More than 160,000 children skip school every day because they feel threatened by another student.
–National Association of School Psychologists
Who remembers that one kid in Primary School that often snatched your pencil and dared you to say anything with the look in their eyes? Or maybe in secondary, the one whose constant name-calling and jesting sent you the other direction at their appearance? The thing is, many of us have some firsthand experience of what is means to be bullied. Or maybe you were even the bully. Imagine the anguish that comes from being the target of someone’s mischief. Yet, many children are going through that today. Perhaps even more pronounced now with the advent of the internet.
One of the best things a parent can do for their child is to listen to them. If you sense your child has some reservations about going to school or hesitation towards a student, it’s important to get to the root cause of their behaviour. It may just be that they are dealing with a bully at school.
So first, what is bullying? Bullying, in school specifically, is any action that is hostile, manipulative, repetitive, distressing and provocative towards another child/student. This can cause several issues such as unwarranted fear, paranoia, depression and stress on the child being bullied. Sadly, this can go on to affect adult life with bullied kids growing up with self-esteem, anxiety and relational issues. You may not be able to completely stop your child from being bullied, but there are definitely things you can do to support and protect your child.
Listen to your child
Listen. We can’t reiterate this enough. Be open to anything your child wants to talk about. Most of us grew up unable to talk to our parents but let’s change the narrative of the African parent that doesn’t listen. Look out for any behavioural changes. Be pro-active and don’t always wait for them to come to you. Ask them questions, about life, school, in a non-threatening manner. Create a safe space for them to open up.
Affirm your child
Instil a sense of self-worth and belonging in them. They need to know they are loved no matter what; that they are enough and are valued. Sometimes children don’t speak up about these issues or talk to a teacher about what’s happening. This is because they want to belong and don’t want to be looked at as a ‘snitch’. So they keep mute even to their own detriment. Sometimes they feel ashamed to speak up. Affirm them with your love and be open enough to take in what they’re telling you without overreacting. When kids feel consistently accepted and loved for who they are, they are better able to cope with stress.
Teach your child strength/resilience
Sometimes bullies prey on what they deem as weakness or the weakest link. Explain to your child the importance of showing strength and remaining calm in the face of bullies, even if they’re afraid. You could create scenarios or role play for them to act out and practice what they would say or how they would behave if the situation arose.
As I said earlier, you can’t completely shield your kids from life’s experiences. There are some experiences they will go through and will have to learn from despite all your efforts as a parent. The best you can do is equip and support them to the best of your ability.