Prevent your child from being bullied with these smart strategies.
WORDS DR NICOLA DAVIES
No parent wants their child to live in fear. We spend our days constantly walking the tightrope between making sure they know how to stay safe and at the same time attempting to instil courage to help them face the world. Yet bullying is an ever-present threat to our children’s happiness. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can take to bully-proof your child.
Preparation is Key
Even if you think that your child is immune from bullying, it is better to prepare them. Over the course of their young lives, most children will experience bullying of some sort. Indeed, The Children’s Society of Singapore has released a study of 786 primary school students, which found that one in five reported having been bullied. Many students who are not bullied themselves are either the bully or are watching others being bullied. Of the students, over half reported verbal bullying and 38 per cent physical bullying. While girls are more likely to suffer in silence, bullying often incite boys to fight, which creates, even more problems at school. While this is concerning, what raises the red flag, even more, is that 35 per cent didn’t tell anyone, making it all the more important for parents to be watchful.
Simple Strategies to Stop Victimisation
Professor Ken Rigby, the author of multiple books on bullying, says that it is important for children to develop strong attachments to their caregivers from a very early age, as this helps prevent insecurity and anxiety, two factors that can make children easier prey for bullies. He also advises caution about the choice and usage of childcare centres when children are very young, as a poor one can cause deep-rooted problems in relating to others.
While parents must be authoritative, Rigby says that being cold or overly controlling can cause children to behave aggressively to peers at school. On the other hand, being overly permissive can cause them to have issues with boundaries, so work to find a balance. Parents should also avoid being overprotective, as this not only limits their experiences and their ability to deal with new situations but also makes them more likely to be bullied.
So, what are some positive steps you can take? Firstly, give your child plenty of praise. Rigby advises acknowledging your child’s positive actions and accomplishments as often as possible; this helps them grow to be more self-accepting and resilient. Also, make an effort to promote empathy by displaying that trait yourself.
Showing your child how to care and be concerned for others
improves their ability to relate to their peers.
“Probably the most helpful thing parents can do is to help their children to make and keep friends,” advises Rigby. “This means creating opportunities for them to meet and play with other children from an early age and to develop good, constructive social skills.” This can be done more effectively by modelling friendly and cooperative behaviour than by parents preaching.
Children with good social skills and a desire to cooperate with others are much less likely to be bullied or to bully others. Children are also more likely to tell their parents rather than teachers if they are being bullied, explains Rigby, adding, “But this is only likely to happen if the children believe that their parents will listen and support them. Occasionally, a child may feel ashamed of being bullied at school and yet need help. Changes in that child’s behaviour, such as not wanting to go to school, being anxious and depressed, or not being able to sleep, may be signs that the child is being bullied. In such cases, it is important to talk about how things are going at school, casually rather than forcefully, and to listen very carefully.”
Other bully-proofing strategies include:
1. Show your children non-violent strategies for dealing with a bullying situation – speaking up, walking away, getting an adult, or asking friends for help.
2. Teach them to display self-confidence by walking upright, speaking clearly, and looking others in the eye.
3. Encourage them to build friends in more than one circle, so that they can always reach out to different friends for help when they need it.
4. Teach them to help others when they see them being bullied; this fosters empathy and shows other children that they are not vulnerable.
If Your Child is Bullied
In spite of our best efforts at prevention, it is likely that most children will face bullying at some point. So, place yourself in a position to know when an incident occurs.
Many children do not tell an adult about what has happened
to them because they are ashamed or feel that they should be
able to handle the bully themselves. This is where your
relationship with your child comes in, according to Rigby. Keep in close
touch with them by making sure you communicate about their
everyday lives, and by getting to know their friends.
“Sometimes a parent can help a bullied child by exploring with the child possible ways in which the problem can be solved,” says Rigby. “This may involve making changes in how the child might respond to being teased, avoiding some situations, and making friends. But when the bullying is serious and nothing seems to work, the school should be informed and an appointment made to discuss the problem. Schools have a ‘duty of care’ and are obliged to act. Parents should be actively involved with the school in seeking a solution and have a right to be informed about what actions the school takes.”
Love and Support Cushion Children from Bullying
The effects of being repeatedly bullied can be serious and long lasting. However, the impact can be reduced by parents who give children the loving support they need. “Above all, the bullied child should understand that he or she is not to blame and deserves to be treated with respect,” says Rigby. Children who are bullied generally do recover – and (with help) often become more understanding and compassionate human beings.