School can be a battlefield, with children having to navigate a stressful landscape of exams, relationships and complex expectations. This can get even harder to deal with, however, when bullying comes into the equation.
Figures released by the anti-bullying charity, Ditch the Label, have revealed some heart-breaking statistics: almost one third of the 3,600 teenagers surveyed reported being bullied by someone at least once a week. Physical appearance was the main trigger for the bullying, and while 92% of the children had turned to a teacher for support, only half were satisfied with the help they received.
With more than 16,000 young people being absent from school due to bullying each year, and in-school support often lacking, it’s more important than ever for parents to support their children. It can be difficult to even broach the subject though, never mind offer guidance, so what exactly can you do if you think your child is being bullied?
Thankfully, Ditch the Label has also offered some fantastic advice for parents who are concerned about their child’s wellbeing:
“It is often overlooked how traumatic it can be for a parent or guardian if their child is either being bullied, or is the one doing the bullying. It can feel disempowering through the perceived lack of control and overwhelming pressure. We would advise that all parents/guardians maintain open and honest relationships with their children; encouraging them to regularly talk about school and bullying related issues.
“In addition, look out for warning signs, which could be things like sudden changes in behaviour, aggression and isolation. Affirm to your child that they are not the problem. The reason people are bullied is not because of their appearance, interests, race or sexuality, for example – it is because of someone’s attitudes towards that.”
Ditch the Label also has a great online support hub designed especially for parents and guardians. It includes even more guidance about warning signs, and importantly, how to approach the issue with your children. You can even find advice about what to do if the school or college doesn’t take your report seriously.
Kidscape, a charity that works to equip young people and parents with the skills to cope with bullying, also has some really detailed advice about how talk to your children about bullying, and help them to work through it:
Have an open conversation
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, or they have already told about an incident, the first thing to do is have an open conversation. Try the following:
Speak in private: Find a quiet time when you won’t be disturbed to discuss the different types of bullying (such as physical or psychological). Ask if they have ever experienced or witnessed any of the examples, and encourage them to give specific details.
Be patient, calm and understanding: Don’t make assumptions or interrupt. Put your feelings aside and really listen to what your child is telling you.
Reassure them: Make it clear that the bullying is not their fault and praise them for being brave enough to confide in you. Assure them that now you know what is happening, the issues can be resolved.
Give support and trust: Let your child know that you will need to talk to the school, but promise not to take action without discussing it with them first. Openly explore the options together, and agree a course of action you both have confidence in.
Teach them how to cope
Bullies often ‘test’ potential targets to gauge how they respond, and while the target is never to blame, those who appear the most vulnerable usually continue to be bullied. It is for this reason that alongside reporting to the school, teaching your child how to be assertive can be the most effective way to help them.
The techniques explained in Kidscape’s dealing with bullying page offer young people practical, non-confrontational ways to deal with bullies. With practice, these techniques can not only prevent them from being targeted, but will give them the confidence and independence to tackle potential bullying situations in a positive way that reduces the chances of escalation.
Behaviour to avoid
It can be very overwhelming when you are faced with the reality that your child is suffering. In order to respond effectively, and to give your child the support they need, it is important that you put aside any anger or assumptions. Bear in mind the following:
Don’t act aggressively: Storming into the school or confronting the bully may be the reaction your child has been dreading, and will often make the bullying worse.
Don’t dismiss their experience: Telling a child to ignore the bullies or dismissing the experience as just ‘part of growing up’ will not stop the bullying. These messages teach them that bullying should be tolerated rather than confronted. The effects of bullying can be devastating, so it’s really important to give your child the help they need.
Don’t promote retaliation: Instructing a child to fight back won’t solve any issues, but only promote a cycle of bullying. It could place your child in further danger, or even result in the school labelling them as the problem.
Have you had an experience where you have helped your child through a cycle of bullying? Why not leave a comment below to help other parents offer a vital lifeline to their children?