Bullying and it’s effect on Children:
We parents have an instinctive need to protect our children from everything that could hurt them emotionally or physically. We wish to empower our kids so they are able to handle any challenge that comes their way. Even though this task is difficult, we don’t give up and try our best to help our kids deal with these challenges.
One thing that no parent want their kids to go through is bullying. This isn’t a new term for most of us.
Let’s understand bullying better:
Bullying is defined as repeated and unwanted aggressive behaviour where one or more people who are in mental or physical position of power purposely and deliberately abuse, coerce or intimidates a person with an intention to emotionally or physically hurt them.
Characteristics of Bullying:
1. It’s intentional:
A deliberate behavior which is aggressive with an attempt to hurt someone Physically or emotionally.
The aggressive behaviour ends up occurring repetitively over the time to the same person or group.
3. Imbalance of power:
A bully ideally has more social or physical power than the person or group that is being bullied.
A bully ideally targets people who they feel don’t fit in. They could end up targeting someone based on their behavior, appearance, race/ religion, popularity status or sexual identity (homosexual or transgender).
Types of bullying:
1. Physical bullying:
In this case a bully harms the target physically. Example- tripping, hitting, punching or shoving. Any kind of forceful touching can be called bullying (and a possible sexual assault).
2. Verbal bullying:
In this case a bully hurts the target by taunting or teasing repetitively.
3. Psychological Bullying:
This is when a bully gossips about or excludes the target to make them feel little or bad about themselves.
Here the bully users social media or internet in any manner to say hurtful things that they would ideally not say in person. Example- posting insults, sending mean texts or making rude comments. A bully in this case could also share pictures, personal information or videos which could embarrass or hurt the target.
Knowing all of this can be overwhelming specially because no parent wants their child to become a target, or even become a bully.
There is one person that doesn’t get much attention when we talk about bullying. It’s the child who is a bystander. A bystander is a silent and forgotten victim even though such scenarios affect them deeply too.
Bullying could have a hurtful and lasting effect on the bystander who chooses to do nothing while a target is being bullied. Witnessing bullying and staying silent about it is a way gives the bully a silent approval. A bystanding child could feel they just dodged a bullet, however witnessing such a mean and cruel behaviour could hurt them emotionally. These kids often choose to not speak up because of the fear of becoming the bully’s next target.
The cycle where a bystanding child watches their peer feel helpless, get tormented emotionally or physically can become dangerous. It can hurt a bystander almost equal to the child getting bullied, since they get burdened of feeling anxious, fearful and scared that they could be the next target as they didn’t do anything to help stop the bully.
Bullying starts in little doses at first. Example- teasing, minor aggressive physical actions or name calling. A bully does this to test the waters with such actions and when no one speaks up against it ( neither a child or an adult), they end up escalating it into harsher ways of bullying. Remember a bully is someone who feels powerful over the others around, and when no one stands up against them ( neither the target nor the bystander), they feel more powerful and then the bullying ends up getting worse.
As a parent, we must teach our children to stand up against any kind of bullying. In the case of bullying, time is imperative, hence it is important to remove a bully’s power right in the beginning or during the early stages.
Due to my husband’s job, we often keep moving to new cities after every couple of years. This is why from the start I ensure that I am right besides my children so they are able to adjust well to the new environment. There have been incidents where my children were bullied just because they were new. Since they were already empowered with the right kind of Knowledge about it, they were able to recognise bullying and responded to it in an effective way. Some of the kids who bullied my children ended up becoming their good friends after the confrontation. I’m sharing my experience of bullying with you all, because I want you to know that I know exactly how a parent feels when their children become a target to bullying. Often children don’t even realise that what’s happening with them is actually bullying which could have a long-lasting negative impact on their social and emotional growth.
It’s hurtful to see your child go through something like this. It often left me feeling helpless at the start and it became difficult for me not to hurt my children more because of the way I felt. I am going to share with you what helped me empower my kids to stand up against bullies.
This is how we can empower our kids to handle bullies effectively:
1. Make your child feel being heard and validate their feelings:
Your child must feel that they are being understood and heard. It’s time to become extremely understanding and believe what your child tells you. Let your child know that you care for them and understand their struggle with bullying. Ensure that you frequently engage your child in fun activities that could help them take their mind off the troubles for a while. Build trust with your child and let them know that you would help them deal with this in the right way. A bullied child could be experiencing different types of emotions like feeling sad, angry, confused or embarrassed. Encourage your child to talk about these feelings openly. If they aren’t able to express clearly, ask them to take deep breaths and listen to some calm music until they are about to understand how exactly they are feeling. Be around and available as children ideally aren’t able to pull themselves out of a negative self talk themselves, which could lead them into a dark mental state.
2. Remind your child that being bullied isn’t their fault:
It’s easy to blame the victim and say that their behavior or appearance must have attracted the bully. I have come across parents who have questioned their bullied child like – ” How did you end up provoking them? “, ” Why did you become the target? You must have done or said something. “.
No matter how different a child’s actions or appearance are, there is never an excuse that could justify becoming a target of bullying. It’s never a target’s fault and we must ensure that we convey it to our targeted child in clear words.
3. Let your child know that it’s ok to speak about it:
I noticed that when my elder one was in 1st standard, her good friend was the one bullying her and my daughter decided to keep it a secret as she didn’t want her friend to get in trouble. Since I’m naturally a very observant parent, I noticed it myself and then confronted my daughter about it. To my surprise she said -” But mumma, she is my friend. I don’t think she is bullying me. She just gets mean at times and pinches me when I don’t listen to her”. This is when I had to explain to her how even a friend could end up bullying us and it’s ok to talk about it. A need to protect a bully could have serious and long lasting consequences for a child who becomes a target. A child must be told that it’s ok to speak up when they are hurt emotionally or physically. A child who won’t speak up about getting bullied could be doing so for a number of reasons. We must ensure that we give our children a safe and trusted space to open up.
4. Empower the targeted child:
A child could end up feeling powerless and helpless when bullied. I understand that it could be very tempting to take over the situation and handle it by yourself, but remember that you can take this opportunity to empower your child. Try not to fix the problem immediately for them. Your parenting instinct will tell you when it’s time to intervene.
Your child should know how to deal with a bully when you aren’t around or available. Educate your child about bullying right in time, so when it happens with them, they are able to pinpoint it correctly. Bullies are repeat offenders and if one doesn’t find a way to stop them, the consequences could be hurtful. Sit with your child and ask them if they know of ways to stop this bullying. When a child actively tries to play a role in finding a solution, they feel in control and empowered.
5. Ensuring that the child has a safe group of friends:
Encourage your child to spend good amount of time with a positive peer group. This is important as it will help your child understand that not every child is a bully and such a behavior won’t haunt them everywhere they go. Your child should feel that they are worthy of a healthy friendship. Plan play dates with the friendly kids and try to know their friends. Be the fun house that the children would want to visit.
6. Talk to your child often:
Check in on your child regularly. Ask them to share about things that could be different or weird. You must ask open ended questions and keep your emotions in check while you are listening to the answers. Be available to hear and comfort your child. If bullying happen once with your child, it could happen again and children often try to hide it when it becomes a repetitive scenario.
7. Teach your child healthy ways to respond to bullies:
Children who are emotionally expressive and sensitive become an easy target of bullying and their reactions give a bully a sense of power. This reassures a bully that they were able to get to the victim successfully which could make things worse. Just like no one parenting formula works for all kids, there is no particular way that has proven to be successful in stopping a bully. There are however a few ideas that one can give their children so they could stand up against bullying-
- Ignore the bully and see through them. This will give a signal to the bully that their actions aren’t affecting your child.
- Look into the eyes of a bully and show that they need to stop. Bullies are ideally shaken up by confrontation
- Your child can fiercely tell the bully to Stop (with an assertive statement) in a strong and assertive voice.
- You child can try to laugh out off and show that they aren’t affected
- Your child can shrug it off in order to show to the bully that their trick to intimidate isn’t working
- Get help from a safe adult
There is no easy way to stop all kinds bullying. It could be a long process too, but when we empower our kids and show them that we are right besides them, it would give the child courage to stand up against bullying.
8. Encourage hobbies that would boost their confidence:
Give your child an opportunity to learn something that they enjoy already or something new. When my daughter was first bullied I encouraged her to learn a form of martial arts. She didn’t just find it fun but it boosted her confidence. She fell powerful not just physically but also mentally (this had nothing to do with making her physically equipped to fight a battle). The confidence a child feels intimidates bullies. A child could get that confidence with activities related to art, music or sports too.
The idea is to be sure that your child knows about safe steps they could take to protect themselves emotionally and physically. They must be given a safe space to express their feeling. If you feel that the bullying has gone to a dangerous level or if your child isn’t able to defend themselves, you must take necessary steps to intervene.
I really hope this helps you decode bullying. I wish no child goes through this.
I have designed a special workshop that I have successfully taken at various schools and children’s groups which help children understand everything about bullying. This workshop is designed in a way that it addresses both, the bully and the bullied but in a thoughtful way. If you would like me to take such a workshop in a group or one to one with your child, you can reach me at email@example.com or reach me on my Instagram handle @lifecoachpreet.
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Read: Anxiety in kids – Part 1
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