By Mark Heaton, Principal Lecturer, Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University. This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Mark Heaton, Sheffield Hallam University
Bullying is one of the top concerns that parents have about their children’s safety and well-being – and it can make life a misery. A study carried out by the National Centre for Social Research found that 47% of children reported being bullied at age 14 and that it is a particular problem for disadvantaged and minority groups. However, children who tell their parents are more likely to “escape” bullying. Here are five key ways to help:
1) Identify the signs
The signs of bullying include a child showing behavioural changes, becoming withdrawn, not wanting to go to school, or perhaps developing lots of non-specific illnesses? If your child reveals that they are being bullied, thank them for having the courage to tell you and explain that it is the first step to sorting out the problem.
Use your best listening skills and try not to get upset or angry. Remain calm and assure them that you will help. Ask sensitively what has been going on, what the bullying has involved, and how it makes them feel, so that you can comfort and reassure them.
It is tempting to take over, but if possible try to consider solutions with your child and ask what they would prefer you to do. Bullying can reduce a child’s confidence and self-esteem, so highlight their strengths and help them to spend time doing whatever helps relieve their anxiety. Always remind them that you are there for them. A number of online sites offer helpful advice.
2) Understand bullying
Bullying is often defined as a repeated, deliberate action that relies on an imbalance of power. But even if something has only happened once, it is still serious if your child has chosen to report it.
Talk to them about different kinds of bullying and how it can involve not just physical harm or threat, but name calling, leaving someone out, rumour spreading, or making someone do something they do not want to do. Explain how it can involve technology and social media and show that you know that bullying can be directed at different individuals and groups to different extents. This will help educate them to spot and understand bullying and demonstrate your empathy for others, too.
We also need to encourage children to look out for bullying around them as the vast majority of bullying incidents involve witnesses who often do not come forward because they worry they will become victims themselves, or believe it is wrong to “tell tales”.
3) Don’t hit back
Encourage them not to retaliate aggressively. Fighting back may seem understandable but it usually makes things worse and can lead to your child being hurt, laughed at, or the one who ends up being disciplined.
We need to promote more assertive approaches to managing bullying, rather than aggressive – or passive – ones. Tell them to remove themselves from the situation as quickly as they can and to report any instances of bullying to an adult.
4) Report it
Contact the school if your child feels that they are unable to cope with your support alone. Talk to your child beforehand, but make it clear that this is what you must do. You may feel like talking to the bully’s parents, but this can have negative repercussions for you and your child. All schools are required by law to have an anti-bullying policy outlining how bullying should be reported and dealt with. Ask the school what it is and how it is applied.
Try to support the school, which will also want to stop bullying and it is best to do this together. Have an initial conversation with your child’s teacher who should also be able to involve other colleagues in helping your child through the school’s systems. Together, set out a strategy for tackling the bullying, including follow-ups.
If your child tells you that they are being bullied, keep a diary of who did what, what they said – and how often, when and where it happened. Keep a record of any relevant text messages, website comments, or social media postings. But do give the school a chance to work with your child and solve the problem. If you feel the school is not doing enough, however, you may want to take the matter to the head teacher, the school governors, the local authority, or, in the UK, Ofsted, which inspects and regulates schools.
5) Don’t let it harm their education
However difficult the situation, do not keep your child off school, as this could make the situation worse and will mean that your child is the one who misses out. Whatever you do, remember that a graduated response is most effective in solving bullying problems.
Bullying is a serious problem in schools and wider society. It is always wrong and we need to support schools in helping to make them a place where all our children are safe to learn and develop.