Bullying is a growing problem and some children face the threat of abuse from the first days they walk into the schoolyard.
Schools officially have no tolerance for bullying or violence, but young children may not fully understand what bullying is, or if they are in fact the bully — that their behaviour is wrong.
So, what can parents do if their child is the bully or the target?
How to identify if your child is bullying others and what to do about it
Finding out that your child is being bullied can be a very upsetting time for all involved.
It’s likely to involve a lot of tears, calls to the school, and panicked parents.
But what do you do if your child is the one bullying others?
Bullying is very common in Australia, with one in four children reporting being victimised.
National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) Manager Sandra Craig said young people’s behaviour is learnt, so the key to raising a child who is less likely to bully others is to set a good example.
She said parents can do this by modelling respectful behaviour when dealing with disagreements, particularly within the family.
“If you’re teaching your children to solve conflicts in a positive way, that’s a really amazing place to start,” she said.
Psychologist Dr Charlotte Keating said parents should ensure their children have respectful relationships.
“It is really important to talk to, and understand young people’s views about engaging in kind and respectful relationships both online, and offline,” she said.
WHILE you may think your child is a perfect angel, Dr Keating said different types of children can engage in bullying behaviour.
She said the warning signs may not always be clear, but can include talking about other children in negative and demeaning ways and blaming others for situations they are partly responsible for.
“If they don’t seem to understand the emotional experience of others, or show little empathy about someone’s experience and get angry or reactive when asked about their involvement — these are all potential signs that a young person could be bullying another child,” she said.
Ms Craig said the signs can be big and small.
“It might be something small, like they’re very impulsive, that they’ve got very little control over their behaviour, or that they often fight with their brothers and sisters,” she said.
“In the more extreme cases, they might be coming home with stuff that doesn’t belong to them, or they are talking about getting even or they’re actually using physical aggression to solve conflicts.”
MANAGE YOUR REACTION
WHETHER you observe the behaviour yourself, or a teacher or parent approaches you to discuss your child’s bullying behaviour, Ms Craig said you should be mindful of your reaction, especially if your child is present.
“It’s very, very hard if your child’s bullying others to accept that it’s happening,” she said.
Dr Keating said it is important to remain calm.
“Ideally, you want to get to the bottom of whatever the problem is, so it can be helpful to convey this to whomever brings this to your attention,” she said.
“As tough as it might be, you do need to listen.”
Ms Craig said parents should thank the person who informs them of their child’s bullying behaviour as it is a difficult thing to do.
“Acknowledging that difficulty is a really good thing to do, and then telling whoever it is that you’re going to take it seriously and moving forward,” she said.
TALK TO YOUR CHILD
DR KEATING said when approaching your child about their bullying behaviour, it’s important to be calm and concise.
“They need to feel safe and secure that they can tell you the truth, and that there is the possibility of working through it,” she said.
Dr Keating said parents should first try to establish their child’s side of the story.
She said they should describe what they have been told and ask them if they know anything about it.
“Ask them if any of it is true, and what they recalled happened,” she said.
“If they tell you only what the other child did, acknowledge that, and then ask what they did.”
“You’re trying to understand whether the situation has been recent, ongoing, and in what contexts.”
“All of this information is important in working out how to manage the situation.”
Ms Craig said parents should also ensure their child has an understanding of what bullying is.
“It’s not a one off act of violence or it’s not a one off conflict or exclusion,” she said.
“It’s deliberate, it’s targeting somebody who can’t really defend themselves and it’s a form of persecution, actually.”
Dr Keating said having a good understanding about what constitutes bullying can also help to create a discussion with their child about what is driving their behaviour, and how to manage it.
She said it’s crucial parents focus on the behaviour, not the child.
“Tell them that the behaviour is not acceptable, is serious, needs to stop, and that you will be making sure that this gets resolved,” she said.
Dr Keating said parents should ask their child to put themselves in the position of the child being bullied.
“You are trying to help them engage in the experience of the other to help them understand how it may have felt for them, and why it is a problem.”
“Often the problem can create difficulties for children attending school, and in some cases, lead to school refusal,” she said.
CONTACT THE SCHOOL
EVEN if a teacher was the person who informed you of your child’s bullying behaviour, Dr Keating said the school should be involved from the earliest reasonable point.
“In most cases it is better to manage the process through the school, rather than parent-to-parent,” she said.
“Ask the other parents if you can speak to the school together to understand anything further, and how the school can help you to manage the situation.”
Ms Craig said it’s best to make a face-to-face appointment with the school.
“Schools have the knowledge and experience to work with children and young people to resolve or to try and stop bullying in the first instance,” she said.
Ms Craig said discussing the problem with the school can also set the record straight about what has happened.
“In bullying situations the facts are murky because the truth often lies somewhere in the middle,” she said.
“It’s got to stop because the person who’s been targeted feels unsafe.”
“If the kid’s bullied before, there’s going to be an ongoing situation, and that’s much more difficult.”
Ms Craig said if the bullying is happening online, the effects can spill over into the school environment.
“[It can] really affect the wellbeing, not only of the target, but of other kids too who fear it will happen to them,” she said.
DECIDE ON DISCIPLINE
MS CRAIG said bullying behaviour that is left unchecked could negatively impact on the child exhibiting it further down the track.
“They’re less apt to do well at school and down the track there are tendencies for them to damage property or steal, abuse alcohol or other drugs, and ultimately perhaps be in trouble with the law,” she said.
If you decide to discipline your child for their bullying behaviour, Dr Keating said there are a few things to take into consideration.
“You need to make sure a full investigation and understanding of the facts and severity of the situation are known before deciding on the consequence,” she said.
“Take time yourself to consider the facts from all parties, including the school.”
She said asking your child what they think the consequences should be is a way of determining whether they have understood the impact of their behaviour.
“You want them to learn from the consequence, not just perceive a rushed punishment that they don’t think is fair, only to then risk channelling that frustration into retribution toward the child who has potentially been bullied in the first place,” she said.
*If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 131 114, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For more information on mental health and treatment options, visit headspace, Kids Helpline, beyondblue, Black Dog Institute, ReachOut, Lifeline, or RUOK.
How to identify if your child is bullying others and what to do about it
Amy Hall, Herald Sun
August 25, 2018 4:09pm