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If you're like most people, you've had to deal with a bully at some time during your childhood. Memories of that experience may still be as vivid as though it all happened yesterday. One in ten school children is regularly harassed or attacked by bullies. The experience is often dismissed as just a part of childhood.

Bullying behaviour may seem rather insignificant compared to kids bringing guns to school and getting involved with drugs. Bullying is often dismissed as part of growing up. But it's actually an early form of aggressive, violent behaviour. Statistics show that one in four children who bully will have a criminal record before the age of 30.

Bullies often cause serious problems that schools, families, and neighbours ignore. Teasing at bus stops, taking another child's lunch money, insults and threats, kicking or shoving is all fair game to a bully.

Some bullies are outgoing, aggressive, active, and expressive. They get their way by brute force or openly harassing someone. This type of bully rejects rules and regulations and needs to rebel to achieve a feeling of superiority and security. Other bullies are more reserved and manipulative and may not want to be recognized as harassers or tormentors. They try to control by smooth-talking, saying the "right" thing at the "right" time, and lying. This type of bully gets his or her power discreetly through cunning, manipulation, and deception.

As different as these two types may seem, all bullies have some characteristics in common:
  • they are concerned with their own pleasure
  • they want power over others
  • they are willing to use and abuse other people to get what they want
  • they feel pain inside, perhaps because of their own shortcomings
  • they find it difficult to see things from someone else's perspective

Bullied children lose self-esteem. They feel alone. Their grades may suffer. Fears and anxieties about bullies can cause some children to avoid school, carry a weapon for protection, or even commit more violent activity, even "good" children may turn to violence to protect themselves or to seek revenge.

Although anyone can be the target of bullying behaviour, the victim is often singled out because of his or her psychological traits more than his or her physical traits. A typical victim is likely to be shy, sensitive, and perhaps anxious or insecure. Some children are picked on for physical reasons such as being overweight or physically small, having a disability, or belonging to a different race or religious faith.

Click on the questions below for some useful advice.

What can we do as parents to stop bullying?

There's a great deal you as a parent can do:

Provide opportunities for children to talk about bullying, perhaps when watching TV together, reading aloud, playing a game, or going to the park or a movie.

Watch for symptoms that your child may be a bullying victim, such as withdrawal, a drop in grades, torn clothes, unexplained bruises, not wanting to go to school, needing extra money or supplies, taking toys or other possessions to school and regularly "losing" them.

Take your child's complaints of bullying seriously. Children are often afraid or ashamed to tell anyone that they have been bullied, so believe your child's complaints.

Tell the school or organization immediately if you think that your child is being bullied. Alerted caregivers can carefully monitor your children's actions and take other steps to ensure your child's safety.

Work with other parents to ensure that the children in your neighbourhood are supervised closely on their way to and from school.

Listen! Encourage your child to talk about school, social events, the walk or ride to and from school. Listen to his or her conversations with other children. This could be your first clue to whether your child is a victim, a bully, or neither.

Don't bully your children yourself, physically or verbally. Use nonphysical, consistently enforced discipline measures as opposed to ridiculing, yelling at, or ignoring your children when they misbehave.

Teach children ways to resolve arguments without violent words or actions. Teach children self-protection skills -- how to walk confidently, stay alert to what's going on around them, and to stand up for themselves verbally.

Help children learn the social skills they need to make friends. A confident, resourceful child who has friends is less likely to be bullied or to bully others.

Praise your child's kindness toward others. Let your child know that kindness is valued.

Recognise that bullies may be acting out feelings of insecurity, anger, or loneliness. If your child is a bully, help get to the root of the problem. Seek out specific strategies you can use at home from a teacher, school counsellor, or child psychologist.

How do I know if my child is being bullied?

A child who is being bullied may display some of the following signs:

  • being afraid to go to school
  • feeling ill in the morning
  • skipping school
  • taking a different route to school
  • going to school early or late
  • having school work problems
  • exhibiting changes in mood or behaviour eg. quiet, sullen, withdrawn, argumentative
  • experiencing nightmares and disturbed sleep
  • exhibiting low frustration tolerance
  • "losing" belongings
  • coming home with damaged property
  • showing up with unexplained cuts, bruises or other injuries
  • avoiding play areas at lunch or recess
What can I do if my child is the victim of bullying?
  • Ask your child directly. Probing a seemingly minor incident may uncover something more serious. Children are often afraid or ashamed to tell anyone that they have been bullied.
  • Listen. Encourage your children to talk about school, social events, other kids in class, and the trip to and from school so you can identify any problems they may be having.
  • Tell the school or child- care facility immediately. If you think that your child is being bullied speak with his/her teacher and encourage your school/child-care facility in their implementation of effective school wide bullying prevention programs.
  • Resist being overprotective. Support your child's efforts to be more independent. If the bullying is happening on the way to and from school, arrange for the child to get to school with older, supportive children, or take him or her until other interventions can take place.
  • Teach your child the social skills he/she needs to make friends. A confident child who has friends is less likely to be bullied. Encourage your child to invite friends to your home.
  • Encourage your child to seek spare-time activities. Sports are especially good because children learn to work within rules. Also physical training boosts their self-confidence so they are less likely to be harassed. Even if your child is not very athletic, activities such as Marshal Arts can boost self-confidence without demanding high athleticism. Your child will also meet other children who may not attend the same school and may make other friends.
  • Teach children ways to resolve arguments without violent words or actions.
  • Talk about and practice assertiveness skills. E.g. how to walk confidently, stay alert to their environment, and to verbally stand up for themselves.
  • Seek help. School Social Workers, Psychologists, councillors are available to assist you and your child.
How do I know if my child is bullying other kids?

A child who is bullying others may display some of the following signs:

  • coming home with items which do not belong to them
  • exhibiting aggressive and manipulative behaviour with siblings
  • exhibiting aggressive and manipulative behaviour with parents
  • putting others down in conversations
  • being unable to play co-operatively
  • boasting about exploits
  • being cruel to animals
  • exhibiting lack of empathy
  • befriending other aggressive children
What can I do if I suspect my child may be bullying others?
  • Take the problem seriously. Children who continue to bully others often get into serious trouble in later life. They may also have continuing trouble in their relationships with others.
  • Talk to your child. Keep in mind that a child who is bullying will often try to place the blame on others.
  • Tell your child that you will not tolerate this kind of behaviour. Discuss with your child the negative impact bullying has on the victims. Praise kindness toward others. Show your child that you value kindness.
  • Arrange for an effective, non-violent consequence. This should be in proportion with the severity of your child's actions, and his or her age and stage of development. Physical punishment carries the message that "might is right"
  • Establish a few family rules and stick to them. When children follow rules be quick to show approval. When they do not, there should be punishment e.g. loss of privilege or reduced spending money. Ensure that your children are not witnessing violent behaviour between other family members.
  • Spend more time with your child. Look for activities you can share such as sports or hobbies. Try to avoid watching violent television and video games. Too much exposure may increase violent and aggressive behaviour.
  • Increase your supervision of your child's activities and whereabouts. Find out who their friends are and make sure that you know where they are at all times. Discourage relationships with aggressive peers.
  • Talk to his/her teacher and or Head teacher. Keep in mind that a child who is bullying may try to place the blame on others. Frequent communication with teachers and/or administrators is important to find out how your child is doing in changing his or her behaviour.
  • Seek help. School Social Workers, Psychologists and councillors are available to assist you and your child.
What is a Bystander?

Bystanders are the third group of players... They are the supporting cast who aid and abet the bully through acts of omission and commission. They can stand idly by or look away, or they can actively encourage the bully or join in and become one of a bunch of bullies. Whatever the choice there is a price to pay.. Standing idly by or turning away have their own costs. Injustice overlooked or ignored becomes a contagion that infects even those who thought they could turn away. The self-confidence and self-respect of the bystanders are eroded as they wrestle with their fears about getting involved and with the knowledge that to do nothing is to abdicate their moral responsibility to their peer who is the target.

How do I know if my child may be a Bystander to bullying?
  • A child who is a bystander to bullying may use the following excuses for not intervening or reporting the behaviour they witness.
  • Saying the bully 'is my friend'
  • Saying 'its not my problem'
  • Saying that the victim is not their friend
  • Saying that the victim is a 'loser'
  • Saying that the victim 'deserved' to be bullied
  • Saying that the bullying will 'toughen up' the victim.
  • Saying that they would rather be part of the 'in group' than defend the victim
  • Saying the bully 'is my friend'
  • Saying that there is nothing they can do about it.
  • Saying that they don't want to be a 'tattle tale'.
  • Saying that they are afraid that they will 'be next' if they do anything.
What can I do if I suspect my child may be a bystander to bullying?
  • Encourage your child to empathize with the victim (step into their shoes)
  • Help your child to understand that there is a difference between 'tattling' (trying to get someone else in trouble) and 'reporting' (protecting someone who is being or may be harmed)
  • Accompany your child to the teacher or principal if they decide to report what they have witnessed.
  • Encourage your child to mobilize his/her friends to join together to protect the victim. There is safety in numbers.
  • Explain to your child that bullying does not 'toughen people up' but that it can cause real emotional and physical harm, which can be long lasting, and life threatening.
  • Teach your child that being friends with those who inflict this kind of pain on their peers is not what you want them to do. Encourage them to find friends who value kindness and integrity.
  • Behave with kindness, integrity and courage yourself, whenever you have the opportunity. Kids model the behaviours they see at home.
  • Reinforce your child for accepting responsibility for his/her own behaviour.
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