is important that her parents not position this as ‘being more charitable’ or ‘full of pity and sympathy’—this kind of an attitude only further alienates children from those with special needs.

What their daughter needs to learn is where to draw the line with teasing, that is, when it goes too far and becomes cruel

The idea of disability-inclusion in schools is not just for other kids to learn how to include and work with the disabled, but also for the disabled to be integrated in the hurly-burly of ordinary school life--bullying, teasing, and everything else included. So it is not that the Kapurs need to teach their daughter to treat the visually impaired child with ‘kid gloves’ —that would be artificial and unfair to him too. What their daughter needs to learn is where to draw the line with teasing, that is, when it goes too far and becomes cruel.

Cultivate empathy in your child

Parents whose children are showing traits of nastiness should talk to their children about what it is that he or she doesn’t like about the boy that they tease. Two things could emerge-firstly, the child being teased has some traits or attitudes that irritates the teaser, which has nothing to do with his or her disability; in that case her parents could tell her that it is okay to not like him, but not okay to use his disability as something to trouble him with.

Secondly, the child genuinely has not developed the ability to be respectful and empathetic of someone’s weaknesses. If the latter is the case then his or her parents and the school will have to work on building in this important personality component. It’s best done without lecturing and punishing [as described in this case, she seems to find even that amusing], and better to work with a professional who will find ways to develop the idea of empathy in the child.

Making kids empathetic and sensitive to others is an on-going process and you have to find the right medium through which to do it. Her parents can start with having her watch educational and inspirational videos on the Internet [for example, TED talks by or on people with disabilities who speak about their lives, their fantastic achievements, the supportive and loving people around them]. A professional who works with fostering emotional intelligence can come up with many age-appropriate techniques and material that can be used either in the school as a programme with a bunch of kids together or with individual children.

Adapted from More ABC's of Parenting by Gouri Dange. Published by Random House India. Price INR 199.

This was first published in the June 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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