Bullying behaviour in our schoolgoing children

By Claire Maher, educational psychologist.

It is important to know how to recognise if your child is being bullied and know which steps to take when it arises within your child’s relationships.

Bullying among children is on the rise in South African schools. It can be physical, verbal (name-calling, taunting, teasing), social (being excluded) or cyber (via social media and online forums). There is no specific blueprint for the type of child who gets bullied – or the type of bully. However, children who are, for example, slightly different, anxious or shy can be easy targets.

The behaviours listed below may be due to reasons other than bullying, but the important thing is to always be aware and to act when necessary.

Signs that may suggest your child could be a victim of bullying:

  • They tell you they’re being bullied.
  • They become more withdrawn.
  • Loses their appetite (or starts eating more than usual).
  • Cries easily.
  • Refuses to go to school.
  • Has trouble sleeping.
  • Starts wetting the bed.
  • Is reported by their teacher to get into fights easily and often.
  • Has unexplained bruises or scratches.
  • Appears to be upset after using their phone.
  • Complains frequently of head or stomach aches.
  • Begins to struggle academically or with concentration.
  • Starts speaking negatively about themselves.
  • Withdraws from social settings or time with specific friends or peers.
  • Their belongings go “missing” regularly.
  • They display self-destructive behaviours such as running away from home, self-injury or talking about suicide.

What you should do or not do:

 Do:

  • Stay engaged and involved in your child’s life – ask questions about their day.
  • Allow your child the freedom to talk about a variety of topics. The more open you are the more likely they will be to approach you.
  • Believe what your child is telling you to be true.
  • Be sensitive and acknowledge your child’s feelings.
  • Model positive behaviour regarding how to handle conflict.
  • Teach morals and acceptance at home.
  • Encourage independence.
  • Equip them with tools to handle the bully.
  • Call the parent of the child in question if worst comes to worst.
  • Monitor your child’s online and social media presence and activity.
  • Communicate with your child’s teacher.
  • Encourage your child’s school to adopt an anti-bullying campaign.
  • Seek professional assistance from a psychologist if necessary.

Don’t:

  • Tell your child they’re being silly or must just ignore it.
  • Leave it and hope it will go away.
  • Tell your child it will make them stronger.
  • Tell your child to fight back.
  • Judge your child or think they’re weak.
  • Panic or become overly emotional. Be there for your child.
  • Catch the bully in the school parking lot and give them a piece of your mind.
  • Bully your own child, even just in jest. Innocent teasing or joking can often be misconstrued.

For the kids

If you’re being bullied at school, here’s what to do:

  • Tell the bully to stop.
  • Don’t respond or retaliate.
  • Tell a teacher or your parent.
  • Keep evidence (especially if you’re being cyberbullied).
  • Don’t hang out near the bully.
  • Don’t feel weak or useless.

Some resources for younger children that deal with bullying behaviour:

books and movies table