No matter what a child’s educational ability and potential, if he or she is unhappy at school for social reasons, the journey through class time will be dominated by fear, guilt and several other negative emotions. One of the worst aspects of bullying is how the experience can manipulate the victim’s sense of proportion; children do not have the life experience to be able to rationally stand outside the situation and seek help. Although many adults experience bullying in some form or other, bullying at school is an unforgivable act.
Signs of bullying
All parents find it hard to stand back and be objective when it comes to their child’s happiness. If a child is grumpy for a few days it could be something less sinister, like being tired, a little under the weather or just preoccupied with a disagreement between friends.
However, there are a few signs that might possibly suggest a child is being bullied:
- a reluctance to go to school or being left there without you (not always a given sign in itself but a pointer along with other symptoms)
- being worried not only about school but fretful at home too
- being irritable at times of the day or week when he or she is normally quite happy
Your child may start complaining of ailments like headaches or stomach upsets – physical problems that previously might have been the kinds of things they would shrug off quite easily.
Kinds of bullying
Children, just like adults, use humour sometimes to get along – to settle a difference of opinion or to cover an embarrassing situation. However, bullying can be defined as actions towards someone which is knowingly unkind and which forms a habit.
Bullying can take obvious forms like threats of or actual physical violence, verbal abuse or teasing, or damage to a child’s property – book bag, uniform etc.
However, it can also take more subtle forms – little remarks, repeating a jokey nickname that might not obviously be offensive but which the victim clearly does not like, excluding a child from social activities within their peer group.
‘Cyber bullying’ includes any unwelcome text or email messages.
Finding out what’s wrong
If you are worried that your child is being bullied, coming straight out with the question might not help – it depends on how your relationship is going with your child at the time. Instead, try to tactfully have a catch up chat about how they are doing at school, what they are doing outside class time – what they’re playing at lunch break, who they’re hanging out with.
Try to make this chat part of a regular time when you might be together rather than a clumsily obvious attempt to interrogate your child. Maybe as they are going to bed, before stories or lights out, or on the car journey to swimming, for example.
Let your child lead you through this conversation as much as you can, and home in on the positive sounding pieces of news as well as the areas where it sounds like there could be a problem. Then you might in a position to time a question that puts it more simply, ‘So how are you doing?’
How can you help?
Discovering that your child is being bullied can affect the whole family. It’s hard, but you need to stay calm, focused and strong for your child so first of all try to get the bigger picture, and if your child is happy with you telling someone else, talk it through with your partner.
Make it clear to your child that confiding in you was a good thing to do – that you are there for them. Even if it’s a one-off incident that doesn’t seem too bad to you, take your child’s trauma seriously.
For ongoing bullying or a one-off incident, try to establish what happened, when, how often and who was involved. But don’t push too hard. Reassure your child you will continue to support him or her, and that any other incidents, no matter how small, should be shared with you as soon as possible.
Talk to your child’s teacher but also make sure you follow up with experienced advice: