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Builyin i WHAT SHOULD 112-71' YOU DO IF YOUR Am CHILD IS BEING BULLIED? vao And—what if your child is the bully? y son, who is eight years old, has been bullied by the same boy since he was six,' says Candice*, a FAIRLADY reader. 'In the beginning he thought they were just playing, but when he would tell us about his day we started picking up that something wasn't right. So we had to explain to him that friends don't hurt each other. They are the same age, but Tony* is bigger in build, and he often pushes him around.' Candice approached the teachers at her son's pre-primary school but was told that they were just being boys and that they would keep an eye on the situation. 'It would get better and then it would get worse,' she says. 'My son would come home with a bruise and say that Tony pushed him off the scooter, or Tony said that he is going to kill his dad and me. It haunted him. In Grade 1 we found out that Tony was in the same class as my son, which we were not too thrilled to hear. The year started off fine, but before long my son started saying that Tony had started bullying him again, ripping his shirt, tripping him, locking him in the bathroom, punching him and grabbing his school bag while it was on his back so that he'd fall.' Candice eventually met with her son's teacher, who informed her that Tony had 0 64 FairladylMarch 2015 BY LIESL ROBERTSON anger issues and was seeing a therapist. 'But that did not solve the situation with my son,' she says. 'We are completely against fighting, but eventually we got to the point that we told him: "If Tony punches you again, you punch him in the nose, just once. Stand up for yourself and he will get such a fright that he will leave you alone." My son is very soft-hearted, and is happiest when he's around the people he loves. He's not a fighter, and that's why I'm so concerned about this. I read all these horror stories about children and what they do because they're being bullied, and it keeps me up at night because I am so worried about my little boy. 'As a parent, what do you do? Do you teach your child to fight so they can defend themselves? Doesn't that make it worse or more dangerous? Do you meet with the other child's parents? But then what happens when you aren't around and it's just your child and the bully, and the bully is even angrier because they got into trouble?' Kids often don't tell their parents when they are targeted by bullies, which is why it's so important to look out for warning signs,' says Johannesburg educational psychologist Anita Decaires-Wagner. 'My son was bullied at the crèche he attended and I could see a change in him,' says Barbara. 'He started getting very aggressive and hitting his sisters. I only realised what was behind it when he left the crèche a few months ago. He told me how this one kid told the others to make a circle around him and each one took a turn to beat him up. He asked them to stop but they wouldn't. I was so shocked. I asked him why he didn't tell me when it happened, and he said he was scared it would make the situation worse.' Sudden changes in behaviour, such as withdrawal from friendships or a reluctance to speak about school or friends Resisting going to school Sleep difficulties Missing or broken items, torn clothing or unexplained injuries or bruises Lowered self-esteem, seems withdrawn Mood changes, aggressive behaviour towards siblings Sudden drop in school performance Before you take action, make sure what is happening is, in fact, bullying. 'Bullying is an extreme word, and is often used too easily,' says Anita. 'We should be careful of the label — exclusion is not necessarily bullying, and parents usually only hear one side of the story. Some kids are very sensitive to teasing, even when it's playful. I'm not saying you shouldn't believe what your child tells you — just gather all the information before you react. Bullying is when there is an intent to harm, and there is a power imbalance between the children.' parenting WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SIGNS I CAN LOOK OUT FOR? WHAT CONSTITUTES BULLYING? TYPES OF BULLYING IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII Sometimes bullies get physical — hitting, punching and kicking, or stealing and breaking things. This kind of bullying is less overt: name-calling, saying nasty or humiliating things, spreading untrue rumours or encouraging others to exclude someone from the group. Online bullying is becoming very common, as it gives the bully a degree of anonymity. This includes posting nasty pictures and messages on the internet and on Facebook, Twitter and Mxit. 'Broadly, I would say that bullying between boys is more overt and physical, whereas bullying among girls is more covert and relational,' says Anita. 'If you suspect something may be wrong — ask! Listen to your child and take what they say seriously. Reassure them they were right in telling you — but don't promise to keep it a secret.' According to a recent study published in Pediatrics, a child experiences more severe and lasting health implications the longer he or she is bullied. Researcher Laura Bogart, who led the study, believes that intervention is key. 'The sooner we stop a child from being bullied, the less likely bullying is to have a lasting, damaging effect on his or her health down the road,' she says. 'Our research shows that long-term bullying has a severe impact on a child's overall health, and that its negative effects can accumulate and get worse with time.' 'My advice would be to contact the school, if that's where the bullying occurred,' says Anita. 'Ask a teacher to check it out — all schools have anti-bullying policies. If the story turns out to be true, it's important to get the kids into a win-win situation — call them both in and try to get them to talk it out. There should be consequences, but an overly harsh punishment will just cause the bully to resent the victim and might even lead to retribution.' Until the issue is resolved, advise your child to avoid situations where FairladylMarch 2015 65 they are alone with the bully. Tell them to play near where the teacher is and stay with their friends as much as possible. And if they're going home by foot, make sure there's a way for them to do so with others. 'The other thing you need to do is to strengthen the child who is being bullied,' says Anita. 'Kids who are socially okay are rarely picked on, so work on developing your child's self-confidence, assertiveness and social skills. Enrolling them in extra-mural activities can also help to widen their social circle.' WHAT IF MY CHILD IS THE BULLY? 'The first thing is to be careful about harshly punishing the child,' says Anita. 'Parents are usually embarrassed when they find out that their child is bullying, and they often overreact, which can worsen the situation and create even more conflict. Stay calm, and get the facts.' First off, make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that bullying is not okay. 'Children who bully are often dealing with big emotions, and it's important to get to the root of the problem.' Then try to figure out why your child is bullying. 'What is the unmet need? For some children, bullying is a way of expressing their own feelings of powerlessness — for instance, when they themselves are being bullied (usually by an older sibling), or if they're feeling highly stressed by their circumstances at home — perhaps because of a new baby, a move or an illness,' says Anita. 'With others, it has to do with a lack of empathy or poor impulse control — perhaps they don't know how to resolve conflict. Children who bully are often dealing with big emotions, and it's important to get to the root of the problem.' When it comes to cyberbullying, lawyers Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer (authors of Don't Film Yourself Having Sex and other legal advice for the age of social media) give this advice: Teach your child to take screenshots of abusive messages. Set up a Google Alert in the name of your child. This will allow you to monitor what is being said about them online. Social media websites have mechanisms to report bullying or harassment and block abusive users. Just in case your child feels uncomfortable coming to you, educate them about these readily available tools. Serious threats should be reported to the police and/ or your child's school. Remind your child that, although they may think it's funny, they could get into serious trouble if they log into someone else's account or use someone else's phone to post stupid, offensive or harassing messages, tweets or status updates. Clues from the real world can help piece together what is going on in the digital world. Pay attention to any stories of nastiness at school, as this bullying has the potential to extend into cyberspace. Bullies may need counselling — it's important to teach them how to deal with anger and frustration in non-violent ways. 'Physical activity can help to release emotions, and a creative outlet can also be soothing,' says Anita. 'Sometimes it's even as simple as making sure they are gainfully employed: kids who have something to do during breaktimes are much less likely to get into trouble.' CAN YOU BULLY-PROOF YOUR CHILD? The best solution to bullying is to increase bystander involvement, says Barbara Coloroso, a parenting expert and bestselling author. In a situation where bullying occurs there are usually three groups: the bully, the bullied and the bystander. 'But,' says Barbara, 'there are no innocent bystanders'. She believes that the best way to put an end to bullying is to teach children to occupy a fourth category: the ally. Bystanders are usually in the majority, and they are the ones who witness or hear about the bullying. Part of the bully's power is creating the impression that bystanders support his or her actions, which is why it is up to them to intervene. Passive bystanders usually do not want to get involved, as they fear retribution from the bully and his/ her supporters, while others are apathetic as they don't believe they will be able to influence the situation. In both cases, the bully wins, as he/she has power over both the victim and the bystanders. On the other hand, an active bystander or an ally knows that, as they are in the majority, they have power if they band together. Kids are often locked in a tribe of comradeship, which makes it hard for them to stand up and speak out. So how to teach your child to become an active bystander? 'We have to go beyond giving kids information,' says Barbara. 'We have to care.' 66 FairladylMarch 2015 PHOTOGRAPHS: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES Individuals bullied in childhood are more likely to have a psychiatric disorder, smoke, struggle to keep work and have difficulty maintaining friendships. The key, she says, is raising children who are not praise-dependent. 'Having a strong-willed child can be difficult at times. But kids who are praise-dependent and rewarddependent make wonderful henchmen. [Reward-dependent children] will do things to please us when they are little, but will do things to please their peers when they are older.' Your role as a parent is crucial, as bullying is largely learned behaviour. If your child is bullying others, or passively standing by and watching as others are bullied, it's time to take a long, hard look at how you behave. 'How do you treat hired help? How do you treat the new neighbour, who looks different? How do you treat One in every 10 learners who drop out of school does so because of repeated bullying. 25% of teachers see nothing wrong with bullying or putdowns — and intervene in only 4% of bullying incidents. Over two-thirds of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying. Bullying is the most common form of violence — 66% of children will be involved in bullying at some point. 42% of children have been bullied online. Being bullied often leads to depression, low selfesteem and suicide (suicide accounts for 9,5% of all teen deaths in South Africa). [SOURCE SADAG} 'Hate crimes start with bullying and escalate to criminal bullying.' somebody moving through the grocery store a little slower than you'd like them to? Your children are watching,' she says. 'We all have bigoted relatives somewhere in the family tree. Some are right there round the dinner table, spewing thinly disguised racist and sexist comments. Can your children hear you saying: "I'm bothered by that"? Or "That was cruel" when all the other relatives roll their eyes and say, "What, can't you take a joke?"... Your children need to see you standing up for values and against injustice when it's uncomfortable to do it.' Schoolyard bullying might not seem like that big a problem in the grand scheme of things, but Barbara believes that it should be taken very seriously. 'It's a short walk from schoolyard bullying to hate crimes,' she says. 'Bullying is a conscious, wilful act intended to harm, where you get pleasure from somebody else's pain. And it is often continuous and repeated. Hate crimes start with bullying and escalate to criminal bullying,' says Barbara. 'And often it all starts with verbal bullying; dehumanising another person, making someone into an "it". "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" is a lie.' A study published in Psychological Science showed that individuals bullied in childhood are more likely to have a psychiatric disorder, smoke, struggle to keep work and have difficulty maintaining friendships. 'Bullying is often seen as "part of growing up" or brushed off as "boys will be boys". But trying to fault the target is part of the problem,' says Barbara. 'You don't have to like every kid. But you must honour their dignity and self-worth.' + *Names have been changed FairladylMarch 2015 67

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