You have an idea that your child is being bullied at school, but don’t know how to approach the problem. You’re right being cautious about it, because how you handle this issue may determine whether your child feels confident enough to approach you in the future.
Bullying doesn’t just take the form of physical abuse. Many girls find they are subjected to rumour mongering, gossip, and other forms of non-physical abuse. Children can be terribly cruel, particularly during puberty.
What to look for
How to talk to your child about being bullied
Reluctance to go to school: the child pretends he’s sick or makes other excuses about staying home;
- A change in behaviour: the child’s performance at school starts suffering, they have trouble concentrating, become moody or excessively clingy. They start wetting the bed;
- Up and down: they’re happy over the weekend or during school holidays, but depressed during school time;
- Bingeing: your child consumes inordinate amounts of food, or stops enjoying a favourite food;
- Physical signs: bruises, torn or dirty clothing. Bullying can be accompanied by vandalism and theft, so look for signs that your child’s lunch is being taken from him or his belongings damaged;
What to do
- Don’t put them on the spot: if your child feels as though he’s being interrogated you’re likely to alienate him, even if you’re trying to help. You might even be better off letting the issue go if the child is reluctant to talk. Leave him with the reassurance that you’re always there to listen. You might well find that he thinks about it and approaches you later with full details of the problem;
- Listen: once the child starts to talk about the problem, let him get it out of his system, rather than dispensing advice. Kids who’ve been bullied for some time and have kept quiet about it are likely to gush a bit once they finally start talking. Let him get it out of his system;
- Take his word for it: it’s very unlikely that your child would lie about being bullied. It’s far more likely that the school principal or teacher would be reluctant to accept that bullying is going on. So believe your child and make sure he understands that you do;
- Don’t explode: your child will need your wisdom, understanding and advice, do don’t overreact. Explain to him that bullying is a sign of weakness, not strength and that bullies are insecure;
- Ask him how to fix it: reassure him that you’re going to try to help, but ask him for ideas on the the situation can be solved.
- Don’t make light of it: don’t write off the bullying as ‘high jinks’ or ‘part of the rough-and-tumble of being a boy’ – nobody deserves to be subjected to bullying;
- Watch the child: some kids who’re being bullied attempt suicide. Keep an eye on yours.
- (Health24, updated February 2008)