It usually starts with your child coming home upset, followed by stomach aches in the morning, lonely recesses at school, a withdrawal in academic work, and in extreme cases, it can lead to depression.
Despite the many conferences, teacher-training sessions, and news articles and research dedicated to better understanding bullying, educators continue to debate the best techniques and policies to implement to ensure that our school systems are safe. Nobody can promise that your child will not be bullied at school. However, I can suggest a few tips to help a parent identify if a child is being bullied and what steps to take:
1. Always be observant. If you notice any of these behaviours: withdrawal from activities, a reduced appetite, excessive Internet browsing, trouble sleeping at night, mood swings, a drop in academic achievement and no interest in talking, then you should make an appointment with the teacher to discuss one or more of these behavioural changes in your child.
2. Talk.Talk.Talk. These conversations do not have to be formal sit-down sessions about the issue of bullying. Try to keep the channels of communication open and informal. For example, talk on the way to soccer practice, at the dinner table or when you're watching his/her sibling's activity. The point is that you have to talk to find out what is bothering your child and you have to make it part of a daily routine. Casually ask your child about friends; who speaks up the most in class; who is having a birthday this month; who has a crush on whom; or about which Internet sites are the most popular. Once a child starts talking, he or she will start revealing more of what is happening at school and in his or her life in general.
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3. Don't be a party to the parking lot chatter. Remember every student at the school is someone's child. Nobody wants his or her child to be the subject of a conversation among parents in the school parking lot. In some cases, bullies are often hiding severe anxiety and depression issues -- nobody actually enjoys being a bully -- it is a defence mechanism. If 'Jamie' is already branded as the school bully, ask your child about him. Find out if your child has a friendship with the supposed bully and try not to judge too soon.
4. Ask for strategies: Once you calmly provide explicit examples of how your child is being bullied to a teacher, counsellor, or principal, ask the educational team at the school to identify specific strategies that the child can use when confronting a bully. It could be as simple as having the child speak to an adult on recess duty. Or maybe have the teacher check in every day with the child. Perhaps the child needs to learn to stand up for him or herself and confront the bully. Create an action plan that ensures your child will implement these strategies and book a follow up meeting.
5. Be honest and listen. Listen carefully to what teachers and administrators are noticing about your child. Remember they probably spend more hours with your child over the course of the day than you, as a parent, do. They could notice things that as a parent you cannot or do not want to see. If your child is playing an active role in bullying another child, you must address the situation with your child directly. This can be as simple as having a conversation with him or her, explaining that the actions or choice of words are hurtful and affecting another child's well-being. Or it can be a situation that may require professional help to identify the root cause. The education team at the school can help guide you, but you need to be willing to listen, whether you are the parent of the bully or the child being bullied.
Schools should be a safe haven for all students. A place where children can exchange ideas, learn, play and create memories that will last a lifetime. We all have a role in the school system to ensure that they do exactly that.