The start of a school year can be an exciting time for kids as new teachers and friends broaden their world in many positive ways. However, the presence of a bully in that environment can transform what should be a constructive learning place into a scary one for kids. Trying to have a conversation with them about bullying is not always easy. We might be older and wiser but sometimes finding the right words to address this problem is complicated, still, necessary. Unfortunately, the phenomenon keeps growing (not only in schools) and it’s our responsibility to protect them. According to a recent study by Microsoft, 40% of teenagers in 32 countries across all continents have been involved in a bullying incident (both on line and off) as the target of bullying, someone who displayed bullying behaviours or as a bystander.
StopBullying.gov defines the phenomenon as unwanted, aggressive behaviour in which a child or teen uses a real or perceived power imbalance, such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information or popularity, to control or harm other kids. Bullying can exist in many forms: It can be physical (pushing, punching, or hitting); verbal (name-calling or threats); or psychological and emotional (spreading rumours or excluding someone from a conversation or activity). And with the pervasive use of social media, inappropriate behaviour between kids can occur outside of school hours via emails, text messages, and Facebook posts (cyberbullying).
Most bullying goes undetected – says Scarlett Lewis, founder of Choose Love Movement and mother of 6-year-old Jesse, a first-grader who was killed in the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School-. Only 20% of incidents are reported so it’s important to be present with your child in order to recognize changes in mood, appetite, appearance or health. Loving our children means giving time to them; they want your undivided time and attention so make sure that you sit with them every day, conversing and looking into their eyes. Remember that only 40% of our communication is verbal so be sure to notice the little things.
How To Talk About Bullying
There are several ways to address the problem and resolve the situation. For Scarlett Lewis, the best one is to proactively reduce and prevent bullying from happening in the first place.
You can do that by making sure your school has a comprehensive Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program like the Choose Love Movement – she explains – so that all students are taught essential life skills that enable them to have healthy relationships, manage their emotions and grow through difficulty. SEL is proven to reduce and prevent bullying. If you suspect your child is being bullied and seems unable to handle it themselves, go immediately to the administration of the school. If you feel you aren’t being heard, then go to the police. Bullying can escalate and it needs to be stopped as soon as possible.
Ultimately, it’s up to parents to help young children deal with a bully. Help them learn how to make smart choices and take action when they feel hurt or see another child being bullied, and be ready to intervene if necessary.
According to Dr Laura Markham, clinical psychologist, author and founder of AhaParenting.com there are several strategies parents can follow to deal with the problem. It’s important to explain to your children how the dynamics of bullying work. Research shows that bullying often starts with verbal harassment and the way the victim responds to the first assaults determines whether the bully will continue to target the victim or not.
You can also test and simulate confident responses with your children so that they are prepared and ready if someone tries to bully them. Teaching them phrases they can use to defend themselves such as “it is my turn now”, “Please, stop that immediately” or “I don’t like to be called with that name”, could be useful. If your child is timid or has difficulty making friends, practise social skills with him. Teach him how to check in with his own inner wisdom, and work to provide healthy relationship opportunities for him.
If your kids are being bullied, remind them that it’s not their fault, they are not alone, and you are there to help. Working together on their confidence is the best way to deal with the problem. With healthy self-esteem, your children will be able to identify their strengths — and their weaknesses — and still feel good about themselves. Bullies are less likely to target kids that are confident in who they are. And, if they are targeted, their solid self-esteem will help them cope with bullying.