The other day, as my son’s school bus pulled away, his customarily chirpy expression struck me as unusually despondent as he waved goodbye. I was sure it wasn’t because it was a Monday. Even though he wakes up cranky most Monday mornings, he reverts to his cheerful self when he sets out.
This day was different. He seemed a little dejected. I wondered if it his peer group did or said something to upset him, or if he just forgot his homework. I knew this would weigh on my mind until I got the chance to talk him in the evening and find out what really happened.
The world of children is rarely as easy as it appears. ‘Mean kid problems’ aren’t restricted to middle school anymore. They start as early as kindergarten. As a parent, your heart will break every time your child, with tears brimming in his or her eyes, haltingly narrates how (s)he was bullied. You know your child needs help, but most times, you are left wondering what is the best way to handle a situation as sensitive and delicate as this.
Bullying can take many forms—verbal (name-calling and teasing), physical (kicking, biting or beating up) or social exclusion. It may seem trivial initially—we usually expect children to handle the situation themselves, hoping they emerge stronger. But the truth is bullying can result in traumatic consequences for a child. It can affect his/her school performance; self esteem and can even lead to depression. A mere Google search will reveal how bullying-related deaths are now plaguing Indian schools. These, of course, are extreme cases. Parenting experts suggest that, in most cases, by staying alert, parents should be able to interfere at the right time and offer sufficient support to the bullied child.
Some facts about bullying we must keep in mind:
•Any child can be a bully or a victim. It is extremely important that we teach our children to be inclusive and respect everyone around them.
•When your child reports an issue, do not take it lightly. You must talk to the school and ensure they take a step to rectify it. If it persists, talking directly to the other child’s (who is involved in the bullying) parent is also a good idea. (S)he is also a parent and if reasonable, in all probability, should be able to understand and extend their support.
•Keep a watch on your child’s behaviour. Any disturbing change in behaviour or school performance may be a warning sign that (s)he needs immediate help or attention.
•There is direct bullying and then there is cyber bullying, which is even more difficult to deal with because it can go viral.
•Formulate an action plan and an indicative script when your child encounters a bully. Rehearse.
•Coach your child to seek help. Assure her or him that (s)he is not alone and you are there to support her or him in time of need.
•Do not hesitate to seek professional help if that can help your child regain confidence and reduce the trauma.
As parents, we have the responsibility to teach our children to be inclusive and as well as to respect everyone and treat them with dignity. It is very important to help them understand the beauty in diversity and its acceptance. Empower your child to resolve conflicts and handle tough situations. Raise empathetic children. In case you hear from another parent that your child bullied another, please do not defend him/her immediately. Talk to your child. Let us resolve to create a Bully Free Zone for our children.