Bullying is a behaviour that is rarely tolerated in most workplaces. What about in the school yard? Have you ever heard parents say that children should be left to “sort it out” or “toughen up”? I disagree! If we do not tolerate bullying of adults, how much less should we tolerate bullying of children! In fact, research shows that being bullied as a child can result in several difficulties throughout one’s life including psychiatric diagnoses, difficulties with trust and low self-esteem, to name a few. Children who are bullied can experience depression, anxiety, poor sleep and impaired academic performance.
So what can you do about it? Firstly, create a safe space for your child to talk about such things. It can be difficult listening to a child’s stories in the midst of everything else you have to do but talking with them regularly means that they are more likely to tell you when something is awry. When your child does open up don’t dismiss their feelings, rather, validate their feelings whilst teaching them what to do about it. Praise them for telling you about it and be encouraging as you advise your child.
Teach your child a statement that he / she can say in response to any bullying and have them practice at home. For example, “Stop it, I don’t like it”. Teach them to speak confidently in a loud and clear voice. Tell your child to notice the colour of the other child’s eyes when talking to them. This is a little trick that will help your child to hold their head up, which in turn makes them appear more assertive and less intimidated by the bullying. Encourage them to then walk away and play with someone else. Role play the scenarios at home with you playing your child to model the behaviour to your child, and then you playing the bully so your child can practice.
Encourage your child not to be alone but to stick with their friends. In fact, encouraging your child to be friendly and make lots of friends is a very useful way to reduce their risks of future bullying. Discuss friendships and how to make friends and the importance of having a wide social network.
Importantly, speak to your child’s teacher. It’s important for your child to know that you have their back and whilst you will teach them how to handle bullying, they need to know that you will also do something about it and that they are not in this alone.
Tehani Gunasekara (M Psych, B Adv Science, Hons Psych) is a Clinical Psychologist who is passionate about helping people live their best possible lives despite the challenges that inevitably come our way.
While warm and empathic Tehani is a straight talking and practical Psychologist who uses the principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Positive Psychology and Neuroscience to obtain outcomes for her clients. She will empathically support people to move forward with their lives and reach for a full and meaningful life regardless of their circumstances.