By Essie Bester
According to statistics 57% of all schoolchildren in South Africa say that they have been bullied at school. Most parents are angry when they find out that their child is being targeted by a bully. Dr Elizma van der Smit, a clinical psychologist, says one should guard against overreacting. Instead, take positive steps to solve the problem.
This is how your child can learn to be self-assertive:
- Listen without becoming angry. Put your own feelings aside and listen to what your child is saying.
- Make your child part of the process by asking him how he wants you to take it further. In this way you make sure that it is a discussion of the matter rather than a situation in which your child feels that he is now being bullied by you to act in a certain manner.
- Assure your child that it is not his fault. Many children feel that it is their own fault. Remind him of well-known people like Steve Hofmeyr’s son Armand, who had a hard time at school. Armand remembers an incident where children locked him in his hostel room and sprayed pepper spray under the door. He was ridiculed about almost everything, from his old clothes to a try he scored. “Later on I did nothing at all and did not perform in sport or academically.” Today Armand realises that hiding is not an option, even though it feels safe! It robs you of your self-confidence and in that way you bury your own abilities.
- Encourage your child to appear self-confident, even if he doesn’t feel it. Teach him to speak with a clear voice, to keep a walk up straight and to look other people straight in the eye.
- Teach him not to show anger or fear. Bullies enjoy eliciting reactions.
- Help your child to develop his self-image by encouraging him to take part in activities or to try a new hobby.
- Do not encourage your child to become a bully too.
- Do not tell your child to simply “ignore” it.
- After making sure that you have all the facts, you can contact the school for an appointment. Discuss it calmly with the teacher concerned and cooperate in finding a solution. Probably there is a policy on how to act in such a situation.
- If your child is being seriously bullied physically, take photos and go and see a doctor and the police.
- Do not hesitate to get professional help for your child.
Types of bullying
There won’t always be external signs that your child is being bullied. Apart from the fact that bullies hit other children and steal or hide their possessions, they can also force others to do something they do not want to do. They can spread stories about others, bar them from everyday group activities, humiliate and harass them or simply refuse to speak to them. Bullies can bully others verbally by scolding, teasing, insulting, taunting or belittling them ─ usually in the presence of others in their peer group.
The following could be signs that your child is being bullied:
Your child gets nightmares regularly.
He has problems sleeping.
He is losing his interest in hobbies, schoolwork or social activities.
His marks at school are dropping.
He is absent more often because of illness.
He cannot account for injuries.
He has no appetite.
He is changing his normal habits.
He talks of suicide.
He displays destructive behaviour.
He does not want to go to school.
Children who are being bullied, can do the following things to make themselves feel safer:
- Constantly change your routine, if you can. Even five minutes can make a difference.
- Keep within a group as much as you can. There is safety in numbers.
- Stay calm and keep eye contact with the bully. Do not look or walk away.
- Speak with a strong, firm voice.
- Avoid places where the bully normally hangs out.
- Do not show that you are unhappy and sad.
- Crack a joke and laugh at yourself if the bully is making fun of you. In that way you take away the bully’s power.
- Tell your parents, a teacher or another adult you trust about it.
- Write it down and give it to an adult you trust if you feel that you cannot talk about it to anyone.
- Bullies are very good at making you think that you deserve to be bullied. Remind yourself that you deserve respect from others.
Advice to children who see that others are being bullied:
- Don’t just look on. You empower a bully by forming a crowd.
- Ask the bully to stop it. In that way you are letting him and the onlookers know that what is happening here is not right.
- Do not join the fighting and fight with the bully yourself. It could be dangerous and also make the situation worse for the person who is being bullied.
- Report the bully to an adult you trust.
- Make friends with the victim and always stay close to him or her for protection.