October is observed annually as National Bullying Prevention Month across the United States. Hundreds of schools, organizations and communities there unite to educate and raise awareness of steps toward bullying prevention. Founded in 2006 by the National Bullying Prevention Centre of PACER, a Minnesota-based national parent centre, the event recognizes that bullying can have devastating effects on its victims.
Bullying Awareness Week is also coming up this November 18-24 in Canada, as well as internationally, and is recognized by schools, individuals, organizations and communities as a time to celebrate and promote solutions to the problems of bullying. It began in 2003 as a joint declaration of the website Bullying.org and the Family Channel, a children, youth and family television network, and has grown in support since then.
Every good parent desires the best possible life for their child. This includes protecting them from harm whatever the cost.
Unfortunately, we all know this is not always possible. In a perfect world, no child would ever endure hurt of any kind, but bullying is an unfortunate reality in our world today.
According to the U.S. National Centre for Educational Statistics, more than one out of every five students reports having been bullied. Research by Statistics Canada, meanwhile, reveals 47 per cent of parents say they have a child who has been a victim of bullying. The phenomenon is so prominent that even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a website to deal with the problem.
Bullying can negatively impact a child’s psyche, which can lead to a loss of interest in activities, absenteeism, under-performance in school, lowered confidence and even depression and suicidal thoughts. Such wounds inflicted on young victims can be so severe that they linger even past childhood.
This is why bullying is not something that can be simply ignored. While the best-case scenario is to stop bullying from ever taking place, even your super-parent powers cannot always make this happen. So, whether it is your child or a friend or neighbor’s who is being targeted, understanding best practices in order to support children who are victimized by bullying may come in handy.
Pay Close Attention
Your child’s well-being is extremely important and can easily be threatened by the impact of bullying they may be experiencing. However, you should also recognize that every child experiences things differently, so pay close attention to changes you may see in your child’s behaviour, no matter how slight, says Brenda Danso, a child and family therapist and registered social worker.
Children who internalize behaviours may become more socially withdrawn and will most likely isolate themselves, she says. On the other hand, children who externalize behaviours may be more verbally or physically aggressive.
Another thing to watch for is changes in a child’s lifestyle. This can include anything from avoiding school to other equally important signs, such as items missing from your child’s belongings. “Maybe you bought your child these fancy headphones, some shoes or a special notebook and now it’s missing. And the child can’t really account for it,” says Danso. “You just have to be aware of the various signs, so you can know when to probe a little further.”
Maintain a Close Relationship with Your Child
Cherishing a close relationship with your child is something that can hold incredible weight, especially in times of crisis like these. If your child is a victim of bullying, they need to know, now more than ever, that you are on their side. The better you know a child, the more easily you will suspect something is wrong and take the necessary steps to do something about it.
Aside from changes to your child’s behavioral patterns, differences that surface in your child’s temperament can occur as a direct result of bullying. Encourage your child to discuss things with you and feel comfortable doing so. Position yourself as a strong influence in your child’s life, as children are more likely to accept counsel from adults they respect and admire.
Overall, do everything necessary to make sure your child understands how much you value your relationship and the central role you are willing to play during this difficult stage.
Keep a Safe Space at Home
Regardless of when the bullying is taking place, you as a parent can do your part to ensure your child’s safety on home turf. This is important because “sometimes your child who is being bullied comes home and doesn’t feel safe, either,” says Danso.
In order to take the action steps needed to ensure the continued well-being of your child, first recognize what contributing factors may be strongly influencing your child at home. Does your child have an older sister or brother who is constantly teasing them? What is your child regularly listening to or watching?
When bringing up the question of your child’s safety at home, also consider how you and your spouse might be contributing in any way to the development of your child. Evaluate your own actions, as well as that of your spouse, and see if there are any areas you can improve on. Words are powerful, so also be mindful of the language you use when communicating to your child at home.
Should your child choose to share with you the details of a bullying incident, believe them and refrain from blaming the child or saying anything that might negatively impact their young mind or hinder their progress. Aside from what you say, your child will be watching you as an example of how to respond to hurt and mistreatment. Be careful not to send the wrong message.
Part of fostering a strong relationship with your child includes openness. If your child is afraid of you or fears speaking the truth, it will be trickier for you to get them to open up to anyone about anything.
When a wrong is being committed against either themselves or others, children should be encouraged to report these incidents without fear. Unfortunately, speaking out about something can sometimes be hard for children to do, because it is often looked down upon or cast in a negative light by those around them.
According to the Canadian Red Cross, over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher. “Kids who are reporting incidents to teachers or to staff can be perceived as a ‘tattle-tale’ or labelled by their peers as a ‘snitch,’” Danso explains. “What are we teaching kids (by this)? What we are teaching them from an early age is that it’s not okay to tell someone about something that is bothering you. So, we really need to redefine that.”
Have necessary conversations with your child, other parents, teachers and other leaders in order to help change perceptions surrounding reporting in the community. This is one way you can help to put an end to bullying and the harm it does to children and their families.
Teach a Child to Assert Boundaries
There’s never a better time for children to be trained in assertiveness and effective social skills than during bullying incidents. Having your child learn how to communicate confidently to others when lines have been overstepped, or even when they are uncomfortable with something, will benefit them in the long run.
Two ways to do this are by the effective uses of voice tone and body language. If your child is being bullied, having this learned ability can be useful when it comes time to face their bully.
Ensure your child understands how to present effectively “so that the bully or the aggressor gets the message that the child is not accepting of the bullying,” says Danso. “How the child can utilize assertive communication (is by) maintaining eye contact, keeping (their) voice calm and even standing at an appropriate distance or using the bully’s name when speaking to him or her.” Teaching your child how to respond appropriately can keep the bullying from escalating in any given situation.
Train your Child in ‘Emotional Intelligence’
According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others. Individuals with high emotional intelligence are better able to understand their feelings and can manage and control them. It’s never too late to train your child in emotional intelligence, which can positively contribute to their success later in life.
Both schools and parents can assist in strengthening a child’s development in this area, starting with helping children to “be aware of basic emotions with questions such as: ‘How are you feeling? Are you happy or sad when that happens? Does that make you frustrated?’” Danso identifies.
Learning how to be more emotionally aware from an early age will prevent the development of the disconnect that some adults experience today, which looks like not “really knowing how to communicate our feelings,” Danso further explains. “We’re not aware of (our) emotions. So, we cannot really communicate it to others. That’s why it is so important for schools to teach this to kids.”
Though society often promotes the idea that we should not open up about what we are truly feeling, it is better to actively promote the contrary message, so that your child will appreciate delving deeply within to assess their true emotional state at all times and be better for it.
Collaborate with Your Child’s School
Your child’s school can prove to be more of a support than you know. As you cannot keep an eye on your child all the time, connect with your child’s teachers, principal, social workers and counsellors to assist you in monitoring your child’s behaviour.
Aside from bullying, there may be other factors at play. As well, the differences in your child’s behaviour may not be attributable to bullying at all, but rather to a separate school incident. For one, “being excluded from peer activities can also be another form of bullying,” Danso says. “So, tapping into the school and making sure that you’re aware of the resources that the school provides can (help you) be better equipped to support your child.”
Linking forces with school staff means you will be able to more easily get to the root of a problem, so that your child can overcome a temporary setback and continue to excel in all areas of life. The Canadian Safe School Network and PREVNet are two great resources you can try outside of your child’s school to find information and support for a child who is being bullied.
Empower Your Child Every Day
Losing confidence can be jarring and a hard thing from which to bounce back. Oftentimes, we may find this to be the inevitable result of external influences we encounter daily. It is no different for your child and that’s why they could especially benefit from your moral support, even if it seems as if they don’t want your help.
Take the time to motivate your child in subtle and not-so subtle ways and don’t be afraid to have fun with this. One creative idea you can try is to leave little notes of inspiration in their lunch bag or somewhere in their bedroom where they are easily noticeable.
Instill a positive atmosphere in your home by selecting media (films, TV shows, music) and using language that consistently aims to reflect this. Monitor your child’s social media and text messages also, as bullying is no longer limited to school walls anymore. (Indeed, research by the Canadian Red Cross reveals that Canadian teachers rank cyberbullying as their issue of highest concern.)
Surround yourself with inspiring men and women who can partner with you in the important work of contributing positively to your child’s development—that is, ensure there is a circle of good role-models surrounding your child.
If there are none, find some by signing your child up for interactive workshops, which are bound to be facilitated by trailblazing community leaders. These strong leaders can serve as mentors for your child as he or she is afforded an opportunity to participate in initiatives larger than themselves.
Lastly, don’t ever let one moment slip away to show your child how special they are to you and others. If you succeed in doing this, you won’t have anything to worry about, as a bold, empowered child is no match for any bully.
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