Bullying is unpredictable and can happen to anyone at any time. It is common, but can still be difficult to discover if your child would be a victim.
Firstly, let’s determine what bullying is, so we know what we are talking about. It is always unwanted, is repeated and somehow shows aggressive behaviour towards someone else.
- Physical bullying involves injuring a person’s body or/and belongings.
- Verbal bullying is done by words and includes not only spoken words but also written, through teasing, provoking or threats.
- Social bullying purposefully damage someone’s relationships or reputation by embarrassment, exclusion and rumours.
- Cyberbullying is complex and can look in different ways, but is always done online. It can have cruel and threatening messages, malicious gossip or rumours as well as secrets and embarrassing information or images shared with the world. It can also be someone breaking into someone else’s social media accounts acting like the person.
Rather often children do not ask for help if they are being bullied and also here it can depend on various factors. Bullying may make them feel helpless or give them a fear of being perceived as weak. It is humiliating and they might not want adults to know what is said about them, even if it is untrue. Bullied children sometimes already feel socially isolated and believe that no one would understand or even care if they disclose their situation.
So, what would give you warning signs that your child may be bullied? Just note that it is different from child to child and that some might not display anything particular.
Here are some potential signs:
- Unexplainable injuries.
- Destroyed or lost clothes, books or electronics.
- Recurrent tummy or headaches, feeling sick or faking illnesses.
- Anxiety, irritability or withdrawal.
- Disturbed sleeping habits and nightmares.
- Skipping meals or binge eating.
- Do not want to go to school or declining grades.
- Avoiding social settings or loss of friends.
- Self-destructive behaviours e.g. self-harm, mentioning suicide or running away from home.
- Low or decreased self-esteem.
- Victims of cyberbullying might have visible changes in usage of their devices e.g. having strong emotional responses about what they do online, hide their device when others are around or close old social media accounts to open new ones.
A way of preventing bullying is to have two-way communication with your children. Make sure you check in with them frequently, listen to them and take their concerns seriously. You will know when the best time is to talk with them about school, their walk or transport to school, lunchtime, break and peers. Do it regularly and do not put it off. Have conversations about bullying, what it is and why it is intolerable. Find ways together on how they can stand up for themselves, how they can help victims in their surroundings and who to ask for help. Be a role model in how you treat others and how to handle conflicts and anger in constructive ways. Do not hesitate to talk about tough experiences your children have been through, so they trust that you will be there to help and support them at any time. And, do not forget to supervise their online activities.
You might have done all that, but still, you find out that your child is a victim of bullying. What to do now? Number one, assure that he/she is not at all to blame and ask empathetic questions to find out more about what is going on. Be calm and listen. Find out what the child wants to do next and how you can assist in the situation. Talk about strategies that can help with coping. If the bullying takes place in school and he/she is reluctant to report it, go with to talk with a teacher or the principal. Find out about the school’s policy on bullying, write down what your child tells you and take photos of injuries, damaged belongings and other relevant things. Follow up with the school to determine if actions have been taken. If necessary, take help of external professionals, such as a social worker or therapist.
Never be hesitant, always stand up for your children!
Would you need urgent advice or help, contact:
Lifeline 0861 322 322
Childline 08000 55555
South African Depression & Anxiety Group (SADAG) 0800 20 50 26