by Dr Stephanie Satariano (Educational Psychologist)
Many celebrities have stood out again bullying and talked about their experiences and the devastating effects it had on them; however they feel fortunate that they had the help and support to overcome such incidences. Celebrities like Michael Phelps, Megan Fox, Justin Timberlake, Sandra Bullock, Miley Cyrus, Tyra Bank and Rhianna. It is estimated that 10-20% of children are reported to be bullied. What is bullying? How do you know if your child is a victim of being bullied?
Bullying is not clear-cut; it is yet another grey area. It is important to understand that it is largely based on the perceptions of the victim. What one person may perceive as bullying, may not be what another person perceives. Here we’ll talk about bullying in between children, although bullying can take place in any relationship.
Bullying that goes unnoticed and untreated, can have significant detrimental effects on the victim; as well as the bully. The victim is prone to depression, anxiety, isolation, lowered self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness. On the other end of the spectrum, it can lead to increase anger, frustration and aggression; also, the bullied can turn this aggression into becoming the bullies.
What about the bullies? If you child is being bullied, it is understandable that you may not empathise with the bully, however if your child is the bully it is important to bear in mind that bullies are at a high risk of depression, isolation, engaging in criminal behaviour, dropping out of school and being abusive towards other. Therefore, if you are parents involved in a bullying incident, or if you are an educator and bullying is happening in your school, it is important to look at the whole picture; support both the bully and the bullied.
So, as parents what can you do to support your children in this situation?
>Listen to you child: as mentioned before, not everyone has the same perception of what constitutes bullying. Therefore, although you may not agree with your child’s feelings, it is still important to validate them, accept them and understand them. As the bully or the bullied, they need to feel that someone understands them and is on their side.
>Perspective taking: either as the bully or the bullied, encourage your child to see things from the other person point of view. As the bully, have discussions with them to help them understand why what they are doing may impact the other person, and try get them to walk in their shoes. As the bullied, help them understand the other child; to understand why that child may be doing what they’re doing. Sometimes understanding the reasons behind others behaviours helps us to realise it’s not about us, and help to feel empathy for the other person
>Restorative discussions: set up a meeting, facilitated by the adult, between the children where they can each share their point of view and aim to move things forward. Restorative justice is a framework that is useful for such meetings; however, I advise that this is done with the help of a professional, such as a child psychologist.
If your child is bullied:
>Take it seriously: don’t brush it off; if your child is coming to you with it then it clearly means it important to them and affecting them. Although some children do get over it spontaneously, for most it does not “toughen them up”
>Follow their lead: remember it is not you who is being bullied; try not to put your emotions, thoughts and past experiences into the mix. Listen to your child, and respond to their feelings. It’s important to find the balance between making it feel bigger and worse than it is, and brushing it off. The easiest way to do this is to try keep your emotions out of it, and help your child manage theirs.
>Help them seek Support: help your child identify good friendships that they do have. If they don’t, set up play dates to help them develop such friendships.
Remember, these are just universal recommendations that should be used in first instance; they may or may not apply to your child. If you feel your child is suffering, showing signs of anxiety or depression, it would be important to consult a professional, such as a child psychologist, to either directly work with your child or support you in the situation.