In 2012 social media platforms were buzzing about a girl named Amanda Todd. I remember going onto YouTube and watching a clip she had posted about being bullied. As a parent I felt helpless and then angry. The fact that this could happen to one of mine, was not okay.
There are various reasons why kids could bully. Kids sometimes torment others due to the way they have been treated. They assume this behaviour is normal, as it is all they know. In other cases it is a control issue by picking on someone smaller and physically or emotionally weaker.
The issue of bullying is one that scares me. You do the best you can as a parent. Your child is ill, you take them to the doctor. Your child is battling at school, you arrange for a tutor. But how do you know if your child is being the victim of bullying, or even the bully?
Signs of bullying?
Unless you see visible signs of bullying, as in bruises or injury it is very hard to tell. Open communication is essential with your children. I chat to them every evening about their day and at times they have had a bad day and might mention someone upsetting them. If this is not something your child shares with you, there are other warning signs. You might notice a difference in their behaviour, lack of appetite or even interrupted sleeping.
At Sun Valley Primary School they have a large focus on educating children about not bullying and what to do if you are being bullied. The one initiative which I really love is the Hoofie system (Head Of Our Families). Here each Hoofie family is made up of one pupil from Grade 1 to Grade 7. Each teacher oversees 4 Hoofie families, with the Grade 7 learner being the family leader. These families remain the same throughout your school years. They meet every third week for an hour to discuss various issues. I find this system works really well. Caleb is in Grade 3 and looks up to his Hoofie leader. By the same token when Ella-Blu was in Grade 7 and a Hoofie leader she took the responsibility very seriously and would constantly be checking to make sure her family was okay. This is like a “buddy system” where the kids feel like they have a peer they can trust and talk to, in the event that they are experiencing any issues.
The reality is that bullies do not only exist on the playground, they can be found in the workplace. It is best to equip your child with skills that could last a lifetime in dealing with these types of people.
How to deal with bullies
Here are some ideas to discuss with kids that could help them if they encounter bullying:
- Avoid! Try stay out of the path of the bully. Buddy up with a friend and avoid being alone.
- Be brave. Firmly tell the bully to stop, then walk away. Ignore the bully. By ignoring the bully, you're showing that you don't care. Eventually, the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother you.
- Keep it together. As much as the bully might make you angry, it is best to walk away. By retaliating it makes the bully feel more powerful. A useful tip for children might be to find a tool to help them cope. Even if it is something as simple as counting to 10, taking a breath and walking away.
- Tell an adult. Whether it be a teacher, principal or parent, it is important to tell someone who can help stop the bullying. It is very important for the child being bullied to feel that they are not alone.
I chatted to actor Sven Ruygrok who has made it his mission to educate children on bullying by giving talks at schools. The aim of his talk is to empower young people and give them a sense of self-confidence and an understanding of their own value. With him having been a victim of bullying himself, including death threats, he is well equipped on this subject. I asked what his take home message to parents would be:
“Parents, validate your kids always. Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes. Why? Well because this pearl of wisdom takes repetition, time and requires you to be a present parent.
Kids are hungry for validation, and in this techno world that we are living in, the validation is coming in fast and furious from all sources, all over the world, all the time but it is short lived and not sustainable. Kids will seek approval from anyone or by doing anything. So, that’s where you come in! You are their rocks, their foundations and it is to you that they look for boundaries and firm discipline but it is also from you that appraisal actually means something. They need to know that their value does not come from how many likes they have on Instagram or how many followers they have on Twitter. So encourage them in every action that they do, from the biggest achievement to the smallest. Seriously, even if it is commending them on their table manners at dinner time or putting the lid back on the tooth paste tube. This is your child, in whom you take such delight, let them know that you are proud of them and that you love them unconditionally!”
For my co-writer Fatimah, the subject of bullying was equally troubling. “When I think about the way I grew up as a force unto myself and then compare that to my daughter who in many ways is very demure, I can’t help but be afraid of her being a silent victim of bullying.”
Being an active parent is hard work, being present without judgement or emotion (for or on behalf of your child) takes an extreme amount of self-control. “I think it’s easy to over identify with your child, basing your perspective on how you would react if you were being bullied (and here we assume your child is a victim, a parent’s greatest fear!).”
Which is why Sven’s wisdom resonated so deeply with both of us, as parents we can’t understand what our kids face daily when we’re not around and for their sakes we can’t assume the worst. Positive validation in the face of an onslaught of negativity is the armour we can wrap our kids in, it’s the best way to plant the seed of love we have for them deep in their hearts so when the world calls them names they have the tools to fight it.
With this being our last installment I thought it was best to come clean with you. Although these blogs have been filled with ideas and wisdom on various issues we face as parents, I am nowhere near the “perfect” parent. We run out of loo paper at least once a month and I have to make a dash to the convenience store at erratic hours to purchase a single roll. I sometimes opt for the easy option and feed my Tribelet’s 2 minute noodles when my husband has been away for a couple of days and I just can’t face having to cook. With that all being said I think the important thing to remember here is to lead by example. Ironic, I know but they look up to us and mirror themselves on our behaviour. Love them, hold them and most of all be present!
Bullies are everywhere
Is your child bullied on the playground?
Family-time may help kids cope with bullying