Bullying refers to the use of strength or power to frighten or hurt weaker people. (Dictionaries, 2023)
I recently came across an account on bullying that took me by surprise. It wasn’t the act of bullying but the way the parents handled it that caught me off-guard. It was the first time I had ever heard of such an approach.
James is a quiet and reserved boy who loves helping those who are in need. When he entered primary school, his friends took advantage of his kindness and started bullying him. He had a classmate who was bigger in size compared to him, and bullied him often. He pushed James around and caused him hurt by pinching him. He also poured water on James out of his own bottle. Fearing that he would be bullied further, James did not dare to raise this to his teacher. Fortunately, because of the close relationship he has with his parents, he shared with them these incidents as soon as he got home every single time.
One would have expected his parents to fly into a rage and even lodge a police report because of the physical harm that was caused, but they did not.
I know that I can approach the school anytime
James’s father had a close relationship with the school because he was part of the parent support group. It gave him the confidence that he could go to the school to ask for assistance on this matter and it would be a better solution than to take matters into his own hands.
James also highlighted to his father that this boy was his classmate after all, and he did not wish to escalate the matter. His father took his advice.
There is wisdom in this approach. Escalating the matter could make things awkward for James to continue to be in the same classroom, because he would not know how to face this friend that his father had lodged a formal complaint against. And it would probably create more stress for James eventually.
Communication and education are better solutions to bullying, rather than punishment.
By punishing we will not learn
Rather than to get the form teacher to punish the boy harshly, James’s father requested for the bully to be counselled and educated on the detrimental effects of bullying. He also reiterated to the teacher that he does not wish for the bully to be punished. He believes that communication and education are better solutions in the long term. He was right.
This father’s story was a breath of fresh air. I realised that he was not only concerned about what his son had gone through, but he was also concerned about what the other boy would learn. He wanted to protect his child, and he also wanted the boy to learn what is right.
Often as parents, we tend to jump into the situation to defend our child. This is the parental instinct to protect our young in times of danger. But James’s father taught me to go one step further, to not only protect my child but also to champion what is right.
Punishing the child will only reiterate that what he did was wrong. It does not solve the root issue that he is going through. It does not equip the child with the right handles to relate to a classmate, to express his emotions in a safe manner. Communicating and educating does. It helps the child process why he acts in a certain manner, and it trains the child to think of how his actions impact others. This will result in real and lasting change.
This sharing has given me a fresh perspective on bullying, and a good one.
Bullying occurs anywhere, but children are a more vulnerable group. Especially younger children in the preschool and lower primary range, who may be unable to defend themselves.
Educating a child about bullying helps them process why they may act in a certain manner, and trains them to think of how his actions impact others.
While discussing this topic with some of my friends who are teachers in a preschool and primary school, they shared with me some very practical handles.
Tacking bullying in young children:
1. Safety first
Get away to a safe place. Do not engage or retaliate because it might result in more injuries. Go to a place where there are adults.
2. Seek help
Find a reliable adult, whether it is a teacher or parent, and seek help. Get them involved so that they can handle the situation. Adults are equipped with the knowledge and ability to deal with these matters in a safe manner.
3. Look out for changes in child’s behaviour
More often than not, young children are not able to articulate the stresses that they are undergoing. However, it shows up in their behaviors such as: Loss of appetite, isolation, emotional instability, overwhelming fear etc. These are major signs that your child may be going through something in school.
4. Get the full picture
Children do not have an accurate concept of time, and they also are not able to remember entirely what had happened. It is best to speak with their teachers to find out what exactly happened before deciding the best course of action. Relying on their words alone may not be helpful.
5. Work towards a win-win situation
Work together with the teacher for a win-win situation. It is not only important to protect the child, but also to ensure that there is a real and lasting change.
Bullying has to be corrected, not just prevented.
For privacy reasons, pseudonyms were used in this article.