Bully beef

Lots of children get bullied at school. Most recover after a short time, some take longer and some go into show business. But if you’re a parent, there’s no need to feel helpless. There are lots of things you can do about it…

Keep a lookout for the signals. Sudden and unexpected changes in behaviour could be the first clue. Not wanting to go to school, feeling unwell on school mornings, or becoming withdrawn are all clues, as are unexplained marks or bruises – a sure sign of physical abuse.

Sometimes, children might ask for third party advice – ‘my friend is being bullied…’ They might be spending more time online, looking at their friends’ social media posts to check up on their own standing within the group.

If your child is playing truant, or avoiding certain people or situations or places, that’s also a tell tale sign.

Of course, these clues don’t always point to bullying – it could be that two best friends have fallen out. But whatever happens, don’t ignore the signs! And don’t be shy about going to see the head teacher immediately.

It’s important to try to understand bullying. One way of doing that is to sit down with your child and discuss with them what bullying is and what it isn’t. Your children have a right not to be bullied.

Bullying can take many forms, other than the more traditional repeated and deliberate aggression. There’s ‘accidental’ or ‘inadvertent’ bullying, where distress can be caused without any hostile intent. This second type is easy to deal with, once it has been identified. And then there is ‘passive bullying’ which involves purposely excluding others from events, and ‘backstabbing’ which involves spreading untrue rumours and gossip. Children can be taught that actions can have unintended consequences.

Children also need to know that it’s not only wrong – it’s counter-productive – to hit back – or at least it is unless you are absolutely assured of victory. When I was at school, it was well understood that one pre-emptive strike in quiet corner of the playground usually solved the problem. But of course, that theory runs contrary to modern thought and advice. And in any case, it’s flawed. Those who excel at physical violence have more often than not been subject to it themselves, and part of their learning curve was initially a series of defeats… so perhaps not.

Having said that, it’s difficult for children to be assertive – they don’t have the life experience, let alone the practice. The trick is to be assertive without inflaming the situation, and that’s a hard act for young children.

But it’s also wrong to ignore a bully and hope they will just go away, because they won’t. Bullies pick on the weak – never on someone their own size! Passive response never works, and never will.

So the best way to deal with bullying is to report it immediately. If it continues, kick up a fuss – threaten social services or the police – especially if it gets serious. All schools are legally required to have a copy of the school anti-bullying policy and ask for a copy. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to keep a detailed diary of what’s been going on – who said what to whom, where, when – that sort of thing. Take photographs of any marks or bruises.

Explain the problem and ask how the policy is being followed in your child’s case – that is guaranteed to put the fear of God into head teachers. The last thing they need is a visit from an Ofsted inspector. Make it clear to the school that you intend to follow it up. You could attend a PTA meeting and speak up about your problem. You could write to the school’s governing body or even your MP, who will certainly enquire into the problem on your behalf.

The vast majority of head teachers will want to sort the problem out straight away, but you could also threaten to go to the local newspaper, and go to them if the problem hasn’t been sorted out in a week.

However – and this is important – don’t be tempted to tackle the parents of the bully – this never works either. Bullies often come from bad homes – and yes, I do blame the parents – but they may well turn out to be just as bad. Bullies enjoy the psychological control they exert over others – that’s also a symptom of bad parenting.

Most important, bullying must not be allowed to disrupt or harm your child’s education. Keeping them home from school is not the answer, even though it’s important to ensure their physical and mental safety both in the classroom and outside the school gates. You must lay down a set of rules for them to follow if they are bullied again. It’s up to the school to make sure the child and the bully are kept apart during break times and in lessons.

Most important is the ability to be able to talk to your children – being bullied is not the child’s fault, although they may be embarrassed about their predicament. There is no shame in being bullied and children have to understand that it’s the bully who is the real sad act, not them. Above all, children need to know they have the support of their parents.

Some tell tale signs your child is being bullied:

* Unexplained marks on the body, such as cuts, grazes or bruises,

* Unexplained loss of toys, school dinner money, devices or even clothing,

* They’re ravenous when they get home – because their lunch money or even lunch has been taken from them,

* They suddenly start taking a different route to or from school,

* They suddenly stop talking about school,

* They make excuses, such as unexplained illnesses like headaches / stomach aches,

* They start dropping out of school activities,

* They become afraid of riding on the school bus,

* They become afraid of being left alone – they need you there to meet them,

* A sudden marked change in personality, eg. becoming very quiet or sullen,

* Bullied children often start bullying other smaller or younger children,

* They wait to get home to use the bathroom (unsupervised school bathrooms are often bullying hot-spots,)

* They suddenly have fewer friends or no longer belong to the ‘regular group’,

* There is a significant drop in grades caused by difficulty in concentrating,

* They run away from home

Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.