Bullying involves one or more children controlling others by generating distress and fear. It can be physical, verbal or cyber bullying but psychological harm is always involved. Victims are usually those perceived as different in their appearance, dress, speech, ethnicity, religion or even the food they bring in their lunchbox. Australian children told the author that they were bullied because their mothers were seen as different by virtue of age (older than usual), their accent, being overweight or wearing different clothing. Most children are afraid to complain because they fear that the bullying will increase if parents lodge complaints. That is not true but the sense of helplessness leads to victims losing confidence, feeling isolated, depressed and avoiding school.
Bullies are usually unhappy kids who risk rejection because peer admiration is short-lived, based on the fear of being the next victims. They fail in school and their anti-social behaviour may continue into adulthood, leading to violent crimes.
Don't expect children to handle bullies without your help. Never say, "Hit him back" and don't say, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but harsh words do not hurt me" .. because they do!
Boys are more likely than girls to engage in physical bullying – using stand-over tactics, stealing or hiding the victim's essential possessions to cause distress. Physical bullying includes tripping, hitting or bullying others into doing this for them. Boys are referred to as poofter, homo, fatso and girls are similarly insulted: "Don't play with him, he's got AIDS", they say. Children may not understand the meaning but they know its offensive. Girls are more likely to engage in emotional abuse and rejection: e.g. "Ï wont invite you to my party"; Ï don't want you as my friend any more".
Be open to the possibility that your child will be bullied and may also bully others. Discuss bullying and why it has to be stopped quickly. Be alert to changes in mood, school refusal, nightmares, withdrawal, frequent crying. Internet sites offer hundreds of tips for dealing with this common problem. Check that the school or centre has and uses an anti-bullying program.
Emeritus Professor in Child Development
Dr Freda Briggs AO is Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia and author of "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids". "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids", reviewed by SingleMum.com.au here, gives tips on keeping children safe in a wide range of situations from cyber space and sexual abuse to bullying. The book is available in all good bookstores and can be ordered by phone on 03 9681 7275 or online at JoJo Publishing
You can read more of Freda Briggs's Profile here.
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