Bullying – how to pick it and what to do

By Sandra Craig | Jan 30, 13 06:23 AM

With the kids heading back to school, here are some top tips for parents on how to deal with bullying

Bullying is a word that seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment, and a cause for concern in families, schools and the media, but are we all talking about the same thing?

When I was a secondary school teacher, parents often started a conversation with, ‘My child’s being bullied’. Then and now, I clarify what’s being talked about. What actually is bullying?  Random acts of aggression or intimidation cause the most confusion for parents and children alike. ‘A kid hit me in the playground at lunchtime’ is often followed by the words ‘he’s bullying me’. No, he isn’t. Bullying’s often confused with negative behaviours like being rejected or disliked, single episode acts of nastiness or spite, or mutual arguments, disagreements or fights. The difference is that it’s not a deliberate campaign of persecution, which is what makes the effects of bullying so much more severe than one-off episodes.

The National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB), an initiative of The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, defines bullying as ‘when someone, or a group of people, deliberately upset or hurt another person or damage their property, reputation or social acceptance on more than one occasion. There is an imbalance of power in incidents of bullying with the bully or bullies having more power at the time due to age, size, status or other reasons. Bullying can be physical, verbal, indirect (or covert) or through the use of digital technologies’.

Children won’t always tell if they are being bullied. They sometimes think they’ve somehow brought it on themselves, and feel shame at being powerless to stop it. Or they may be simultaneously the target of bullying and involved in bullying others. In the case of cyberbullying, they may fear that their beloved technology will be confiscated. Or, they might be afraid that a response from will be ham-fisted: a parent making a fuss at the school or a teacher hauling the perpetrators in for punishments and making the situation much worse.

Here are some signs to watch for that your child might be being bullied:

  • Significant changes in behaviour
  • Changes to mood or eating and sleep patterns
  • Withdrawal from family, social groups or friends
  • Decline in school performance or unwillingness to attend
  • Lost, torn or broken belongings
  • Scratches or bruises
  • Implausible excuses for any of the above.

Top tips for parents on how to address bullying

1. Try to listen to the whole story without interrupting. Be empathic, calm and validate what is being said. Ask what your child would like to happen, before you make suggestions. They’ll often just want the bullying to stop, so even if you want to see the perpetrator torn limb from limb, be advised by them. They have to live/work/play within the situation, not you!

2. Have a conversation about what happened. Try not to make the conversation too intense or you might deter your child from talking to you. Remind your child it's normal to feel hurt, it's never OK to be bullied, and it's not their fault. 

3. Find out what is happening. Note what, when and where the bullying occurred, who was involved, how often and if anybody else witnessed it. Don't offer to confront the person yourself. 

4. Contact the school. Check your school's bullying policy. Find out if the school is aware of the bullying and whether anything has been done to address the situation. Make an appointment to speak to your child's teacher or coordinator. Make a follow-up appointment to ensure the situation is being addressed. 

5. Encourage your child not to fight back, but coach them to use neutral or, if appropriate, light hearted language in response. Help them explore other possible responses.

Parents might also explain to their child:

  • the behaviour was intentional and it won't just go away
  • it's safer to avoid people, places or situations that could expose them to further bullying
  • staying home from school won't help - and may make things worse

If possible, help to make opportunities for them to join other groups of young people - e.g. clubs at school or other groups outside of school time.

Top tips for parents on how to address cyberbullying

1. Learn how to use the devices/programs/applications your children use,

  • be interested in and aware of what they are doing online and spend time with them in the digital world

2. Talk about cyberbullying before it happens;  have a plan

  • Reassure them they’ll get support and won’t be disconnected from their online world
  • Encourage your child to tell you if they are cyberbullied
  • If your child discloses cyberbullying to you, keep calm and ask what you can do to help. Tell them it’s not about them but those bullying who need to change their behaviour
  • Advise your child not to respond
  • If  your child is distressed, seek help
  • if there is a threat to your child’s safety, call triple zero (000)
  • Report concerns to the online administrator or mobile phone provider

3. Work with the school to resolve the problem

  • Understand your child’s school’s policy on cyberbullying
  • Encourage your child to report their concerns and support the target

4. Use safe online behaviours

  • Advise the child never to share their password with friends
  • Use anti-virus tools.

The Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s eSmart Schools system has been developed to help schools create a positive and caring culture, enhance student wellbeing, deal with bullying and cyberbullying, while increasing the technology and cybersafety skills of teachers, students and parents. For more information, please visit www.amf.org.au

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