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Many parents do not realise their children are victims of bullying. Telltale signs like anxiety, irritability, depression, silence, or withdrawal from human interaction, may emerge much later after the child has been under duress for a while.
How then should parents approach the issue of bullying? Is it possible to prevent this harmful behaviour and how might parents intervene?
OAM, FAPS, Psychologist
Author, Speaker, Bully Blocking Expert
Yew Chung Yew Wah Education hosted a timely webinar on ‘Bully Blocking Strategies’ on 21 October. Ms Evelyn Field, a practising Australian psychologist and author of bestsellers Bully Busting and Bully Blocking, shared her views – summarised below – and touched upon how parents might tackle the scourge of bullying.
What is bullying?
Bullying, whether physical or verbal, is an aggressive act against an individual. Victims are afraid and often unable to defend themselves. This may take place in our everyday life or online in cyberspace.
Commonly observed in the age bracket of eight to sixteen where decision-making and judgement is still developing, bullying can happen to anyone, anywhere. Bullying is an abuse of power where the perpetrator tries to make someone feel vulnerable.
Some suggest bullying consists of two elements: humiliation and rejection. Statements like “You can’t” or “Get out of here” are often used to harm and frighten youngsters. Children have pride and cannot survive in a social group without a sense of dignity. They need self-affirmation and a sense of belonging.
Bullying can cause substantial negative short-term or long-term impact.
It can arouse and stoke negative emotions such as anxiety, irritability, or depression in children. It also affects their cognitive abilities and affects learning and memory. According to a report presented by ScienceDaily, a child’s brain structure can be damaged with repeated abuse. Victims have a greater risk of mental illnesses, changes in personality and extreme social phobia and fear of gatherings.
Mr Thormod Idsoe, a researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioural Development, suggests bullying is a repetitive injury and the victim is often diagnosed with traumatic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Simply put, children may encounter blocks during their important formative stages.
Causes may be attributed to problems inherent in the social and cultural environment, the school, the internet, family life, and so on.
The next generation is facing unprecedented pressure as increasingly fierce competition makes it hard to relax en route to success. Growing frustration could create an environment that encourages outbursts of bullying or a systemic problem.
Bullying at school is what children most commonly encounter. Several countries and international organisations have crafted laws and policies to cope with this challenge. Schools are also making significant efforts to establish robust bully-blocking support systems.
With easy internet accessibility, cyberbullying has become increasingly prevalent too.
Parents play a vital role in behavioural patterns affecting their children. Research conducted by Dr Suzet Tanya Lereya from the University of Warwick, suggests that both bullies and their victims are often victims of negative parenting, featuring child abuse, neglect and inappropriate behaviour.
Conversely, positive parenting with open communication, encouragement, active involvement in the child’s development, and a loving, healthy family home can reduce negative behaviour.
How parents can support their child to prevent or cope with bullying
To prevent your child from being bullied or becoming a bully, you need to become more involved with your child’s everyday life.
Respect and try to understand children’s thoughts and feelings. Plan at least two relaxed conversation sessions with kids each week over lunch or dinner to get to know their school life better. This will encourage them to talk about friends, hopes, and troubles.
Parents are also encouraged to help children build emotional resilience and adaptability that can motivate them to develop social skills. This offers children peer group support as a first line of defence.
What can parents do if their child is a victim?
To begin with, let your child talk about the experience and try to understand what happened. Ask questions like: “What happened?” and “How did that make you feel?” Try to find out more about the situation and the reason for the bullying.
Always help children understand their emotions, be it anger, fear, sadness or joy. Let them deal with these emotions rather than ignore them.
Parents can also pay attention to children’s self-esteem – be it bullies or victims –and help them regain their confidence.
Teaching children proper communication is important. They are often unable to express or share their feelings and may use bullying as an outlet for pent up frustration. Showing children ways to respect others and how to talk to peers in a friendly manner helps them to better deal with bullying.
To spot and block cyberbullying, parents need to be familiar with the internet platforms their children are on.
In the case of physical bullying, parents should seek help from the school. You may also consider letting your child pick up martial arts to build self-confidence. Encourage youngsters to make more friends. This can help them cope better with stress. Managing emotions and responding to bullies in a neutral manner is important and friends play a part in this.
Verbal abuse can have long lasting impact on children. Scars from constant teasing stay with children a long while. These episodes create self-doubt. It’s therefore important for parents to let children know that they are there to support them whenever needed and that they are accessible for a chat at any time.
Home is the best healer.
Bully Blocking Strategies Takeaways
1. Bullying is not uncommon in schools around the world.
2. Bullying can affect students in many ways including academic performance, personal life and their future development.
3. Bullying can cause damage to the brain with long-lasting effects.
4. Despite trying their best, schools can’t completely eliminate bullying.
5. Create a safe and caring environment for your children and help them become confident individuals with self-esteem to cope with bullying.
6. Try to understand the reasons behind their children’s behaviours
7. Learning emotional management can help student respond to bullying in neutral ways.
8. Learning verbal and non-verbal social skills can help students deal with difficult people and form peer support groups.