Studies have show that bullying touches the lives of up to 25% of school-going children on a daily basis. Bullying may take the form of taunting and teasing, verbal abuse, aggression and physical harm. Bullying inflicts lasting emotional and physical scars, compromises the secure and friendly school environment and severely hampers learning. You need to know that your child may be too scared or embarrassed to tell you, as their parent or educator, about their experiences. Thus, it is up to you to ‘read’ the signs of bullying.
There are several warning signs that you can look out for that will help you to identify a child that is being bullied. Some of the behaviours that suggest that children are being bullied include:
- Frequent illness; stomach aches and headaches can be a result of anxiety associated with bullying. Students may also be trying to avoid school by staying at home.
- Sudden changes in behaviour such as moodiness or shyness.
- Heightened anxiety, panic attacks, fearfulness, nightmares and a reluctance to attend school.
- Sleeplessness and exhaustion or sleeping too much.
- Wanting to change buses, classes or their walking route to school.
- Needing extra money for lunch and possessions that are often damaged or lost.
- Increased aggression at home towards younger siblings or other children.
What can you do?
If you suspect your child may be a victim of bullying, speak to them about it. Listen to their concerns and explain that they don’t deserve to be treated badly. Do not put the onus on your child to overcome the problem; instead work with them, their teachers and the school to resolve the situation. Discuss coping strategies with your child and try to help restore their confidence. Role-play possible scenarios so that your child learns how to respond to bullying behaviour from their peers. Encourage your child to engage in social and extramural activities. This will help them to create a circle of friends and bolster their self confidence.
Talk to the school and the teachers. All schools ‘should’ have a policy in place to deal with bullies. Discuss possible solutions with your child’s teachers and the school councillor. Encourage your child to report bullying to an adult when it occurs so that immediate action can be taken. Be aware though that sometimes schools are anything but helpful: One study showed that 25% of teachers actually see nothing wrong with bullying…I know it is hard to believe this, but I have actually heard it first-hand from some teachers I know.
If your child is a victim of cyber bullying through their social media interactions, teach them how to block people who are sending negative messages and how to limit their online presence so that only their friends and families have access to their personal information.
Unless bullying is proactively addressed by schools, parents and community leaders, it will lead to serious consequences for all students. For those who are being bullied the consequences include higher dropout rates, more incidents of violence in school, lower self-esteem, fewer friends, declining grades, and increased illnesses. Lifelong problems promoted by bullying include involvement with the criminal justice system, mental health issues, and poor relationship development for both the bully and victim (Ballard, Argus, & Remley, 1999; Rigby, 1999; Sagarese & Giannetti, 1999; Schmitt, 1999; Simanton, Berthwick, & Hoover, 2000). Whatever pains parents and schools take to prevent bullying, the numbers suggest it’s all worth the effort. Indeed as an article on the Great Schools web site states:
…the cycle of violence triggered by bullying shouldn’t be underestimated. According to a 2002 report by the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education, most school shootings were perpetrated by children who had been the victim of extreme bullying. And multiple studies have suggested a link between bullying and criminal behavior and delinquency, both for victims and perpetrators.
For me the bottom line as a parent is that I need to be aware of my child behaviors and actions that might indicate they are bullying or are being bullied. If I suspect something I need to address it and search for solutions and support ASAP.