Bullying: How to help a child and my story
Trigger warning: Emotional content.
Bullying. A word that caused me high anxiety as a child. The child in me still feels upset that I ever went through something like bullying and a part of me wishes that I never went through it.
As an adult, I never talked about my experience of being bullied in childhood - I never wanted to, I felt it would make me cry again. And yes, a part of me is feeling a little emotional as I am typing this.
Looking back always came with some very uncomfortable feelings as I remembered those experiences and I felt very sad and upset. But now, I feel I can talk about it, I know how a child should be helped through this difficult time. I will live through it again by writing about it and even if one, single child is helped through this article, it will accomplish my purpose.
Bullying comes in many forms, verbal, physical, psychological and many more - but the worst of which is emotional. Children bully through hitting, swearing, cutting other children’s friend circle, isolating them or saying unkind things. Children are very blunt and cruel when it comes to bullying.
I am aware that a bully needs more help than the one being bullied. But that's not just difficult but almost impossible to do. If your child is being bullied at school, all you can possibly do is help your child - not the bully. Because that's just not in anyone’s control to do except the parents or adults responsible for the bully. I will explore later how to help your child through being bullied. First, I will share my experience.
My experience with being bullied
I remember the first day of Year 5, we had moved to the UK from Pakistan. I was eight years old and couldn't speak English. It was a whole new, different world for me, going to school in another country. It was very scary. I made some friends, but they would never stay my friends when they saw others being mean to me. I could sense that those ‘friends’ felt they would get dragged into being bullied too if they stuck around me. So no one stayed.
Bullying sadly only gets worse with time - and it did. I still remember vividly the stage show in Year 5, The Jungle Book. It was so exciting to put my hand up and participate in the show, to know that I will be wearing a lion costume and performing on stage. I really looked forward to it.
When I turned up to school the next day, the TA asked the class who was participating. This girl jumped in and said she was the fifth lion when, really, she was absent the day the roles were decided. I tried to explain to the TA in broken English that she was taking my part when in fact she was absent the previous day. But she jumped in and said I was absent and she had volunteered before me. The TA without checking crosses my name out and puts her name instead of mine. Only because the TA didn't check properly, I missed taking part in a very exciting show which at that time was so attractive to me.
I never really comprehended what exactly went wrong - but I had been replaced and it felt so unfair. I stayed behind in class for many weeks with a few others and helped make those fancy costumes. For an eight-year-old, that was heartbreaking.
Sadly, schools failed to support me throughout, either the teachers are too busy and don't listen to children’s issues or just are not trained properly to deal with those issues. After things had gotten much worse, my parents insisted that I move classes, assuming that things will improve. I moved but only to find that bullying gets worse if the child is not trained to deal with it.
When pupils in the new class would ask me why I joined their class from a different one, I would very innocently reply “because they used to bully me”. Had I known that children are actually clever enough to see opportunities.
I wish someone had spoken with me before moving classes to build my understanding of the issue and to train me to face any upcoming challenges and to respond to being bullied. But all that happened was I got moved between one group of bullies to another.
Because I wasn't helped properly by adults, I could not learn how to respond to bullies. And it continued into secondary school where it only got more serious to the point that I was pushed down a flight of concrete stairs by another pupil. I remember having fallen on my back, in pain and crying very loud. But the pain was more within than physical pain.
In an activity, we were asked to explain how we are to the outside world and how we actually feel inside. I drew two very simple pictures of me, one with a smile saying “people see me happy” and the other picture with a frown saying “but I am sad from the inside”.
I still wonder why the teachers wouldn't question that further, and ask me why am I sad? Why were my parents not approached and spoken to as a concern? I will never know. But it helped me understand that schools do not always follow through and help only comes from home.
How you can help your child if they are being bullied?
Unfortunately, many schools do not help. They simply do not know enough about bullying and how to stop it. They have anti-bullying weeks and zero-tolerance against bullying - but when there are regular incidents, the schools are out of ideas on what to do.
Therefore, help can only come from home.
“Children who are regularly bullied are victims of torture, but parents can help them come out of this victim phase by not labelling them as victims”.
Acknowledge your child’s struggle, listen to them, let them cry and scream, because home is probably the only place where they can vent their emotions and feel heard. Don't damage their confidence by labelling them as being bullied or being the victim of any sort. Children carry labels, they will carry in their fragile minds and hearts that they get bullied and unconsciously know that they are prone to it. This will have an impact on their self-esteem and confidence to deal with issues as children and later in life too.
Help the child understand that others' bad behaviour is not a reflection of who they are. Help them learn that others' actions and choices are not their fault, because very often a child being bullied will think that they must have done something to attract the bullies.
It is natural that if your child is unhappy, so will you be. You will think of them whilst they are at school and wonder if they are OK, you will wonder if any incidents have happened or not. But it is important not to pass on your concerns and worries onto your child. It would be a natural response to greet them when they return from school by saying “Hey, are you ok” “How was your day?” and trying to suss if someone bullied them or not. And children pick this up, they are very intuitive, they know what their parents feel and think.
If you are open about your concerns to your child, they will feel vulnerable and will think of themselves as easy targets, which will affect their confidence later in life and in childhood.
Greet them with “Hey, I missed you today” or ask how their lunch was - so you are indirectly asking them to share. If there was an incident, they will end up telling you, giving that you have a bond and strong connection with your child.
Always, invite your child to talk to you, about everything, literally. And really listen in when they share. Some kids do not tell at home exactly what happened but will give hints of how they feel, this may be through behaviour we perceive as ‘bad’ or ‘having tantrums’. But through these behaviours, the child is always trying to give us a message.
“Never lose the bond and connection with your child, no matter what. They need to know you are there. Make the child the centre of your world as if the world revolves around them”.
How to help build your child's confidence
Some things which are proven to help and build a child's confidence are:
- Martial arts - because this teaches self-defence techniques and builds confidence that they can look after themselves.
- Football - the roughness of this sport helps the child feel strong. Emotionally and physically.
- Doing favourite things with their parents, i.e. arts and crafts, sports or reading.
- Let them make their own choices, help them feel in charge and let them develop the ability to be decisive.
- Most importantly, one to one time with parents. Help your child learn that they are beautiful, clever and talented - make them feel they are the best. Appreciate every little thing they do and give them lots of phrases.
“Let your child feel and know they are very special and important” - This will help them stand up to bullies, as they will become confident to tackle the challenges.”
“Your child needs to know and learn that they deserve to be treated with respect, and this starts from home.”
I am always careful not to let my experience of being bullied be projected onto my child, and I remind myself that my anxiety is about me and not about my child. I step back and let him tell me what happened, mostly it's nothing, but if I let my past interfere then it will become bigger than it, and that isn't good for any child.
Children are tomorrow's future, when given the right environment, they will flourish beautifully, but while they are young it is our responsibility as adults to protect and guard them to prevent any emotional damage.