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Victims and Bullies

How to handle a difficult situation that makes your blood boil

Boy screaming in anger

The occasional ‘wedgie’, flushing your head down the school toilet, sticking a ‘kick me’ sign on the back of someone’s shirt and possibly using the all time classic calling someone who wears glasses ‘four eyes’, all seemed like a bit of routine fun when I was at school. Often this took place between mates who all got each other back from time to time. But, of course, some kids were targeted relentlessly, horribly and that was definitely not ok.

Right, before we go any further, let’s get bullying straight. Bullying is the repeated harassment, abuse, intimidation, of individuals or groups, especially those considered weaker or vulnerable in some way.

‘Repeated’ being the operative word. Your child may have got into an argument with someone, or been left out of something, been injured or been ridiculed, which happens often in school.

Isolated incidents are not really bullying since they don’t happen over and over again. These sorts of things happen all the time in schools. This does not mean that you do nothing about it, but it is important to know the right way to handle this with the school in order to do what’s right for all involved.

a book about stop bullying

Victim or Bully?

It’s important to note that some children naturally play the ‘victim’ and may even self exclude themselves from groups and embellish events in order to get attention. In primary school aged children we see this a lot and it can be made worse by the parent.

For example, your child comes home and says their friends didn’t let them sit with them at lunchtime (for some kids this is not the case and they just choose to self exclude). You being the protective parent gush over them making them feel loved and protected. Children enjoy this and so may say things of a similar nature each day to receive that same treatment.

Some parents fish for negative information asking their child, ‘What happened today? Was anybody mean to you?’. Your child might search for any negative occurrences so they can give you feedback they think you are looking for.

As each day seems to bring only negatives because that’s what you are ‘interrogating’ them for, the cycle goes on, and both you and your child begin to feel only negative things happen. So, instead ask, ‘Tell me about your day’. This open ended question will allow your child to tell you both good and bad without feeling the need that they only have to find something bad that happened.

But unfortunately for some bullying is a real occurrence and if not nipped in the bud, can lead to some serious consequences down the track

group of children teasing a girl

How To Handle It

Let’s look at what to do when you think your child might be being bullied. They may tell you openly about an individual or group that constantly picks on them. It may be less obvious and they begin to become withdrawn, sad, unwilling to talk. Seeing these signs and being able to talk openly without judgment with your children is extremely important.

Ask your child to explain in their own words what has been happening without trying to lead them by ‘putting words in their mouth’. Listen carefully and then ask for the following information:

  • how long and how often it has been happening

  • what usually happens before the incident takes place

  • where do the incidents usually occur and who is involved

  • what happens afterwards

And let them finish. This will give you a clear picture of their side of events. Comfort them, summarise back to them your interpretation (like a waiter reads back your order before handing to the chef).

Contact the school, do not try to contact the other children involved or their parents. This escalates things and never ends well. Trust me, it doesn’t (unless of course they’re close personal friends).

Set up a face to face meeting with your child’s class teacher. They are the first port of call. If face to face is not available, a telephone conversation is next best. Recommend you don’t email as these can be misinterpreted due to lack of tone and expression, you also might not get feedback for a few days.

Try not to be over emotional, especially with the teacher. It might be the first time they’ve been made aware of it. Explain the details with the teacher remembering this is only your child’s version of events and children can embellish or lie (yes, your child too). They might be your angel, but even they can be little xxxx at school.

The teacher may need time to look into this and those involved. Ask them to keep you in the loop and feedback to you when they have looked into it.

If after the teacher has looked into it and says it has been resolved but the bullying continues, take it up with them again.

If you are still not satisfied then take it up the chain of command. The deputy is usually the next port of call and they often have the role of dealing with these issues anyway. If the matter still hasn’t resolved then of course you take it to the principal. Just don’t escalate to them straight away without taking the other steps.

Hopefully, the school uses a model called ‘Restorative Practice’ which is one of the best methods of resolving all of these types of issues.

Scrabble tiles spelling Bully

Put That Finger of Blame Back In Your Pocket

Now it’s fair to say that we don’t know everyone’s story and that we shouldn’t judge without having all the facts. Here’s a situation that is quite relevant in this regard.

Your child comes home and says a girl 11 years old punched them, then pushed all the books off their desk onto the floor and ran out of the classroom. They tell you she’s always bullying others and is really horrible and that the teacher did nothing about it.

Your blood starts to boil, you want justice, this kid has to be suspended or expelled, you go in all guns blazing. The teacher tells you that the school is handling matters and to leave it with them. They might not be able to tell you anything more at that stage due to confidentiality reasons.

Pointing finger

The Other Side of the Story

Now here’s the side of the story you didn’t know. This 11 year old girl, lives with her dad. Her parents are divorced. Her mum is in hospital with terminal cancer and she spends all her spare time there when she can. Her alcoholic father is working part time and struggling to make ends meet.

Your child may have inadvertently triggered her in one way or even made a snide comment, and given that this child is barely able to hold her shattered world together she lashes out. If the school suspends her she would be going home to a situation now terrified that her dad will have to take time off work to look after her meaning he can’t work, putting more stress on the whole situation.

Chances are the school is working with childhood services and all other resources at their disposal to solve this situation. Hopefully, this was a one off incident with your child and that it will be resolved swiftly. Tell your child to give this girl some space and keep away from her. Unfortunately for the other child, what they probably need more than anything else is a friend, but due to their circumstances they find it hard to know how to.

man doing yoga

Cool as a Cucumber

It’s important to maintain a calm, loving manner when dealing with your child if they’re being bullied. If you fly off the handle raging about how this bully deserves the worst and getting angry, there’s a possibility your child will start to withhold information because they don’t like seeing you upset. If they stop communicating with you, the situation could get worse, so be open and encouraging even if it’s hard to do so. It's not always obvious what the deeper issues are when dealing with victims and bullies, which is why it's important to get the information before jumping in the deep end.

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