It happens to nearly everyone at some stage in their life – whether in school, the workplace or in a relationship. Bullying is an unwanted behaviour, repeated over time. It can be physical, psychological or emotional.
Obviously physical bullying takes a physical form, psychological bullying could refer to name calling or exclusion from a group and emotional bullying takes place when someone plays with your emotions. More recently, cyber bullying is common place too.
While bullying may be a fact of life, it’s not something that should be taken lightly. It can lead to all kinds of negative repercussions and long term it can destroy someone’s confidence.
When it comes to a child, it’s every parent’s worst nightmare. So how do you prevent your child from being bullied and how can you stop your child from becoming a bully?
Symptoms of bullying
A child who’s being bullied is likely to be anxious and unhappy in themselves. “They could become isolated and want to see less of their friends,” says parenting expert, Sheila O’Malley of Practical Parenting “These are all signs that parents should look out for.”
Understanding a bully
It’s easy to blame a bully, but experts prefer to look at their behaviour. “Bullying can be considered a challenging behaviour,” says Sheila. “In understanding bullying, you have to realise it isn’t about how difficult this person is trying to make someone else’s life. It’s more about how difficult this person is finding life. It’s a cry for help and one that needs to be acted on.”
A child can also bully because they were bullied themselves or because there’s a lack of boundaries at home. They could be insecure or unhappy in themselves. “There are lots of reasons why people bully, but they need help not punishment,” says Sheila.
How can we stop bullying behaviour?
It won’t help to admonish a child who is bullying another child. They need to be taught empathy. “We need to sit with the child and ask them how they would feel if they were being bullied themselves,” says Sheila. “They may initially say they wouldn’t care. But stick with it.” If you get to a point where they would care, then all of a sudden, that person has become able to understand their behaviour from another’s point of view, which means they are less likely to do it again.
How to stop bullying
The main reason a child is bullied is due to lack of self-esteem. The more confident they are, the more likely they are to stand up to a bully by being assertive.
“It’s very important as parents that we try to build our children up, instead of breaking them down,” says Sheila. “Parents should emphasise what they’ve done, not what they haven’t done.”
And sometimes a child needs to be taught to assert themselves. Teach them to be able to speak up for themselves.
Empower your child
Bullying happens to someone who feels disempowered. “It’s important that if your child tells you about a bullying incident, that you don’t further disempower them by taking over and deal with it,” says Sheila. “Empower your child instead by asking them what would make a difference to the situation and what they need.” It’s also important to tell your child they don’t deserve to be treated that way. Tell them the behaviour is not about them. It’s about the bully.
What if the bullying continues?
Parents should take note of all bullying incidents and if they continue, go to school authorities. “The bullying complaint can be taken to the board of management of the school if you don’t get a good response from the teacher or principal,” says Sheila. “The main thing is to take bullying seriously and act on it as soon as possible.”