The sensible thing to do if your child is being bullied

Children who are repeatedly bullied may experience severe emotional trauma that can erode their self-esteem and impair mental health

Small girl sitting with school back looking down / victim of bullying

In October 2013 a man who lives in Illinois received a phone call that no parent would ever want to receive. It was his ex-wife on the phone, telling him that their 15-year-old son shot himself in the chest. His suicide note stated bullying at school as the reason he took his life. The same year, a 12-year-old girl jumped from an abandoned factory roof due to being constantly hammered by a bunch of girls, reports The Los Angeles Times.

Thousands of kids skip school everyday due to the fear of bullying. Recent trends suggest that bullying has become more frequent and aggressive than before and is affecting younger children too. In addition, the viciousness of deeds increases with age.

What is bullying?

If your child is bullied, it means that one or more students are intentionally hurting her or him. Bullying can be verbal, physical, and emotional. The bullied child feels mentally tortured and pushed into a corner by his or her own peers. A few rogue school kids pick on their weaker fellows and frighten them into submission and all this is done for fun.

They might be getting bullied because of weight issues, the colour of their skin, being slow at sprints, lazy at math, an unusual speaking accent or family issues, which may be known in school. Bullying could also be in the form of rumours about the child, leaving him or her out of group activities or leading to breaking up their friendships, name-calling etc.

If not contained, the child can either go into a permanent shell or explode when the breaking point arrives.

Is my child being bullied?

If your child frequently comes up with excuses in the morning to avoid going to school, it could be due to fear of being bullied. Is your child coming home from school with mysterious cuts, bruises and scrapes? Is she losing her money, lunch box, pencils and other supplies? Do you notice any abnormal changes in your child’s behaviour? Any of these could indicate that your child might be fighting a silent and lonely battle with bullies.

What can a parent do?

The first thing a parent can do is to acknowledge that their child is facing a problem. Most kids don’t tell adults that they’re being bullied, so the onus of getting to the bottom of it is on you.

Asking them the right questions is important. Instead of asking them why their shirt is dirty and torn, ask them if there’s something bothering them and if they’d like to confide? Be gentle and assure them of your love and protection, no matter what. If you suspect that your child is reticent about the matter with you, get a trusted adult to speak to them. Some children feel more comfortable confiding in someone who is not from the immediate family. Let them open up with somebody from the pool of people you know.

The first thing a parent can do is to acknowledge that their child is facing a problem

Once you discover the issue, take it up with your child’s teachers. Be prepared for the possibility that teachers won’t know about it. Bullies are clever to not carry out their misdeeds in front of anyone who has the authority to get them punished. That’s why, lashing out at teachers for not being aware is not advisable. Let them know that you wanted to bring to the administration’s attention what your child is facing. Let the teachers sort it at the school level, while you help your child at an emotional level.

If your child continues to behave differently even after your efforts, or if your instinct tells you that something is wrong, don’t think twice before seeking the help of a child psychologist.

Can I prepare my child to face bullies?

If children can be prepared for school exams and competitive sports, they can also be made ready to deal with peer harassment. Bullies thrive on the lack of retaliation by their victims. Your child can learn the right way to tackle bullying from experts who conduct sessions on the subject. Look out for these sessions in your city and sign up your child to attend them. If possible, accompany your child to the programme.

As an anti-bullying evangelist, I loved the Be a Star initiative taken by World Wrestling Entertainment where the WWE superstars have formed an anti-bullying alliance. They encourage children to stand up against bullying regardless of whether it happens to them or somebody else. Everyone who knows about the WWE will know how popular this show is among children. And this initiative has made a lot of children come out and raise their voice against bullying.

Bullies are clever to not carry out their misdeeds in front of anyone who has the authority to get them punished

Can we put an end to the menace?

School boys bullying a fellow student
A few rogue school kids pick on their weaker fellows and frighten them into submission and all this is done for fun

Speaking to your kids about the bullying will help them know when they or someone else is being victimised. So that the next time they see it happening at school, in the playgrounds, or at home, they are able to stop it right there—or report it to the concerned authority. Once enough awareness is created at home and school, and children are encouraged to speak up, bullying can end. On the other side of the equation, counselling the bullies about the consequences of their behaviour will go a long way in checking the problem.

As a drama-based therapist, I run anti-bullying programmes in various schools. Every school that I have visited reveals 4 – 5 cases of bullying on an average. A touching example came my way during one of the drama classes attended by children of standard five. In one of our drama-for-learning session, the students spoke about their experiences based on the emotions the activity triggered. While few of them shared their experiences, I saw a hand half up in the air. This was a boy who never spoke; he would just enjoy the drama activity.

Sharad [name changed], came up and started speaking. It was then that I realised that he stammered. He spoke about the excruciating pain he feels when his classmates and students of other classes tease him for his stammering trait. He cried. When he spoke, another boy raised his hand and came up to speak. Anuj [name changed] said how he was teased by his classmates for a skin condition called eczema. The bullies teased Sharad and Anuj because they were different in some way from others and therefore were not considered normal.

Speaking to your kids about the bullying will help them know when they or someone else is being victimised

Listening to their painful story brought tears to everyone else in the class—tears of realisation, of empathy, of love. This was a moment of catharsis.

In the next class, we spoke about ‘feelings’ associated with ‘being bullied’ and ‘bullying someone’. We exchanged views on how the victim can handle his emotions and not take the incident personally, so that it does not hamper his self-esteem. Surprisingly, the bullies of the class confessed to having bullied Anuj and Sharad. We then counselled them on the repercussions of bullying and the difference between occasional teasing vs. bullying.

Kids, at times do not realise that what they are doing could harm someone’s life. The child who is bullying is also having some unmet needs being fulfilled in an unnatural way. He, too, needs guidance and hand-holding.

A version of this article was first published in the April 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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