Bullying can turn a beautiful experience into a nightmare for kids. It can leave deep emotional scars. But there’s something you can do about it.
When is it called bullying?
Most kids get teased by a sibling or a friend at some point in life. That’s normal and not usually harmful when done in a playful, friendly, and mutual way, especially when both kids find it funny.
The moment it crosses the line is when it is intentional, tormenting in physical, verbal, or psychological ways. Acts like this can range from hitting, shoving, name-calling, threats, and mocking to extorting money and possessions. Some kids bully by shunning others and spreading rumours about the victim. Others use social media or electronic messaging to taunt others or hurt their feelings – that is cyberbullying which is considered even more dangerous.
Taking unfriendly cases like this seriously and not just brushing it off as something that kids have to “tough out” is important as it can be serious and affect kids’ sense of safety and self-worth. In severe cases, it has snowballed into tragedies, such as suicides and school shootings.
Why does bullying happen?
Kids bully for different reasons. Some aggressors pick on kids because they need a victim – someone who seems emotionally or physically weaker, or just acts or appears different in some way. This according to psychologists happens so they can feel more important, popular, or in control.
Some others torment other kids because that’s the way they’ve been treated. This is what has been modelled to them through family, close relatives, friends or even the media that they are exposed to.
Signs a child shows when bullying occurs?
Unless your child tells you about bullying — or has visible bruises or injuries — it can be tricky and difficult to know if it’s happening.
However, victims exhibit attitudes such as:
- Acting differently or seeming anxious.
- Not eating, not sleeping well, or not doing the things they usually enjoy.
- Seem moodier or more easily upset than usual.
- Avoiding certain situations (like taking the bus to school) or wanting to be alone most times.
Care for your child:
Before anything else, care for your child’s needs. Kids get sad at such incidences and that’s normal, but you want to make sure they don’t harm themselves or others.
Saying “I love you” and listening to what your child has to say no matter how unbelievable can be a big boost to your child. Just listen before you react as it empowers your child to share the full story.
As you go through the other steps, make sure you always return to this one. Caring for your child never ends.
Get the facts and document them:
Ask your child gently but directly whether anyone is doing anything that causes upset, discomfort, or embarrassment. Use open-ended questions to encourage your child to share. Go ahead and ask specifics such as; Are you getting mean messages on social media? From whom? How many? When?
Next is to reach out to others who may know more about this case. You want to find out what’s been happening, who’s involved, and when and where it has taken place. Be careful before you reach out directly to any student or adult doing the bullying.
Leave no fact out. Save emails or texts, scars and print them out. You can also take screenshots of social media or online forums, as well as save voice messages.
- Tell someone:
Tell the bullying story to someone like a trusted friend or family member. Ask for feedback while you stick to the facts?
- Review the school’s anti-bullying policy vs state laws:
Check your child’s student handbook or the school district website for its anti-bullying policy as it will provide you with steps you need to take, and to whom to make the report to.
Also, look at your state’s law. It may give you additional rights, like a time limit for the school to take action.
- Report the bullying to the school:
If the bullying is happening in class, meet with the teacher. Ask for the principal to join if you feel it’s needed. If the bullying is happening outside of class or at recess, go directly to the principal. During the meeting, ask what the school is going to do and when and then follow up in writing (an email works), describing what you discussed and the expectations from the meeting.
- Monitor the school’s response:
Once bullying is reported to the school, state anti-bullying laws may require a specific process of investigation and action. Ask for updates on this process in writing.
Monitor what actions the school takes. If the bullying continues, take your child off the scene. Let the school know about any new incidents and ask what it’s going to do. As always, make sure you connect with and comfort your child during this time.
- Take it up the chain of command:
If the school is slow to respond, is dilly-dallying or incommunicado, you may want to also write to the Board of Education and straight to the police.
- Seek out legal help:
If bullying is still happening after all the steps you have taken, contact a lawyer. A lawyer with experience in education law can help.
Do you have any question or comment? Do share with us in the comment section.