Bullying: spotting it and stopping it

BullyBullying is a feature of daily life for many young children, to varying degrees. As a parent, you should look out for the signs that your child is being bullied. They won’t always come home crying with ripped clothes and bruises – most bullying is psychological. It could be face to face or it could be done via email or mobile phone.

Look for the warning signs.

  • bruises
  • broken or missing possessions
  • your child is withdrawn
  • changes in eating habits
  • sleeping badly
  • complaints of headaches or stomach aches
  • bedwetting
  • worrying about going to school
  • unexplained bad behaviour

If you have any cause for concern, you need to speak to your child about it in a way that is not aggressive or demanding. Bullied children can feel very embarrassed and lonely, and the last thing they need is confrontation or the feeling that you are trying to force information out of them.

If your child is being bullied, or terrorised or just teased (all will feel dreadful to them), you must reassure them that you will help them tackle it, but be wary of putting more fear into them. They might say you can’t tell the teachers or anyone’s parents because the bullying will increase – an often irrational fear but an understandable one in many cases.

Both you and your child should be confident in the knowledge that many bullies have self-esteem issues of their own, and the reason for their being bullies is because of a need to regain power after being bullied themselves. They may have been bullied at a previous school, or they may have a bullying older sibling at home. Many people have told how they have diffused bullying simply by talking to the bullies and sorting things out. The direct approach can often have a hugely positive effect.

Tips on coping with verbal abuse

Mandy Cassidy of LighterLife has these tips for coping with bullying:

  • Respond, don’t react: When you react by becoming sarcastic, tearful or emotional, you feed into that type of bullying behaviour. Take a moment and pause. Stay calm and come back to the bully with an assertive response, but not in an aggressive or sarcastic manner. Let them know how you feel about their remark. Ask them assertively, not to repeat it again. Alternatively you can respond with, “Yes, I am overweight. I’m wondering why you are coming back to me on that?”
  • Keep an eye on your body language and facial expressions. Avoid scowling, finger-pointing or defensive gestures. Angry gestures can make the situation worse, even if you speak calmly.
  • Respond in a respectful way. Many people use hurtful words because they don’t know how else to express themselves, so it won’t help to act the way they do. Instead, set a good example by treating them with the respect you’d like them to give you.
  • Be positive – Continue to talk to yourself in a positive way.  Tell yourself, ‘I am a valuable person’.  Training yourself to understand and believing this will give you confidence. Affirmations of this kind are the method of simply repeating a positive phrase in front of the mirror, in the car, or writing it on paper. Whenever you catch myself thinking something negative, try to “change that thought” to a new more affirming one.
  • Imagine yourself at your most confident and notice how you’re standing, talking, your posture and your manner. Then, bring that image to mind when you’re faced with a difficult situation in which you feel compromised by someone who behaves in a bullying way. Feeling confident and adopting that confidence will help to ensure that you do not ‘give your power away’ to the other person.

Useful books on bullying and self-esteem

Bullying by Karen Sullivan – how to spot it and how to stop it.
The Confident Child by Terri Apter – how to raise children to believe in themselves.

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