“…making fun of the marginalized and the minority is not comedy, it is bullying and I will contest it.” – Said actor Tanishtha Chatterjee of Parched, a recently released film after a television show made fun of her dark skin. I couldn’t agree more. Bullying won’t end unless we stop it!
Note : Continuing from the past couple of posts in the series, that tackled the understanding of bullying and went on to share facts on the act of bullying so as to be able to prevent it, here’s part 3 of the series where I will share my thoughts on what are the possible warning signs of being victim of bullying and how to deal with the same.
Some of the readers of this blog have shared that they strongly feel that bullies learn from their parents/other adults around them. That they know of some adults who behave as bullies and they can see the impact of this learned behavior on how their children behave with others. That’s right! Children do learn all the time from adult’s actions. When they see the adults around them yelling at others, having a show down, overpowering other adults or even oftentimes by being inattentive or unsympathetic or excluding/ignoring, their children’s views on how to manage stress and conflict form. They start to mimic the adult behavior of how to treat their friends, colleagues and families.
To prevent oneself and children from going down this path, it is suggested that both adults and children must take part in activities, interests and hobbies they like. Volunteer out of school/work space, play sports, join a choir. Children can join a school club with students of common interest just as adults can join a common interest group. This consistently builds confidence and friendships to help protect both children and adults (as we all know, adults bully and get bullied too. One of the readers of this blog exclaimed in her feed back – “but Ms Niv! What about adults bullying adults! What do we do about that?” Pretty much the same I guess. Understand, prevent, walk away or stand up and deal!)
Bullying has severe impact on the emotional and physical safety of young children at school. This in turn impacts their relationship with peers, teachers, parents and adults in their lives. The negativity severely impacts their ability to learn and perform with expected ease and proficiency in school. The best way to address this is by recognizing bullying and stopping it before it starts. For that, school staff and parents must be aware of this and assess student behavior closely, to make schools safer. It is also important to engage parents in this assessment and understanding so as to send out a message of zero tolerance for bullying. Awareness campaigns, discussion forums, school safety committee, buddy support systems can be some of the ways that this issue is proactively tackled.
So what should you look out for? Here are some indicators of bullying:
- Visible, physical injuries on the body of the child that the child is avoiding telling about or is covering up by clothes/makeup.
- Child complains of headaches, stomachaches, complains/fakes sickness or nausea.
- Sudden change in eating habits – eating too less or too much, skipping meals or craving for just one kind of food.
- Shows signs of nervous ness, anxiety, and fear for inexplicable reasons.
- Lack of interest in school, schoolwork, homework, group projects and decline in academic performance.
- Child talks about harming himself or running away from home or changing to another school.
Schools are now creating code of conduct, school-wide rules and an escalation process for reporting bullying, with the clear understanding amongst all that bullying is not acceptable. In parallel, establishing a culture of tolerance, acceptance of differences and mutual respect in assemblies, staff meetings and parent teacher meetings. These cohesive efforts go a long way towards reiterating the school’s philosophy of positive social interactions and inclusiveness.
Just as educating the community on bullying has a role in stopping bullying, the response time to bullying also goes a long way to bring home the message. When we as adults respond consistently and instantly to the behavior, the communication is clear. Stop it on the spot! First. Or if the child has reached out to you, then start with finding out what happened and figure out how best to take it from there. The next step, most important to my mind as a parent and educator is to support both – the bullied and the bully. All children, whether they are the victims or the bullies are affected by the incident. This would ensure that the bullying would not continue and the effect would be minimum on the children concerned.
The children and adults both have to know how to be more than a bystander. When we know what bullying is, we are able to better identify, deal with it, stand up to it and report or walk away. We need to give them the skills of how to do all of these. We as parents and educators need to give them time to talk by keeping the lines of communications open. Even a 15 minutes a day conversation about their day and feelings can reassure them that they can talk to us. Some of the conversation starters (that you must be already doing just continue to do more of it, consistently and calmly, besides regularly engaging with school and school activities) could be :
- How was your lunchtime today? Who do you sit with usually? What did you talk about?
- How was your ride on school bus?
- What do you like best about yourself? (and not your subject, not your teacher, not your school)
- Read class newsletters and school communications with your child, talk about these at home, and make conversations around it.
- Meet the class teachers, school counselor, other parents of the school and go to school events regularly.
- Share with the child who makes yourself happy, safe and loved and ask the child to share the same with you.
- Discuss with your child some of these in some form or the other, at appropriate time (not more than one or two at the same time):
- Do you sometimes have fights with your friends? What do you do when you fight? How do you feel afterwards?
- Do you enjoy your time with your friends?
- Do you have one or few best friends? Tell me about them.
- Do you have some one or some children who are not your friends and you are ok to not talk/play with them?
- Do your friends like you when you are rude? Or bossy? Or teasing others? Do you like doing it?
- When at school, greet the teachers, the support staff, the bus driver.
During these conversations, do discuss with your child, the difference between conflict and bullying. Disagreements, differences and conflicts are normal. These situations get resolved over time. When it is a matter going back and forth, when it is he said/ she said, it is conflict. The emotions felt – of anger and hurt are similar or equal. However, when it troubles the child, hurts and/or saddens the child several times, it is intentional and targeted to hurt, it is bullying.
Sharing some resources here that you might find useful to clarify the difference between conflict and bullying with your child:
While we made the journey through understanding, preventing and dealing with bullying in school age children, I am sure there is so much more to be said and understood about this vast and complex issue. However, one thing that is clear to all of us is that it needs to be stopped. Please send in your views and concerns, thoughts and queries. Especially situations that according to you were incidences of bullying and how it was handled. Or was it? How else could it have been handled differently and/or better? Please exclude or change names as necessary to maintain confidentiality. Sharing your experiences will help other readers as well to continue to keep focus on this aspect of our growing children. And thus the impact they will have on the society around them as they grow into responsible adults. Empathy and sensitivity is the need of both studentship and citizenship.
P.S. I have not tackled cyber bullying as yet in any of these 3 articles. Not because it is not important or not prevalent or that it is completely understood. But I will do so soon as part of another series, on digital citizenship.