Helping children deal with teasing and bullying at school

In today’s environment, our children are exposed to different kind of behaviours from their peers and it can be worrying on certain days especially when they are exposed to negative behaviours such as teasing and bullying. The problem has become increasingly widespread and it can easily affect a child’s mental and emotional health. National surveys show that 60 percent of school students are bullied or hurtfully teased at some point or another. It is one of the greatest fears of parents these days as it can leave deep emotional scars making children feel hurt, scared, sick, lonely, embarrassed, and sad.  Research studies, however, show that this fear is not unfounded as it can lead to worsening physical and psychological health, depression, and self-worth over time.

Teasing and bullying are almost similar, hence one needs to identify as to when it starts becoming harmful and damaging. Teasing is quite common among children and it is perfectly fine when done in a playful and friendly way where both kids participate mutually and find it funny. But teasing can become bullying when it is a repetitive behavior where kids use words that are hurtful and unkind. Hence the intention behind the teasing needs to be explored. Bullying doesn’t have to be physical as sometimes it can be verbal in nature. Some forms of verbal bullying are name calling, negative comments, intimidation, threatening, and manipulation of the child with a view to humiliate or exclude from a group. We cannot underestimate verbal bullying as it can be equally damaging for the child’s confidence and bring in low self-esteem and depression. Sometimes kids can’t even identify teasing as being hurtful and unfair although they might become withdrawn overtime and slowly retreat into a shell. Adults should then make kids aware that making fun at the expense of your self-esteem is not right and when teasing crosses the line into bullying, it needs to stop.

There are many reasons why kids bully. One can be that they themselves have been treated that way by their own family or they come from a background of insecurity. Sometimes parents show inconsistencies in their behavior or are less involved in their kids’ lives which make them seek attention through negative behaviour. Hence they need to find a victim to make themselves feel important, popular and more in control. Bullies tend to victimize children who are emotionally or physically weaker or are just different from them in some way.

As parents, although we are concerned but what exactly can we do about it? Should we let our child handle it by themselves? Should we contact the school authorities? Or should we approach the child of other parents? Advice from many experienced sources may be conflicting at times. Although parents want to protect their children yet rash and emotionally motivated actions can label them as over-protective or over-indulgent. Reprimanding other people’s children can lead to ugly arguments between parents. School authorities can take matters in hand but what if there are modest improvements and the child continues to get bullied.

New research studies focus on positive parenting to buffer children against the adverse emotional consequences of bullying. Warm and supportive parenting as well as an early intervention will help our children cope better with teasing, bullying, or mean gossip.  As parents, it is crucial that we take necessary steps to prevent the lasting effects of bullying. Sometimes children may not know how to respond to teasing leaving them frustrated and helpless. Hence we can guide them and minimize the impact. Even though it might not be an issue, it’s never too early to start having a conversation about bullying so that our kids are well-prepared if it does happen.

Here are some strategies we can use to help children tackle bullying.

First of all, we need to listen when children open up about their problems at school in a calm manner. Getting emotional on the part of the parent or an overreaction may discourage children from confiding further. The most important thing to remember is that we take it seriously and not brush it off hoping that this is part of school life and will be solved on its own.

Parents of children who communicate have it relatively easier as more than often children are reluctant to tell parents since they might feel embarrassed and ashamed or worried about how their parents would respond. They might worry that their parents will be disappointed, upset, and angry or urge them to fight back the bully when they are already scared. Hence it is important to listen, be supportive and offer words of comfort.

Assure them that you will figure out a way to resolve it together so they feel a sense of security and ease. Children should be appreciated when they open up about their problems and we must also remind them that they are not alone in this. Sometimes they feel that if they looked or acted differently it wouldn’t have happened. So we need to make them aware that it is not their fault. Emphasize the fact that it is the bully who is behaving badly and not the child. There are times when children want to express their problems but have a hard time explaining their feelings. In that case, we as parents must help them interpret situations and take decisions accordingly.

However, the most dangerous part of this problem is when children don’t communicate. During those times as parents, we must be proactive and keep a watch over their behavioural patterns such as mood swings, withdrawal symptoms and changes in appetite. If we see some noticeable changes here then we must gently probe and help them open out about their life in school.

As parents, we can advise our children to stand up for themselves calmly. Although this technique needs a certain amount of practice, with our help gradually they will find this problem more than often solved. We need to teach children how to assertively tell the bully to stop and walk away. Standing up to the bullies sends a message that their behavior will not be accepted under any circumstances. Bullies tend to go after kids who don’t stand up for themselves as they feel they can easily get away with any kind of abusive behaviour they inflict on their victims. If this doesn’t work then we must ask our children to pretend that they don’t notice or care. This will bore the bully since they are always looking for a reaction to their teasing. Although it is natural to feel upset, we must make our children aware that that’s what the bully thrives on. Hence practicing disinterest by not reacting although requires practice it will eventually take the power away from a bully. Smiling or laughing may provoke the bully further, hence ignoring hurtful remarks and feigning disinterest will subsequently stop the bully from bothering the child as they will not get the reaction they expect.  To help them adopt this kind of behavior which can be pretty difficult at times we can guide kids to practice “cool down” strategies such as counting backward from 100, spelling backward, counting to 10, taking deep breaths, or walking away. This will help children to distract themselves and moderate their feelings. These are skills though needs to be developed, in time they will be useful for keeping off of a bully’s radar.

We need to appreciate children as often as we can so they have a positive feeling about themselves no matter what others make them believe. Personality development tips like standing tall, holding their head high, looking people in the eye, using an assertive voice can help children exude a positive image and make them look confident thus discouraging anyone from messing with them.

Another way to help our children tackle negative social behaviour is by investing in their all-round development mostly mental health and well being by encouraging social interactions with peers. Parents should stress on developing their children’s social skills and actively support their friendships. Play dates or mini parties at home can help children develop stronger friendships with their school mates as well as strengthen their communication skills and emotional health. Getting them involved in clubs, sports, and other social activities gives them social exposure and helps them develop their strengths and friendships.

This will further help in enforcing the buddy-system when we encourage children to spend time with peers who have a positive influence or strengthen friendships with kinder children. Two people are always stronger, so walking with a friend or hanging out with a nice group of friends will discourage bullies since there is strength in numbers. We can always encourage kids to stand up for each other by telling a bully to stop teasing or scaring and then walking away. Supporting each other will make them kinder human beings and help them beget more friends. It will also create a friendlier environment and bonding among their peers. In times of trouble, they will have a strong buddy support system of their own.

As parents, we can teach children to ignore minor issues and learn to be more relaxed. We can help build children’s confidence by letting them read affirmative books with strong messages. Playing games like “I am someone who….” and asking children to list their positive traits will go a long way in boosting their confidence.

We need to be always open to listening to our children whatever they talk about, whether they are the silliest of jokes or their mundane day to day activities. This makes them feel important, instills confidence and as they grow up they will always come to us regarding anything whether be it good or bad.

If the situation has not improved then its best to take the help of teachers as they can offer other helpful suggestions. It will also make us feel a little less alone. It’s useful to keep a diary of everything that happens which include dates, times and details of the incident together with any witnesses. A word from the teacher can alert the bully and make the child mindful of their actions. It might also make them realize the gravity or unfairness of their actions.

If bullying still gets worse and the child is still distressed then its best to take the help of school management as they can involve other adults who may be supervising children when bullying occurs such as out-of-school-hours care staff, sporting coaches, bus drivers etc. Thus with the support of the entire school and with proper anti-bullying measures, the school can work together to make it a bully-free zone. If we make our mind to reach out there are many people who can help us and our children to get adequate and timely help while bringing the situation under control.