How can you help your child when you find out they’re being bullied? Read on for some tips.
ICYMI: Earlier this year, a student was expelled for being the main aggressor in a bullying incident. Reading about incidents like these as parents are a cause of concern, because we want our kids to enjoy their schooling years, and learn, thrive and make friends along the way.
But what can we do to help our kids when they face bullies both in and outside of school? Well, we spoke to Ms Ann Hui Peng, the Group Lead for Children Development and the Director of Student Service at Singapore Children Society to find out how you can recognise bullying, as well as tips to help you navigate this uncertainty and more. Read on…
All you need to know about bullying
1. What is bullying?
We’ve all heard the term before, and we might’ve been subjected to bullying when we were kids ourselves. But what exactly is bullying? “Bullying is an aggressive act with the intention to hurt a person deliberately,” says Ms Ann Hui Peng. She adds, “Bullying can manifest in many forms, but namely in four main types: physical, verbal, relational and cyberbullying.”
2. How do I recognise if my kid is being bullied?
Parents often notice a change in temperament in our kids from time to time, and unfortunately it’s unavoidable – kids throw tantrums when they don’t get their way, right? It’s only natural when they’re growing up and begin to form their own opinions. But it’s important to distinguish these temper tantrums from warning signs that may indicate your young ‘un is being bullied. How can you tell? Ann shares with us some signs shared by other parents that can help you identify if your child is being bullied:
- Shows a sudden lack of interest in school or refusal to go to school.
- Takes an unusual route to school.
- Suffers a drop in grades.
- Withdraws from family and school activities and wants to be left alone.
- Is hungry after school, saying they lost their lunch money or wasn’t hungry at school.
- Asking for more pocket money, or taking your money without providing valid reasons on why they need more money.
- Is sad, sullen, angry or scared after receiving a phone call or an e-mail.
- Does something out of character.
- Has stained or torn clothes.
- Uses demeaning language when talking about peers.
- Stops talking about peers and everyday activities.
- Has unexplainable missing items.
- Has questionable physical injuries.
- Is suffering from stomach aches, headaches and/or panic attacks.
- Is having sleeping difficulties (unable to sleep, sleeps more than usual), and/or
- Reports feelings of exhaustion despite having a lot of sleep.
3. How can I help my child if I know they’re being bullied?
Okay, so you found out your kid’s being bullied – what’s next? How can you comfort and offer your little one some help to mitigate the problem? Ann says, “It’s important to stay calm and talk to your child to find out what has happened. It’s also crucial to allow your child to share their experiences and feel safe in doing so.”
One easy way to do so? Ann suggests the HEAC strategy:
H: Hear calmly without judgement on the episode about bullying
E: Empathise and provide unconditional positive regard about the matter
A: Ask your child what they want to do about it, and how you can help
C: Contact i.e. the school and follow up on the episode
What if your child suffers from bullying in school? “Look for the teacher, school counsellor, social worker or children’s mental health centre in the community if you need support in helping your child,” says Ann. “Parents need to act swiftly to protect their children – they have the right to feel safe and ask a trusted adult for help.”
Try taking the following steps:
- Make an appointment to see your child’s teacher as soon as possible.
- Decide what you want to say and what would be your desired outcome.
- Stay calm and composed at all times.
- Do not blame the teacher – they may be unaware of what is happening.
- Provide a precise account of the bullying episode(s).
- Discuss the possible outcome(s).
- Always remember that the one conducting the act of bullying is also a child, and
- You can also request to speak with the parent of the party involved.
4. Uh-oh, but what if your child IS the bully?
We’d certainly hate to find out if our kiddo is a bully. So how do we correct our child’s behaviour from a nurturing perspective? Ann has some suggestions. “Parents should take the time to understand the situation from your child as well as his or her teachers. Keep in mind that your child may try to deny or minimise his or her wrong-doings, but encourage your child to own up to their bullying behaviour by reassuring and supporting your child to become a better person.”
She adds, “It’s important to make it clear to your child that you will not tolerate such behaviour and discuss with your child the negative impact bullying has on victims. And if your child has considered their behaviour as play, discuss with them that what they consider as play has hurt someone.”
What about the consequences of bullying? How can we prevent it from happening again? Ann suggests letting your child know that their behaviour is unacceptable by removing certain privileges, or a reflection time about their bullying act. “Spend time with your child and set reasonable rules for their activities and curfews,” she says. If it helps, she suggests increasing your supervision of your child’s whereabouts and who they associate with.
What happens if the incident occurred in school? Ann proposes to cooperate with the school to deal with your child’s bullying behaviour. “Frequent communication with teachers and administrators is important to find out how your child is doing in changing their behaviour,” she explains. “And if they improve their behaviour, praise the efforts they made towards non-violent and responsible behaviour, as well as for following home and school rules.” One way of doing so? Pay attention to other good behaviours, encourage them and help them realise that they’re not bad at all.
And she stresses, “It’s also important to be a good model of non-harmful behaviour to others, as children learn a lot from observing their parents. So, make sure that your child isn’t seeing violence among members of the family or in the media – like in television shows, cartoons and online games. “Modelling aggressive behaviour at home can lead to violence by your child against others at school later in life.”
5. Where else can I get help?
If you’re looking for other ways to get help, there are plenty of resources available in Singapore or online. Talk to the folks at the Singapore Children’s Society – they have Tinkle Friend, a national toll-free helpline and chatline for all primary-school-aged children. Alternatively, reach out to the Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth (CABCY). The organisation has parent consultations, e-consultations and other resources available for parents to use.