Bullying is a growing cause of concern for families and schools. Statistics have shown that many children encounter bullying - either as a perpetrator, a victim, or an observer.
Bullying is a specific interaction which builds on a power imbalance between peers. It is a form of aggression that may have long-lasting psychological implications for victims as well as for bullies.
Occasional aggressive behaviour can be a normal part of play, however, bullying is both repeated and planned and built on the intent to cause harm or exert more control. It may be in different forms, like spreading rumors or a physical assault or cyber bullying.
Most commonly witnessed in childhood, the effects of bullying sometimes continue to linger even after leaving school. The effects can be so long term that it can also impact the normal behaviour of an individual to some extent. The harmful effects of bullying include experiencing more physical symptoms and illnesses, poor school performance, and lowered self-esteem. In extreme cases, bullying has been linked to violence.
Since bullying is a repeated behaviour, it is important to break the cycle of reinforcement. Understanding and recognising such hurtful behaviour is critical for the child and even caregivers.
Parents or teachers should be careful in identifying certain behavioural changes in the child which can be an indication of bullying. Victims of bullying may become cautious, quiet, or shy.
While going through such mental trauma, kids become worried or unhappy with low self-confidence. There may be chances that they distance themselves from their close friends.
Such symptoms are an indicator that the child is facing some troubles in his social group and parents should not waste any time and speak to their kid upright.
Often under peer pressure and the fear of failure kids may restrain from speaking to their parents about bullying.
Parents should ensure that the child has a comforting atmosphere at home where their problems are heard without any presumptions.
In this way, children will understand that telling an adult about bullying is the right thing to do and that they are not to blame. It is important that children feel comfortable in sharing and expressing themselves freely.
Parents sometimes face trouble in interacting with kids about bullying as they lack the language and strategies of dealing with bullying.
It is important for adults and caregivers to help those who are bullied learn strategies for coping with bullies, and to help witnesses learn to stand up to bullies and deprive them of an audience. Friendship is another way of dealing with bullying as meaningful friendships can reduce the risk of victimisation.
It is integral that parents teach their child to respect limits and personal space of other people and friends. They could begin with encouraging their kid understand limits and saying “NO” or “STOP” even in normal play.
Additionally, by encouraging kids to stand up by the bully and help friends if they are witnessing bullying, can prevent the problem from aggravating. It is important to help children to understand that it is normal to experience fear and apprehension when standing up to a bully which can be overcome if they do so in a group.
In order to deal with their feelings about being bullied or about experiencing/ witnessing abuse and violence, children should be encouraged to reach out to a trusted adult.
Parents must ensure that the child understands that feeling bad, angry or scared is normal but they are not to blame. A regular counseling to kids about not changing themselves just to be a part of a group can be helpful. Each kid has his/her own individuality and they are special in their own way. Positive sense of self is an important quality for children to develop.
The child may not be at the receiving end of bullying always. There are cases when after having experienced bullying the child feels to retaliate and starts becoming the bully himself. Often this conduct may get unnoticed by parents.
However, there are ways to avoid such behaviour by encouraging kindness in social interactions. Parents can start with teaching kids to be kind to and respect their peers, juniors and adults. Positive role modelling starts at home, it is critical that adults also demonstrate positive behaviour with helps, friends and their parents.
Promoting habits of sharing and turn-taking in your child can go a long way in ensuring that the child grows to become a considerate and humble adult. Parents should always reward and acknowledge small act of kindness or any good act that the child does, help kids to recognise their own behaviour and feelings, and teach them to express anger or fear without hurting anyone physically or emotionally.
TV shows like Galli Galli Sim Sim, Sesame Street and the videos available on www.galligallisimsim.com and www.sesamestreet.org can help parents explain about such habits to their little ones. The “I love Elmo” segments in these TV shows have been especially designed to help parents know more about the strategies to build resiliency in children.
In conclusion, it’s important for parents to realise that bullying should be taken very seriously and dealt with immediately. If left unchecked, bullies get the message that adults find mean behaviour acceptable and the problem may get worse and involve more kids.
By creating open lines of communication and support networks at home and at school, teachers, parents and students can work together to create a safer environment for all kids. If needed parents should not shy away from speaking to the teachers at school to ensure a comfortable environment for their child to study and learn.
(Guest contributor Richa Shukla works with Sesame Workshop in India.)