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Bullying | What can parents do?
Posted 5 March 2019
Whether it’s over the internet or in person, physical or emotional, bullying is something many children and teenagers face today. With the rise of social media platforms and the tendency for kids to keep bullying to themselves, many parents are in the dark about how to see the signs and help their children.
We speak to psychologist Tristan Duggan about how to spot the signs and what to do if they’re being bullied.
What is bullying?
According to Tristan, bullying can occur in a variety of contexts. He does, however, say that it always maintains the same characteristics; “a level of abuse that is repeated, and a power imbalance.” More often than not, this can be witnessed as one child using their strength, whether verbal or physical, over another child.
The Online Playground
The definition of bullying hasn’t necessarily changed in recent years, but it’s adapted to include a variety of newer ‘play’ formats, like the online playground. “The classic image of bullying is of one child pushing another in the schoolyard, however it is by no means limited to this. Children can also experience bullying through verbal communication, relationship exclusion, and online formats.”
Tristan says that while social media can open up communication for children and adolescents in positive ways, it also has the ability to increase bullying efforts. With greater accessibility for communication, bullying is no longer restricted to the playground at school.
“Bullies can continue their harassment beyond school hours,” he states. “Social media also allows for a degree of separation when communicating, which can lead bullies to feel less accountable for their actions and more likely to act without fear of consequence.”
While it’s hard to predict or prevent occurrences of bullying happening, Tristan explains there are a number of simple steps you can take with your child, particularly if they’re about to start a new school or leave prep – milestones make a great time for life lessons on communicating with others, and avoiding bullying.
Tristan's top tips:
- Educate your child about why bullying occurs and how to stand up to it safely and be assertive.
- Role-play scenarios so that they have exposure to the situation before it occurs.
- Teach your child how to use humour to defuse the situation. This surprises most bullies and can prevent things from developing further.
- Model healthy behaviour in front of them, so that they can respond to others in the same manner.
See the signs
With every child and parent different in their own unique way, Tristan says it can be difficult to spot the signs of bullying, no matter how close your relationship with your kids. Some kids may act out, while others may simply withdraw, so it’s important to check in with your child regularly if you suspect any form of bullying. “This allows them the chance to tell you about it, but it may take several attempts as talking about it is difficult.”
If your child isn’t a talker, simply look out for any abnormal behaviour, or even a change in their appearance. “Pay attention to what they’re doing and look for changes that are uncharacteristic or can’t be readily explained.”
Love and listen
This may seem like a simple one, but just being there for your child, particularly in the beginning stages of bullying, can make all the difference to their coping with and overcoming bullying situations. Tristan says allowing them the opportunity to share things with you, and just offering an ear, can be the first step to support.
“There’s a lot going on for them and they may think no one cares. It’s important to validate their feelings at this point rather than try to fix the problem. This can come later.”
Create a community
One of the key issues with bullying, according to Tristan, is that it is extremely isolating. By building a network or community of close people around you, your family and your child, your little one is likely to feel less isolated and better at tackling the bullying burden. You know what they say – it takes a village to raise a child. Use it now, because it’s times like these when support matters most.
“This may involve friends, family, teachers or even psychologists. Increasing the number of people who are aware and can assist is important.”
Bring in boundaries
Set boundaries for your child around the situations which are the cause of the bullying. For instance, if the bullying is occurring online, ensure your child’s privacy settings are adjusted. Getting savvy about which groups, forums and chat groups your child participates in is important too, as many large forums can be breeding grounds for bullying.
It may also be necessary to look at your child’s playgroup or school environment, and whether the conflict can be avoided with greater teacher engagement, talking to other parents or, in severe cases, changing schools.
It’s as important for your child to take their own action in the matter as it is for you to act and support them. Tristan says working with your child on an action plan for dealing with the bullying can be a great step towards them taking ownership and being in control of the situation.
“Much of the pain of bullying comes from feeling powerless and not knowing what to do next. A step-by-step plan can give your child a sense of control over the situation and help them manage it.”
It’s important not to take the blame for your child being bullied, as many parents unfortunately do. “Bullying is the result of another’s insecurities and rarely resolves itself. Speak up, tell someone, get the ball rolling on a plan.”
If you feel you need greater support than the network around you, seek out help from a psychologist, or from external support services like The Kids Helpline – beneficial for kids and parents.
1800 55 1800