A child being bullied or a child bullying their peers — both are a worrying scenario for parents.
Yet, this social issue can be dealt, in a positive manner, with support from parents, peers, teachers, and the society at large.
But how do you stop bullying in kids?
In this article, we will look at its aspects — being a bully and being bullied — and how we can deal with them.
What is bullying?
The definition of bullying is the persistent, intentionally hurtful behaviour of an individual towards another.
It could be about anything ranging from the victim’s background to gender identity.
Imagine one of your peers is constantly hurtful to you. You feel helpless and cornered, the result being you feel victimised.
The intent is clearly to hurt.
There are different types of bullying — physical: where the victim is beaten up; verbal: where hurtful terms are used against the victim, or social: where the victim’s social standing is hurt through rumours, exclusion, etc.
But, how is it different from teasing?
Teasing is a fun, light-hearted banter between a group of children or two children. There is no intent for hurting the other.
In contrast, when it comes to bullying, power dynamics is at play. A child bullying one of their peers wants to feel strong.
So, where does bullying occur?
Well, bullying can stem from anywhere — and is common among school-going kids.
Going by the study about bullying in schools, conducted across 6 Indian cities by The Teacher Foundation, nearly 47% of children between Class 4 and Class 8 reported that they were being bullied.
So, what are the causes of bullying?
There could be single or multiple factors that may culminate in a child becoming a bully.
The bullying child
A child who bullies needn’t be aggressive themselves. However, everything else about the act of bullying presents aggression.
It is therefore important to look at the causes of bullying — from a bully’s home scenario to their need to feel included.
1) Peer influence
Children like being included in their peer groups.
And, it does matter. It nurtures a child’s overall development.
But then, there is an issue:
The kind of peer group they want to be included in defines their behaviour. A child may want to fit into a group and bullying may be their way in.
If such is the case, bullying becomes a way of gaining popularity for the child among their peers.
2) In the home front
For a child who witnesses frequent fights between their parents or other relations, it becomes more entrenched that bullying is the way to deal with people.
There is another scenario.
It could be the family dynamics itself — the child doesn’t get enough attention from their parents or feels overshadowed by their siblings.
Bullying or making fun of their peer(s) offers them a way to get that attention from others.
3) Being bullied
A child who bullies may themselves be bullied by their sibling, family member(s), or children older than them.
Thus, a need to feel confident is required and so they may resort to bullying their peers.
In all, a child becomes a bully because there is a lack of acceptance, attention, care, and space to be themselves.
So, what’s the way forward?
5 tips to deal with a bully
Let’s imagine a scenario where you learn that your child is bullying another child!
Going beyond the initial shock, how would you put a stop to it?
You can choose to ignore it because you are sure your child is well-behaved. But would it help?
You can chide or punish your child. Will this help them?
How about talking to them, instead?
1) Clear Communication
When you become aware of your child’s bullying behaviour, it is necessary to remain calm.
Address it immediately — explain the meaning of bullying, tell them that their behaviour was unacceptable, and you are against bullying.
However, ensure you don’t reproach your child in the public.
When you try to discipline them in front of others, this in itself becomes a type of bullying.
2) Have open discussion
While addressing the bullying issue, provide your child with ample space to voice their views.
Have a conversation where you understand the root cause of their bullying behaviour. This information is critical as it would help you address their reason.
Armed with the information, you can help them understand the consequence of their action.
3) Explain the consequence
Once you are aware of the reason behind your child bullying their peer(s), explain the outcome — their action has a consequence.
You can make use of ‘what if’ questions to make them understand that bullying is a choice and can be avoided.
Find a balance for your child to understand that bullying is not acceptable. Eg: Apologising to the child they’ve hurt and reduced TV time, helping you with a chore, etc.
Work on a plan that provides healthy closure to your child.
If your child is being bullied by someone at school, work with the school authorities to come up with anti-bullying solutions.
4) Be supportive
Like we saw, a child who bullies may crave attention and affection. When you learn about the reasons, make sure you support them.
Shower them with love and provide support to work through, while ensuring that you do not tolerate bullying behaviour.
Avoid threatening or chiding them as it can have a negative impact.
5) Seek professional help
As you understand the root cause of your child’s behaviour, you may realise that you need external support as well.
Reach out to a professional who can help them.
Work along with them to ensure your child is provided with the best possible support they require.
Assure your child that you are on their side through all this.
Overall, you need to remain empathetic of your child’s bullying behaviour.
Patience and understanding are a must!
The bullied child
Bullying can be about the bully, but many at times, the victims of bullying face long-term issues.
A child who is bullied would feel that they are at a disadvantage.
Most often, they don’t report about bullying to anyone — not their parents, teachers, or guardians.
It becomes important for a parent to understand the effects of bullying on their child.
What a bullied child displays
When you doubt that your child is being bullied, what is the first thing you notice?
Is it their anger?
Is it their sudden withdrawal from social interactions?
Does going to school become a task?
Here are the effects of bullying to look out for:
1) Sudden withdrawal
Your child seems aloof in a group or prefers to be left alone. When you probe further, they are annoyed and irritated.
The victims often feel left out and tend to internalise the problem.
Instead of raising it as a concern, out of the fear of repercussions — what if the bullying continues because they complained — they remain silent.
2) Unexpected health issues
Bullying affects a victim’s health. They may show symptoms such as headache, sleeplessness, stomach aches, etc.
If your child is being bullied, they may seem anxious in social situations.
The other sign of being bullied is the loss of appetite. Your child would throw a tantrum to eat or complain about the food.
3) Dislike for school
Going to school becomes a daily hassle. All the fights and arguments lead to absenteeism. There is a certain fear of going to school and facing the bully.
There is a dislike for studying, which would be visible in the daily learning and homework pattern. They are unable to concentrate.
4) Low confidence and highly sensitive
One of the prolonged signs, which is visible among the victims of bullying, is their dwindling confidence.
The very nature of bullying instils fear and self-doubt in a bullied child.
Your child is a generally confident one, but of late seems to be questioning their confidence. Perhaps, they say things such as “I am not strong”, “I am not good enough”, etc.
They start to cry at the smallest comment. It could be as simple as “put things back in the place.”
When a child is bullied constantly, they believe they aren’t good enough.
So, when you talk in a little harsh tone or chide them for a small thing, they would cry.
5) Excess TV time
Children may like to watch television often.
However, if your child has started doing so out of the blue, do check on them.
They seek comfort and find it in their television programs.
Children who are bullied suffer silently for want of safe space. They often feel victimised not only by the bully but those around them as well.
If you see any of the effects of bullying in your child, they will avoid talking about their school or friends.
So, how can you talk to your child who is being bullied?
5 tips to deal with a bullied child
No matter how you ask, your child will avoid talking about who is bullying them. Mostly, this stems from the fear of being bullied further.
Understand that your child is feeling alone and wouldn’t trust you.
These tips would help you work through:
1) Create a safe space
Take the first step to reach out to your child. Tell them that you are on their side.
Allow them the space to express themselves. Ask questions that relate to their bullying situation.
When talking with a smaller child, ask them questions to describe their feelings as well. Help them understand the meaning of bullying.
Let your child talk to you at their pace, don’t force them to name the bully.
Avoid strong statements such as “you must fight back”, “you should complain to the teacher”, etc.
2) Role-play situations
One way to help your child is to work with situations where a child bullies them.
Help them with how they can react. There is no one-solution-fits-all scenario.
Explain to them how they can support themselves or how they can walk away from a bully.
3) Build their confidence
With a bullied child, their confidence is at an all-time low.
Help them find a hobby that they love to take part in. Encourage them to follow the hobby. You can be part of it as well.
Use positive affirmations to compliment them. They need to feel self-assured.
4) Get professional help
There are chances that the effects of bullying require professional help. Don’t shy away from it.
Help your child in a way they can help themselves.
Working with a professional provides them with a space to be understood, which you as parents may not be equipped to handle.
5) Unconditional love and support
The bullied child feels the need to be protected, cherished, loved, and accepted for who they are.
Show your child that you are on their side no matter what. Vocalise your support for them.
Encourage them to spend time with people and children who are supportive of them.
Help your child find supportive friends at school with whom they can hang out.
Be there all along the way.
For a child who is bullied, it requires more time to recover and move on. There is an absolute need for patience.
Ensure you have your support group to help you through this.
With your child’s knowledge, reach out to their teacher(s), if the bullying took place at school, and report it. Ensure the school takes appropriate anti-bullying steps.
It’s a wrap
Bullying requires a lot of understanding.
Parents, teachers, and the community as a whole need to be more participative.
More often than not, the bystanders of a bullying situation, aggravate it. Thus, it becomes necessary to help children who are being bullied.
At the same time, we need to understand that most often than not bullies themselves could be doing it from a place of disadvantage.
Have a thought about bullying? Share your comment(s) below.