Wed | May 22, 2019

Spotting signs of bullying in your child

Published:Saturday | September 30, 2017 | 12:00 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston


"Did someone hurt you

Make you feel small

You take it out on me

'Cause it makes you feel tall

I bet you're scared and alone

If you looked in my eyes, you'd see

Hey, bully, you're a lot like me"

- Hey Bully by Morgan Frazier

On Sunday, September 24, The Sunday Gleaner published a touching story written by Nadine Wilson Harris titled 'Bullied to death's door', which described the ordeal of a 13-year-old's mother who had to watch helplessly as 57 pills were pumped from her daughter's stomach.

Her daughter was the target of bullies, but the mother did not know how deep the hurt was and how badly affected her daughter was by it all.

That mother is just one of the many parents in Jamaica whose children are facing these kinds of traumatic situations in schools. While some will come home and talk about it, other children might internalise until they deal with it in their own way - such as this 13-year-old chose to do.

However, close monitoring can reveal what the child won't say. Family & Religion reached out to Kaysia Kerr, newly appointed head of the National Parenting Support Commission.

Kerr shared that when a child becomes withdrawn or is unwilling to talk about his/her peers or schoolmates, this could be an indication that something is wrong at school.

"Oftentimes, children who are being bullied become quiet and do not want to give details about their daily encounters at school. Especially for children who are entering high school for the first time, bullying is, unfortunately, sometimes considered part of the initiation process," said Kerr.




She pointed out that parents need to first learn how to probe and not readily accept monosyllabic answers to questions like, 'How was your day?'. Sometimes a change in tone is a clear giveaway that something is wrong.

"Parents need to look for signs of withdrawal or anxiety and not take them lightly. Parents can influence children's response to bullying by first initiating conversations about it. They need to define for their children what it means to be bullied and come up with a responsible plan of action should it occur," states Kerr.

Once there is an imbalance of strength and/or power between two parties and the stronger or more powerful party decides to use that advantage to cause unease, it is bullying, said Kerr.

To deal with this, Kerr said the plan of action should include dual reporting. Children should find an authority figure at school and explain to that person what is happening.

"Notwithstanding, sometimes when children express their discomfort regarding their encounters with their peers to school leaders, the incidents are considered trite or insignificant and so children stop complaining and the bullying continues. For this reason, it is important that children also tell their parents so that parents can follow-up with the school on how those matters are being addressed," said Kerr.




However, Kerr said in some cases there won't be telltale signs as some children devise their own mechanisms to deal with bullying.

"Although the signs might not be visible, it does not mean that children do not feel apprehension and discomfort while at school. A child might choose not to talk to his/her parent about being bullied as he/she might believe that the parent's involvement will make things worse," she said, adding that the responsibility is on parents to protect their children.

"They should explain to children the importance of their safety and happiness. When children decide to share experiences, they want to know that parents will understand and not ridicule them. Boys especially do not need to be called 'soft' or 'sissy'. They must trust that whatever they are going through will be respected and that they will get support," shared Kerr.

An important thing that children also need, according to Kerr, is consistency from their parents.

"Do not tell children that you will, for example, come to school and speak with the teacher and then not show up. Words must be consistent with actions," she said.




For parents who have nothing but an instinct to go on, Kerr said they need to trust it.

For her, if the parent thinks that something is wrong, generally, something is wrong.

"Parents need to assure their children that they are there for them irrespective of how grave the matter might be. The family is the first meaningful structure in a child's life. Therefore, when children feel anxious, any form of discomfort, and when they feel vulnerable and insecure they need to be assured with kind supportive words coupled with responsible actions so they will know for sure that their feelings matter and they are not alone," she said.

Some parents are of the opinion that children are too young to be stressed. Kerr debunked that myth as she said children can experience stress as they are people too.

"Sometimes, parents give children way too much credit as they believe children have superior resilience. Children are sometimes greatly stressed. Adults place a lot of expectations on children and this along with mounting pressure at school can be very stressful," she said.