45,000 children report being bullied each week in New Zealand, could it be happening to your child? If so, what could you do to help? This is one of the biggest questions facing parents and caregivers today.
Many children going through bullying can feel very isolated and, for them, it can be a time of immense fear, inward withdrawal and self persecution, which only adds to the bullying experience.
It takes a lot of courage for a child to own up to being bullied as by owning up, or telling, the child could feel that they are making themselves vulnerable and may be seen as weak and that, despite all their own personal best efforts, the bullying is still happening to them.
When a child owns up to being bullied the very first thing you should do is listen – I mean really listen, take what they are saying seriously, respect that they have chosen you at this time to make themselves vulnerable.
- Exactly what is happening, when and by who and
- What type of bullying they are experiencing from the four major types of bullying below, which can be one or a combination of these:
- Verbal bullying – includes name calling, insults, homophobic or racist remarks
- Intimidating or Covert bullying – where the child is excluded from joining in and rumour spreading
- Physical bullying – pinching, punching, slapping, hair pulling or harming personal property
- Cyberbullying – being tormented via social media, text, email or any other electronic means.
When a child own up to being bullied, never say any of the following expressions as it could make them withdraw and, although untrue, they could feel that you don’t care or understand:
- it’s only names
- find some new friends
- just walk away
- why don’t you turn your phone off?
- I’m too busy to listen, tell me later.
Bullying – how can you help?
At this time they are already feeling weak and vulnerable and need your love, support and compassion more than ever. Unless you have been bullied yourself, it may be difficult for you to really understand how they are feeling as, to you, the experiences could sound petty at times. Know that, to the child, this is absolutely real life and a serious situation.
Ask them how long it’s been going and who else know about this such as teachers or their friends. Have they had any offer of support as yet? Never be offended that you may be the last to know. Children can find it difficult to tell their parents for fear of feeling that they have done something wrong or failed them in some way. Ask them what type of support they might like to have and let them know that, although you may not have all the answers, you will work with them to find a resolve soon.
It is likely that you yourself may feel angry and may want to go to see the bully or their parents yourself; in the first instance speak with the school principal and let them know what is happening and the name(s) of those doing the bullying. Do not feel that you need to approach the bully or their parents, leave that to the proper channels to deal with.
A question often asked is ‘should your child still go to school’? If it is safe to do so, yes, it is important to keep to as much of a normal routine as possible. Try to find someone that can buddy up with your child, it could be one of their existing friends or someone new. This will give them a sense of support and may help them to feel a little confident, as bullies often attack when the child is by themselves.
If it’s Cyberbullying that your child is going through, block the bully in every way. It is easy now to block phone numbers by calling the telephone provider. If they are receiving nasty emails then block the email address, if you don’t know how to do this the child will. For social media simply unfriend them. However, bullies are very resilient and usually operate in groups, so there may be several numbers or people to block.
For physical bullying notify the police for any physical injury or harm.
There is a lot of help available with bullying situations and many ways to deal with it. The below offers some valuable resources with many schools now having in-house counsellors. It is possible that there may be local support groups near you so keep an eye out in the school magazine or local papers:
- FYD – www.fyd.org.nz – they work via schools throughout the country for all ages
- Youthline – www.youthline.co.nz – a counselling and support service
- Kidsline – www.kidsline.org.nz – a telephone counselling service for children up to age 14
- Keeping kids safe online – www.cyberbullying.co.nz
- Mindfulness – www.mentalhealth.org.nz – using this technique can help to calm both you and the child
Know that whatever is happening it is not your child’s fault; they have probably tried to deal with it themselves and have reached the point where they no longer can. Never underestimate the power of your unconditional love and support which can often be just what is needed to give them the strength and confidence to get through this together.