Suspect that your child is experiencing bullying in schools? Clinical psychologist and founder of Integrated International School DR VANESSA VON AUER shares tips for managing and getting help for bullying situations.
How do we differentiate meanness from bullying behaviour?
Bullying is the repetition of a mean-spirited behaviour that causes direct physical harm or psychological distress to an individual.
Bullying can be both direct – hitting, punching, kicking, for example – and indirect – mocking, excluding, spreading rumours, cyberbullying. If such actions are repeated on numerous occasions, it’s considered bullying. Kids often don’t vocalise that they’re being bullied.
Are there any signs of bullying in schools that parents can look out for?
Forms of bullying evolved over time alongside verbal and non-verbal communication, so it’s important for parents to keep up with changes in their child’s generation.
Signs of bullying in schools can range from subtle to more obvious ones. The biggest red flag that your child is being bullied would be a change in his or her behaviour or daily functioning. Some of the signs could be a reluctance to go to school, marks and bruises, physical manifestations such as headaches, withdrawal from group activities, sleep disturbance and change in mood due to anxiety.
You need to build open communication with your child from a young age and understand their normal behaviours so you’re better able to pick up on any changes.
Besides raising the issue with the school, what can I do at home?
Bully-proof your child by fostering assertiveness and confidence in him or her from a young age, starting by creating a healthy self-image for your child. Help your child develop positive body language, which can deter bullies from picking on him or her. Teach your child to stand tall, hold their head up high with an upright posture and strong eye contact.
Teach them to be in pairs whenever possible and to have a safety route, such as taking the staircase rather than the lift in school, if they’re faced with the bully.
Depending on how your child is affected, you can bring them to a psychologist to process the trauma of bullying, build back their self-esteem and acquire skills to deal with any future bullying in schools.
If my child is the one doing the bullying in schools, what can I do?
Bullying in schools is usually a side effect of something; all behaviours are a message that may need addressing. It’s not uncommon that the bully is hurting because they don’t feel good about themselves, their situation or their family. The bully is unable to regulate their feelings or behaviours and the only way they can feel better about themselves is by feeling powerful and in control, by hurting others.
It’s important to teach your child empathy at a young age. This comes naturally for a lot of children so it’s important to nurture and encourage it. Teach them to label their feelings and engage in roleplay to demonstrate the impact that bullying can have on a person.
For example, take a piece of paper and write someone’s name – “John”, for example. Then tell your child to say or do something bad. Each time your child says or does something mean, scrunch the paper and tell them this is the impact of their words and actions. Then open the paper up again and ask, “Does John look the same as he did before?” This symbolises the lasting impact that negative words or actions can have on a person.
This article first appeared in the January 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!