Coping with the effects of bullying and developing strategies to stop it
The Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) defines bullying as the repeated use of power by one or more persons intentionally to hurt, harm or adversely affect the rights and needs of another or others. Bullying is a form of unacceptable behaviour, but not all unacceptable behaviour can be considered bullying.
Bullying usually has three key elements:
- It is repeated behaviour that happens over a period of time
- It involves an imbalance of power
- It is intentionally hurtful behaviour
No parent or carer likes to think about their child being bullied or displaying bullying behaviour but the fact is, more than half of all children are involved – either as someone who displays bullying behaviours, experiences bullying behaviours or witnesses bullying behaviours. So, there’s a good chance you’ll have to work through these issues with your child at some point. If your child is being bullied there are always things you can do to help them.
Top Tips to help your child
- Listen without getting angry or upset – Put your own feelings aside, sit down and actually listen to what your child is telling you – then show you have done so by ‘playing back’ to them what you hear. Ask your child: “How do you want me to take this forward?” rather than just taking over so they don’t feel excluded from deciding what to do or end up even more stressed/worried than they were already.
- Reassure your child it’s not their fault. There’s still a stigma attached to bullying and some children feel they’ve brought it upon themselves. Remind them that many adults they might know and look up to have been bullied too. Being bullied isn’t about being weak and displaying bullying behaviour isn’t about being strong.
- Encourage your child to try to appear confident – even if they don’t feel it. Body language and tone of voice speak volumes.
- Sometimes people say nasty things because they want a certain reaction or to cause upset, so if your child gives them the impression they’re not bothered, the person(s) displaying bullying behaviour are more likely to stop. Role-play bullying scenarios and practice your child’s responses. Talk about how our voices, bodies and faces send messages just the same way our words do.
- Don’t let the bullying dominate their life. Help your child develop new skills in a new area. This might mean encouraging them to join a club or activity like drama or self-defence. This builds confidence, helps keep the problem in perspective and offers a chance to make new friends. Ease up on pressure in other less-important areas like nagging about an untidy bedroom.
- Drawing pictures of the bullying could help your child deal with it. You could draw pictures in the style of a cartoon strip which show your child walking away from the bullying or telling someone. Then talk about the different responses, what might not work and which is best for your child.
- Using ‘social stories’ to help your child understand what bullying is and learn skills to cope with what’s happening. Social stories describe a situation and focus on a few key points, such as what will happen and how people might react. The goal of social stories is to increase a child’s understanding and make them more comfortable in different situations. You can use social stories to explain times and places where bullying might happen, like break times, assemblies, or queuing for lunch.
- Talk about bullying with your child at home, when appropriate. It is very tempting to ask your child as soon as they get home “what did she do today?” or “did they leave you alone today?” Try to avoid this. Seek out the positives of the day and assess their mood from their responses and behaviour. Continue to keep the lines of communication open and encourage your child to talk about anything if they are concerned.
A process for helping children to develop more appropriate responses through reflection is called ‘Worth a Re-Think’. This is a great tool for parents to help their child reflect on a bullying incident in a supported and safe way. This technique gives children the opportunity to make new choices and respond differently. It is important for parents to validate all suggestions including angry responses and to discuss the outcomes of each option in turn. Scripts are a practical way of helping your child explore all the options available. The “Worth a Re-Think” scripts and other helpful tips can be found in NIABF’s Parent/Carer Toolkit.