It’s Anti-Bullying week. We speak to Alicia Drummond our in-house Parenting and Mental Health Expert and Founder of Teen Tips and the Wellbeing Hub. Find out more on why people bully, how to help a child who is being bullied and what to do if your child is the bully.
“Over the years I have worked with many young people who have been the victim of bullying and often wished that bullies could see how devastating the impact of their actions can be”
Why does bullying occur?
Research tells us that the majority of people who bully do so because they don’t feel ok themselves i.e, they have low self-esteem. Sometimes they have been victims themselves and becoming a bully helps them take back the power they lost as the victim. Sometimes people bully others as a way to deal with difficult feelings. Whatever the reason, more often than not bullies deserve our empathy too.
Often those who experience bullying are targeted because they are perceived as being different in some way. Being different is not the problem. The problem is the attitude of the bully. Whilst we might think we live in more tolerant times; many people still struggle to accept difference.
Bullying someone because of their appearance, gender identity, sexuality, race, religion and disabilities are all examples of this. Being different is only part of the picture because not all people who are different from the crowd are bullied, indeed, many are celebrated so why are some people bullied and others aren’t?
This is complex but having low self-esteem and poor social skills definitely contribute to the problem. If we don’t believe we have worth why would we expect others to treat us with respect? If we can’t be assertive we are less likely to be able to stop the bullying.
How to help your child if they’re being bullied
If you discover that your child is being bullied the chances are you will feel angry and upset. Some children don’t talk to their parents because they think we will become reactive and charge in to fixing mode. We need to try and remain calm and listen carefully before inviting discussion.
Discuss where, when, how and by whom they are being bullied.
If it is online, take screen shots of the bullying and keep a record of dates. Work to get the offensive content removed from their phone/screen. All of the large social media sites and gaming sites (lots of bullying happens via gaming) have reporting systems and blocking mechanisms to help you get offensive comments removed and stop the bully being in contact. They are all slightly different, but a quick internet search will give you all the information you need.
If they are being bullied in person, the most important thing is to find a way to keep them safe. Is there a trusted adult they can approach if they need support?
Look to see if it is happening at a certain time and place. Could they take a different route to school or join a different activity at break time?
Encourage them to come up with ideas rather than just telling them what to do. This is important because when children are bullied they lose their sense of power and control, and if you rush in with your solutions you may compound that feeling.
What to do when the bullying is happening at school
If your child is being bullied at school you will need to work with staff to stop it. Rushing in to demand action or retribution is not helpful. Let them know you are happy to work collaboratively with them.
Firstly, ask your child which trusted member of staff to approach with the problem – talking to school needs to happen, but this way the child can at least take some ownership of the process and this will ultimately help them feel safer.
All schools have a bullying policy which you should be able to access via their website – understanding how they react to bullying scenarios is helpful.
Unfortunately, most also have experience of dealing with bullying so ask them for guidance on how to approach the problem.
Let school deal with the problem from their end whilst you help your child process the experience, develop strategies, rebuild their self-esteem, improve their relationship skills and learn to be more assertive all of which will help them avoid becoming a victim of bullying going forwards.
It might also be helpful to work with an experienced therapist throughout the process.
How to respond if your child is displaying bullying behaviour
No matter how ashamed of their behaviour you feel, they need your love, help and support. No blaming and shaming. Poor behaviour is often the manifestation of some form of unmet emotional need.
Trying to discover and understand why they feel the need to bully is more likely to lead to a long-term resolution.
Use your listening skills to understand what is causing their behaviour. Is it low self-esteem that’s driving them to put others down? Have they been bullied? Are they afraid of being rejected by a group if they don’t join in the bullying? Do they realise the impact this is having on the victim; do they realise that what they are doing is bullying.
They will open up more if they are heard and understood.
Remaining calm helps the child to feel understood and secure and is more likely to lead to a productive discussion on what is not working and how they could avoid bullying again. If it is for power and control, explore how they could make themselves feel ok without putting someone else down.
If they didn’t understand the impact of their actions what could they do to make it up to their victim? Once again this work might be helped by working with an experienced therapist.
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