If we’re lucky, us adults get to close the book on bullying and move on, tucking the experience away as a distant memory from childhood.
But if you’re a parent, that book gets thrown open once again, this time in the context of your kids.
While you might have escaped the worst of your bullies, now you have to worry about your offspring facing similar fates.
How can you help to protect them? How can you equip children with skills to handle bullying in a better, healthier way than you perhaps did when you were young? And what on earth can you do if your kid is the one doing the bullying?
As part of Anti-Bullying Week, we chatted with expert Iole Matthews for all parents need to know.
What to look out for: signs your child is being bullied
‘Children can often be in a position where they don’t realise they’re being bullied,’ Iole tells Metro.co.uk. ‘All they may realise is that they’re unhappy with certain people around them or ill at ease in certain situations.
‘As a parent, there are often visual signs that might suggest your child has been the victim of bullying. These could include bruises or damaged or ruined personal possessions.
‘Other times there may be clues through reported headaches or stomach aches – real or imagined.
‘Other signs can include behaviour changes, such as becoming withdrawn and spending more time alone, sleeping badly and having nightmares, wetting the bed, and – perhaps understandably – not wanting to go to school.
At school, it may be that homework and school performance levels drop too, or there are frequently observed negative feelings expressed about themselves or life in general.
‘Another thing to look out for is a sudden change in friendship circles.’
Don’t jump to conclusions, however, or assume you know the whole story.
Be mindful of other things that could be going on, and before you rush into action, have a conversation with your child to find out how they’re doing.
What to do if your child is being bullied
Work with their school
‘The first point of call when at your child’s school is to talk with your child’s teacher in a primary school (or the form tutor in a secondary school),’ notes Iole. ‘They are the people who will know your child most and should be able to tell you what has been going on.
‘Bringing the issue to their attention may help solve matters, especially as you can share with them your methods for increasing the child’s resilience and self-confidence at home.
‘If issues cannot be resolved, engage the attention of the headteacher. If this is required, parents should first check the school’s website to download the published policies for supporting children’s health and wellbeing, and for addressing instances of bullying.
‘Engage with the headteacher at a planned meeting, armed with these documents as well as information about what you believe has been going on for your child, and a list of questions and suggestions about what you would like to achieve. Be confident in the defence of your child but listen and respond to what the headteacher has to say.
‘The meeting should agree a list of objectives for the school to help improve the child’s experience and emotional well-being. Agree a plan to monitor progress.
‘In a very few cases, parents may have to approach school governors to seek suitable redress. It is really important for parents not to lose their focus or resolve.’
Empower children at home
Dealing with bullying doesn’t only happen in the space where bullying occurs. Address this at home, too, and ensure your child is equipped with the resilience and emotional wellbeing needed to handle their experience.
Iole recommends leading by example – behaving calmly, positively, and consistently.
‘Help your children learn problem solving by teaching life-skills, enabling them to learn through doing and practicing, not being told,’ she adds. ‘Always give them positive and constructive feedback. Support your children’s ability to develop a positive self-image and pride in what they achieve by teaching them life skills and a love for learning new knowledge and skills.’
Talk about it
Give your child plenty of opportunities to talk about how they’re feeling and ask for help when needed.
Carve out quality time where they can speak without feeling rushed or being interrupted, and ensure that your children know they will be believed by you.
What to do if your child is the bully
Iole tells us: ‘Being able to identify whether or not your child is a bully is not always easy and, as loving parents, it can be hard to accept and admit to ourselves. Most of us want to think that our precious little ones would be incapable of hurting, harming or – indeed – bullying another child.
‘But, of course, that’s just not the case.
‘It’s important to understand that children who display bullying traits very often harbour their own worries and anxieties – perhaps because they have faced bullying themselves or are trying to deal with complex circumstances of their own.
Signs that your child is a bully may include the following:
- Reluctance and refusal to include certain children in home, school or sports activities
- An ability to display an obstinate attitude even when ‘told off’ by teachers
- Copying erratic or dysfunctional parental behaviour. Parents are the primary role models and teachers, so learned behaviours may be played back by them.
- The unexplained acquisition of toys, video games and other items not bought by a parent or relative
- If a child is verbally or physically aggressive towards a parent or other adult carer
Try not to panic if your child is bullying. Iole recommends some key strategies to support them through this:
- Try not to feel too angry or upset as your children are still learning how to behave.
- Encourage your child to put themselves in the shoes of the other person and think about how they might feel.
- Make a plan together about how to put things right, such as a face-to-face apology or writing a letter.
- Consider consequences that will limit (if required) the use of and access to technology.
- Support the school if the staff are handling the situation with any aggrieved parents and explain what you will be doing at home to improve your child’s behaviour.
- Consider how and why your child may be struggling with their self-worth, and then take action to review your responses to help the child behave sensibly in the future.
It’s also worth noting that very often, a child becomes a bully after being bullied themselves, whether as a way to get attention off themselves or because they’re copying others.
‘Children who are vulnerable to bullying usually have low self-esteem and cannot brush off the insults or aggressive behaviour of their peers,’ says Iole. ‘Unfortunately, some of these children are more liable to copy this negative behaviour and become bullies themselves.’
This is why if your child is displaying bullying behaviour, you still show them care and look more deeply into what could be going wrong behind the scenes.
Work with your child to support their mental health and wellbeing, working proactively with the school and at home to work out healthier, kinder ways of dealing with tough emotions.
Iole Matthews is the head of coaching and consulting at Bright Horizons
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