I know first hand how destructive, painful and frightening bullying can be as I was bullied, and developed alopecia, when I first started at my secondary school aged 11.
So as a former Head of a PSHE Department (Personal, Social, and Health) at a great school in Surrey I know first hand about helping children with bullying and I am passionate about helping you, as a parent, support, nurture and champion your child if they find themselves in this very distressing position.
The latest research shows that more than half of all children are, at least on one occasion directly involved in bullying either as a perpetrator, victim, or both. And many of those who are not directly involved witness others being bullied on a regular basis.
No child is untouched by bullying as children of every race, gender, social background or economic sector are affected at some time in their lives.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. As parents we have the power to help reduce bullying.
Here are my Positive Parents=Confident Kids top ten actions you can take to help address bullying:
1. Talk with and listen to your kids – everyday.
Research shows that parents are often the last to know when their child has bullied or been bullied. You can encourage your children to break that trend by chatting to them regularly about their social lives naturally and easily particularly at meal times. So make a point of sitting down to eat together at least three times a week so you can be involved and interested in your child’s life.
Think about the times you are just together either on the way home from school, having a meal, reading a story or anytime you are just chatting naturally together so you can keep abreast of what’s going on in their lives and notice if they are a little worried or anxious.
Don’t make it feel like an inquisition as that conveys your anxiety and fear and children will naturally clam up if they sense you are trying too hard or probing too deeply. Keep the tone light and be genuinely interested so you can nip things in the bud if you hear something that rings alarm bells.
Spend a few minutes every day asking your kids open ended questions about their day things like who they spend time with at school, what they do in between classes and playtime, who they have lunch with, or what happens on the way to and from school if they go to school on their own.
If your children feel comfortable talking to you about their peers and friends before they’re involved in a bullying event, they’ll be much more likely to get you involved after.
2. Spend time building your child’s self confidence.
Research shows that 67% of bullying happens when adults are not present. Schools don’t have the resources to do it all and need your help in reducing bullying. So talk to your child about their body language, the way they walk and talk to others and build up their self esteem. Bullies sense weakness and fear and it’s about giving your child the aura and genuine sense of confidence so they don’t fall prey to that.
3. Be a good example of kindness and leadership.
Your kids learn a lot about power relationships from watching you. When you get angry at a waiter, a sales assistant, another driver on the road, or even your child, you have a great opportunity to model effective communication technique, respect and tolerance.
Stephen Covey says you can learn most from the child who challenges you the most! So always look for the learning in the challenging situation and lead by example.
Any time you speak to another person in a hurtful, demeaning, sarcastic or abusive way, you’re teaching your child that bullying is OK because bullying can take many forms from physical, mental or emotional and words can be very damaging.
4. Learn the signs.
Most children don’t tell anyone (especially adults) that they’ve been bullied. It’s therefore really important for you, your family and teachers to learn to recognise the possible signs of being victimised such as a frequent loss of your child’s personal belongings, their sudden complaints of headaches or stomach-aches, or their sudden avoiding playtimes or school activities, or getting to school very late or very early, or not eating properly or not sleeping well.
If you suspect that your child might be bullied, go and talk with your child’s teacher or find ways to observe their interactions with other kids to determine whether or not your suspicions are right.
Talk directly to your child about the situation gently and with an open mind. Children fear you will march in all guns blazing and make things worse. So find out the facts first by keeping a bullying diary and it can be helpful to take into school to show teachers proof of where the bullying is taking place.
5. Create healthy anti-bullying habits early.
Help develop anti-bullying and anti-victimisation habits early in your children, as early as Nursery.
Coach your children what not to do – hitting, pushing, teasing, “saying na-na-na-na-na,” or being mean or unkind to others.
Help your child to focus on how such actions might feel to the child on the receiving end (e.g., “How do you think you would feel if that happened to you?”)
These strategies teach your child empathy for others. Don’t be afraid to teach your children what to do positively – show others kindness, empathy, fair play, turn-taking, and compassion which are all important skills for good peer relations and life generally.
Be clear about your values and what’s important to you and don’t be afraid to pass them on to your child who looks to you as their most important role model.
Children also need to learn how to say “no” firmly. Teach your child about what to do if other kids are unkind to them – get an adult right away, tell the child who is teasing or bullying to “stop,” walk away and ignore the bully.
It may help to act out or role play what to do with your child at home as this will give them confidence and repetition helps: go over these techniques periodically with your kids regularly.
6. Help your child’s school address bullying effectively.
Whether your children have been bullied or not, you should know what their school is doing to address bullying.
Research shows that “zero-tolerance” policies aren’t really effective. What works better are ongoing PSHE and Citizenship programmes that help to create a positive atmosphere of respect throughout the whole school’s environment. This means teaching kids, regardless of their age, how to be inclusive and how to be tolerant and open- minded towards others and also by teaching victims effective strategies and techniques to help them cope more confidently.
Most schools use PSHE to discuss these very important issues. Go and find out what your child’s school bullying policy is and if your school doesn’t have effective bullying strategies and policies in place, talk to the Head teacher and your PTA and become an agent for change.
7. Establish household rules about bullying.
Your children need to hear from you explicitly that it’s not normal, OK, or tolerable for them to bully, to be bullied, or to stand by and just watch other kids be bullied.
Make sure they know that if they are bullied physically, verbally, or socially (at school, by a sibling, in your neighbourhood, or online) it’s OK and safe and very important for them to tell you about it and that you will help. They need you to believe them.
They also need to know just what bullying is (many children don’t know that they are bullying others), and that certain behaviour is harmful, damaging and hurtful to others and is not acceptable.
Think about ways you can help your children find healthy ways to exercise their personal power, status, and leadership at school.
8. Teach your child how to be a good witness.
Research shows that kids who witness bullying feel powerless and seldom intervene. However, kids who take action can have a powerful and positive effect on the situation.
Although it’s never a child’s responsibility to put him or herself in danger, kids can often effectively diffuse a bullying situation by yelling “Stop! You’re bullying!” Kids can also help each other by providing support to the victim, not giving extra attention to the bully.
Naturally you have to teach your children to trust their intuition and not blindly step into dangerous situations but it’s also important for them to not just stand by and witness bullying as being passive isn’t the way to eradicate it either. So teach your kids to report what they witness and see to an adult.
9. Teach your child about cyber bullying.
Children often do not realise what cyber bullying is. Cyber bullying includes sending unkind, rude, vulgar, or threatening messages or images; posting sensitive, private information about another person; pretending to be someone else in order to make that person look bad; and intentionally excluding someone from an online group.
These acts are as harmful as physical violence and shouldn’t be tolerated either. We know from research that the more time a teen spends online, the more likely they will be cyber bullied – so limit online time.
10. Be brave to speak out that bullying should not be a normal part of childhood.
Some adults hesitate to act when they observe or hear about bullying because they think of bullying as a typical phase of childhood that must be endured or that it can help children “toughen up”.
It is important for all adults to understand that bullying doesn’t have to be a normal part of childhood. All forms of bullying are truly harmful to the perpetrator, the victim, and to the witnesses and the effects often stay with a person all their life and can lead in some cases to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, family violence and criminal behaviour.
So for this week notice how you react, behave and speak about others and notice how you are passing on your values of tolerance to your children. If you don’t like what you see don’t beat yourself up. Just make some small changes that will make a big difference over time.
Bullying is an enormous problem and we all need to be proactive and collaborate but if we all work together, we can make a difference.
Click here to book your child on one of my Beat Bullying – Confidence Classes for Kids