Australia rates among the highest in the world when it comes to bullying in schools. In fact, it’s estimated that around one in four Australian school-aged children experience bullying at some stage. And this doesn’t account for unreported cases, writes Clinical Psychologist and Mind Expert, Leanne Hall.
We also know that for older children, especially teenagers, bullying is a significant risk factor for serious mental health issues including depression and anxiety.
Although schools do have a duty of care and responsibility when it comes to managing bullying behaviour, parents are often in a situation where they feel helpless. Where there is a systemic failure or an inadequate response from schools (which can occur for many reasons), this acts as a double trauma for victims.
In other words, they suffer victimisation by the bully (trauma 1), in addition to feeling unsafe and unprotected (trauma 2). This is why it’s important for parents to be armed with skills in how to “bully-proof” their child or teenager, whether it's face-to-face or cyberbullying.
So what can parents do?
1. Promote acceptance
As a parent ,it can be frustrating to see your child/teen experiment with different “identities”. Whether it’s their choice in music, clothing or hairstyle – this experimentation is both normal and necessary.
Promoting acceptance not only in what your child is doing, but in others promotes self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is a prerequisite for a positive self-esteem. This is important because we know that bullies often target victims who lack confidence.
2. Encourage communication
“Coaching” your child through difficult situations (such as peer conflicts), as opposed to telling them what to do promotes self-confidence and independence. It teaches problem solving skills.
By taking this approach, children are much more likely to open up and talk about what’s going on for them.
3. Allow space to process ALL emotions
Negative emotions are uncomfortable, and no parent wants to see their child/teen distressed or angry. Unfortunately, if a parent reacts in a negative way to their child expressing these emotions, they will learn that these emotions are not acceptable. However, they are VERY normal.
By allowing children/teens to express their emotions without judgement, parents can teach and guide them through. This is one way to increase your child’s emotional intelligence, and their ability to be assertive.
4. Encourage and support positive peer relationships
Given that bullies tend to target victims who lack confidence and are isolated – encouraging positive peer relationships is another way to bully-proof your child/teen.
It also gives them a benchmark for how they should expect to be treated, and a support network to lean on if they are approached by a bully. Having said that, bullies typically only ever target a victim one on one.
5. Focus on your child's/teen's strengths
One of the best ways to build positive self-esteem is to encourage and support your child’s/teen’s strengths. It may be a particular skill or ability or an aspect of their personality. Learning to be confident in their strengths enables children/teens to use these to compensate for what they may not be so good at.
For example, it’s ok to be not so good at sport, if you are confident that you have a great sense of humour. No-one is good at everything, and that’s totally OK!
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