According to today’s Huffington Post, almost half of secondary school students fear going back to school because of bullying. That seems the perfect time to think about bullying and suggest some practical tips for how to help your child if you think that they are being bullied. Nowadays, the emphasis on social media means that bullying no longer happens solely in the playground. It can encroach on normal family life, as it is now possible for children to receive messages at home on their mobile devices. There have been some very unpleasant stories in the media about children and teens facing an onslaught of bullying at home from class mates. It has become quite a worrying time to be a child. Before the internet it was possible to walk away from the bullying. Now it can literally follow you everywhere.
As a Mum and as a teacher, I always feel that it is important to differentiate between the usual childhood ‘banter’ and the more serious issue of bullying. Children tend to be more open with their feelings and as they are still learning about relationships, it can be hard to know what to do if a child name-calls or says something unpleasant as a one off. Bullying is more systematic and bullies tend to be modelling behaviour that they have learnt from someone else. For example: I am a redhead and my maiden name was Straw. I had no problem with my friends who might have called me Strawberry, Haystack or Worzel – after the fictional scarecrow Worzel Gummidge, as it was done in an affectionate manner. They too had their own nicknames. However, the girl who made a habit of standing over me whenever I was at my locker and made horrible remarks about my physical anatomy clearly was not being affectionate and it was done to intimidate me and make me feel awful about myself.
So, what are the warning signs that your child may be being bullied.? Evidently every child is different. They might have nightmares and they might even tell you that they do not want to go to school. However, most children tend to keep things to themselves as they are afraid of what the bully might do. Here are some signs that you should watch out for.
- Unexplained physical injuries or marks
- Unexplained loss of possessions
- Doesn’t want to go to school or other activities with peers
- Afraid to be left alone: or becomes very clingy
- Seems withdrawn
- Noticeable change in typical behaviour or personality
- Mood swings
- Physical complaints; headaches, stomach-aches
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, bed wetting
- Change in eating habits
- Bullying siblings or younger kids.
- Suddenly has fewer friends
- Change in academic performance
- Lacks self-esteem
As a parent, it can be incredibly worrying to see your child behaving in a way that is out of the ordinary. As parents, our first instinct is to protect our children and if your child is being bullied then you may feel powerless. You might also question your own parenting skills and wonder if you have caused this to happen. These feelings are normal and in most cases, you can do something about it.
These are my top tips for helping your child.
- Speak to your child and get as much information as you can. Do not react to what your child says until you have a chance to investigate fully. Sometimes it can help to speak to other parents as they may also have their own concerns. However, you should keep an open mind before you decide how to tackle the issue.
- Open a dialogue with school. Find a contact whether it be a teacher, a learning support mentor or a teaching assistant and air your concerns. If nothing is done, then look at the school’s bullying / complaints policy and arrange a formal meeting. It really helps to work with the school rather than against them.
- While the bullying is happening. It can help to record it in a diary. This is somewhere to write what has happened and when and by who. It is also a good idea for children to discuss their feelings and it can help them to express their feelings more to an adult
- Teach your child to tell an adult and to confide in someone. Make it clear that bullying is never acceptable and that everyone has the right to be happy in their schooling.
- Encourage them to develop genuine friendships with other children.
- Talk to others. It really can help to share feelings with other children or speak to someone else who has been bullied.
- Contact Childline. If you child is really struggling to tell you about things then it is helpful for them to know that there are support networks out there. Childline has a fantastic website with lots of advice and helpline numbers. https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/
- Contact the Anti-Bullying Alliance website https://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/ The Anti-Bullying Alliance work at a national and local level to help stop bullying and bring lasting change to children’s lives
- Spend time rebuilding your child’s self-esteem. Sadly, bullying is an unfortunate part of life. Your child may encounter bullies later in life in further education or at work. It really does help if you can teach your child coping mechanisms and give them a strong support network for the future
In extremely rare cases then there are other ideas to consider. If bullying is causing incredible problems for your child then it might be worth considering a change of school or even home schooling for a time. But if I were to give you one piece of advice it is this; it never helps to keep things to yourself if your child’s happiness is at stake. So, talk, seek advice and talk some more!