An initial plan for parents who want to protect their children.
If you are told that your child is verbally or physically bullying other children, now is not the time to jump to your child’s defense. Children can be mean; it doesn’t mean they are bad. If you protect your child and allow him to continue with this behavior, you may be allowing him to become a cruel and apathetic adult. No child is perfect and no one expects that from her, but these things need to be dealt with.
It’s also important to get the whole story, to make sure you are getting accurate information.
Sometimes children bully because they are going through a hard time. While this is understandable, it is not acceptable. While this child needs to be dealt with sensitively, he should not be given a free pass to treat others badly. My sympathy starts to wane when other children are being sacrificed.
I know that there are videos shown in schools to children about bullying and the harm it causes. This is a great start, but it is merely one step. Just as we do not simply turn on video that teaches math, science, or grammar, etc. social interaction needs to be taught through instruction, and then testing of the skills. The only way to test this is to see children use these skills in action, i.e. during their free time.
I don’t know the exact way to do this and I won’t pretend that it is easy. I am not a teaching expert or a parenting expert; unfortunately, I am merely an expert on what it feels like to be bullied. Maybe that doesn’t give me any authority, but it does give me perspective. I hope my words make parents, teachers, and children think about this problem in a new way.
Don’t allow the lack of physical scars to lure you into complacency.
Create a “listening culture’ in the family. Make children feel that they can tell you anything at any time. Sometimes, children will hint or tell a story about someone else as a way of gauging your reaction. Listen calmly to the entire story before offering any feedback.
Know the common signs of bullying:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or damaged possessions
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school.
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors
Make a clear distinction between “tattling” and “telling.” Tattling is meant to get another person in trouble. “Telling” is trying to get advice on dealing with a situation that is above your head.
The difference between the two is if there is danger involved. If your brother holds out his finger and pretends to stab you with a knife, and you tell your parents, that’s tattling. The only purpose is to get your brother into trouble. If your brother picks up an actual knife, and you report, that’s telling. It could be dangerous.
Remember, there’s often a “code of silence” about bullying because the victim doesn’t want to be seen as a “tattletale.” Children have to know that telling isn’t tattling.
Be attuned to odd or out-of-character statements by your child. If a child is asking unusual questions or making out-of-character comments, use the old standby of “Why do you ask?” or “What makes you think so?”
Be attuned to sudden changes in activities, frequency of play dates, and how often the phone rings. If the phone suddenly stops ringing or if your son suddenly doesn’t want to attend his weekly sports club or art lesson, find out why.
Notice changes in sibling relationship patterns. Often, a child who is being bullied takes it out on younger siblings.
Make use of siblings. If you suspect a child is being bullied, ask a sibling. Often, they know what is going on, but are not subject to the same “code of silence” that the victim is.