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How to Help a Child Who is Being Bullied

Updated on August 2, 2016

Bullying – How to Help Your Child When You Don’t Know How.

Parents dread many things for their children.  But when you know or suspect your child is being bullied, you may feel outraged, indignant and ultimately helpless, knowing that your ‘interference’ could make the problem worse. 

Here are a few tips on helping your child through a difficult time.

What is bullying?

First, let’s be clear about what bullying is.  Dan Olweus is the creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (see www.olweus.org/public/bullying.page) and his definition is: “When a young person is exposed repeatedly and over time to intentional, negative, aggressive behaviour from an individual or group.  This can be physical, verbal, spreading rumours or excluding someone.  Bullying involves an imbalance of power.  It is also bullying when a young person is teased repeatedly.  But it is not bullying when 2 young people of the same strength have the odd fight or quarrel.”

Young people who have experienced it describe it as jealousy, emotional and physical abuse, racism, nasty teasing, mouthing off, bitchiness, ganging up on people, rape, force, stealing people’s money, threatening, prejudice, being mean...etc.

Bullying isn’t legitimate and constructive, fair criticism, an occasional raised voice or argument.

How to help a bullied child.

Perhaps the first step to helping a child is to determine what’s happened.  Is there real cause for concern or is this a one-off argument with a friend, or a young person who needs to learn how to accept legitimate criticism?  Can you help him/her see the situation objectively?

When you know there is a problem it’s important to help empower the young person.  If they continue to feel weak and helpless because they’re not taking affirmative action themselves, this may prolong the situation.

·         Every child has the right to be protected by the school s/he attends.  So if the bullying is happening at school, encourage the child to tell a teacher s/he trusts.  It may help for you to also talk to the Head of school and the child’s class teacher so that they are aware there is a problem and school behaviour policy is being violated.

·         In talking to a teacher the child should stick to the facts of what happens when s/he is bullied.  A witness such as another class mate can help here.

·         If the child doesn’t feel s/he is being taken seriously or listened to, find another teacher to talk to.

·         Remind your child that they don’t deserve to be bullied. Bullies are good at making their victims feel worthless and at eroding self esteem.

·         Do all that you can to build self esteem and confidence.  Generally that’s more than telling a child that s/he’s a great kid etc.  Self defence or martial arts lessons teach people how to use their bodies and the space around them, as well as how to walk and stand tall.  With a more confident presence the bullies may well leave the child alone – but probably not know why they’ve lost interest!

Encourage the child to:

  • Ignore the bullies completely – Jonathan, a British student says ‘The best thing to bullies about bullying is seeing that they are hurting the victim.  That’s what gives them the kick...if you shut them out and carry on, they will eventually get bored of not getting a response and leave you alone.’  So delete emails and texts that the bully might send.  Contact your mobile/cell phone provider to block certain numbers and ‘set up a rule’ in the email inbox to filter the bully’s emails straight to the deleted box.
  • Not fight back but defend him/herself only if necessary.
  • Stay in a group and to tell friends.  A bully or bullying group may respond to negative peer pressure if enough people know what they’re doing.
  • Not to confront the bully but to stand up for him/herself (a tough but important distinction) so that the young person isn’t seen as weak.
  • If the child is scared or intimidated, to get out and get help.
  • Not fight to keep possessions – the child is more important than his/her stuff.

Who and where are the bullies?

Bullies can be very two-faced and devious – all sweetness in public but demonic when they have their victim alone. They often lie, are masters of deception and when caught in a lie they may behave aggressively or start to cry to make themselves the victim and gain sympathy.

They may be young people of the same age, older or even younger children.

They may be in school, in after-school clubs, in the mall or town. People who are known to your child or people who just pick on people who they perceive to be weak and they don’t know at all.

Research indicates that the main reasons bullies bully are:

1. They have a need for power

2. They get some satisfaction in hurting others and

3. They get some reward for bullying – a material reward (such as the victim’s money etc) or a psychological reward.

Bullying is hard for everyone involved but while a young person needs help to deal with it, they need the right help. There’s more information and support at www.olweus.org .

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