You’ve probably heard the term before, most often in the newspaper, when there is a report of (yet) another innocent child being mercilessly bullied in school, much to the shock and despair of parents and school authorities. Yes, bullying is not an uncommon phenomenon. It may be happening around your child, and you may not realize it. Many a time, the bullied child falls prey to feelings of fear, helplessness and worthlessness.
Before I go on to explain what can be done, let’s first define bullying, so that you as a parent can identify it (if it ever happens to your child). In the most basic terms, bullying refers to an outward show of aggression (by a bully) who intentionally tries to repeatedly cause discomfort and hurt to another person (the victim). The bully could be of the same age or older and physically stronger than the victim.
So why do bullies bully?
It’s a difficult question to answer, and often a question that is overlooked by educators and parents. Bullies may have many reasons to bully: they may have a significant need for power over others and therefore, find easy targets in victims who are less powerful; they may come from a difficult home environment in which they are abused or neglected by their caregivers; they may have been victims of bullying themselves; or they may have faced social rejection in the past due to various reasons (such as academic failure/having a disadvantaged family, etc).
What could happen to victims of bullying?
Experiencing bullying can have long-lasting impacts on a child’s mental health, especially if they do not speak-up about it and reach out for help. They could retain a sense of low self-esteem for the rest of their lives; they could be fearful and anxious about the world; their academic performance may start slipping and they may start wanting to skip school or drop out of school; they may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy earlier; and they may be more prone to anxiety and depression.
In addition to this, children who have been bullied may not even report the incident to their parents, friends or teachers. They may fear that no one will take them seriously, that they may get into trouble with the bully for reporting the incident, that other people will consider them weak and incapable of standing up to the bully, or they may believe that bullying is something they must handle on their own.
What can you do as a parent?
Your role as a parent is probably the most crucial role in such circumstances.
- Having an open and trusting relationship with your child is of utmost importance. Ensure that you and your child have a healthy pattern of two-way communication. This means that your child can trust you with serious matters, and you can do the same, while giving him/her your time, attention and care.
- As a parent, you need to be constantly aware of how your child behaves, communicates and feels. If you notice any changes in your child, initiate a conversation about it and find out what’s wrong. Give your child a safe space to talk, by being compassionate and non-judgmental of him/her.
- Observe your child for signs of bullying such as physical harm (torn clothes, bruises, etc.), fear of attending school, crying, acting out and being aggressive, decreased interests in activities, etc. These could be warning signs that your child may be experiencing bullying, and it’s time for you to step in.
- In the unfortunate event that your child does report being bullied, firstly attend to his/her emotional needs. He/she needs your love, care and protection more than anything else! Be a constant support system for them. You could then take up the issue with school authorities, and take the matter forward as per the institution’s protocol. However, always remember to prioritize your child’s emotional needs.
- You can also teach your child important coping skills and help them develop a support system for themselves. Talk to your child about healthy boundaries and how to protect themselves from bullies in the future. Ensure your child understands that bullying is wrong, and is a negative way of showing power/dominance (this is important so that your child won’t engage in bullying others in the future).
The topic of bullying is not one that is new. However, it has unfortunately not been given enough significance and often, has not been taken too seriously. It’s high time this changes, and the change could start with you! It is certainly not easy for any parent to listen to stories of their child being bullied, which is why our panel of experts at P.O.D are here to help you. By reaching out to us, you are not only helping yourself, but are also helping your child!