To begin, let me say I was bullied throughout my schooling, both at primary and secondary level. This is a subject I approach very seriously. I have taught for years and I have seen many approaches to the bullying issue – most fail. I am also a keen observer and student of the human condition, particularly since I became a mother. All of what I am about to say is based on science, not parenting myth. But if youwant verification, all you have to do, is go to a playground and closely watch how people interact.
In my experience, apart from children who come from backgrounds of absolute neglect, there is one key group of children who are bullied. It has nothing to do with temperament. The children I call Owls, who others might call shy, can be as resilent and self-assured as others with more social temperaments.Being a victim of bullying has a lot to do with parenting style. As this group of parents also suffer easily from guilt, I apologise in advance. The key is to take any sense of guilt and transform it into energy for change.
(NB I work backwards: I found childrenwho hadn’ t ever had issues with bullying, and these were the kinds of things their parents had done when raising them.)
1. Forget about the bully. They will have a Childish Parent The Childish Parent of some kind and aren’t going to change any time soon. They are not your concern, your child is.
2. Make sure the adults in charge of the setting are dealing with any issues appropriately, do they use Circle of Concern? ( http://www.education.unisa.edu.au/bullying/concern.html)
How they deal with small issues (Children Bullying and Telling Tales: The Link ) is a great indicator. If they aren’t you will probably need to change school/daycare etc, but you’ve got to get the right place – otherwise things are just going to repeat themselves. (I know it’s not fair that the victim has to move and not the bully, it’s about protecting the victim first.) The key when you choose the next one is the amount of calm you notice. (The calmer the environment, the more likely the adults understand and are managing the children in their care.) Children should be purposely active, not manically active; the FEWER colours the better; and the FEWER toys and acitivities available the better. There should ideally be NO electronic noise or music either. It might be difficult to find somewhere like this, so look into alternatives like Homeschooling, Montessori and Steiner. There’s no harm in reading and asking questions. Ask lots of questions.
3. Include a Day Story (Autobiography: Why you need to have one.) as a regular part of your routine.
4. Check if your child is likely to be vulnerable to bullying. The key is their ability to make steady eye-contact with their mothers. This is not a licence to demand eye-contact, children who bullies tend to avoid naturally have great eye-contact – at least with their mothers, regardless of temperament. It’s a symptom of resilience. Make sure your eye-contact with them is warm and non-intrusive. Let them break eye-contact every time they want to. Encourage eye-contact as good manners, but never force it or be intense about it.
5. Deal with any lying that your child does. Yes, they do lie. All children lie. Pull them up on it – every time. (When Children Lie)
6. Take control of basic parenting situations – it gives children a sense of security. Don’t buy rubbish food, remove all fizzy from the house. Children will eat well if they only have healthy food available – and no alternatives. Be wary of making Owls eat wheat, eggs, dairy fish, etc if they have a natural aversion to them – broccoli, sprouts and zucchini are still fair game – at least have these on the plate and get them to lick the food (it can take 50 or more tastes to add a new food to their repitoire). Have early bedtimes, about 40 minutes before you think they should be asleep. 20 mintues for general mucking around, 10 minutes for story and cuddles, 3 minutes for them to tell you anything they need to tell you and 7 minutes to get to sleep. Our five year old has a 6.30pm bedtime, our nine year old a 7.15pm bedtime. (Three year olds dropping their last sleep are another matter for another blog.) Say No rarely, but mean it. Use “I’ll think about it” if you would usually say no and back-down. Demand the use of manners, and don’t do anything for a child who is rude.
7. Eat at least one meal together a day as a family, around a table with no TV, radio or phone on. Have children prepare food with you as much as possible. Even better have a family vegetable garden.
8. Increase the amount of non-electronic play your children do each day. Ideally get rid of all electronic entertainment for children under nine and minimise it for those over nine (say one hour a week for a nine year old, two hours a week for a ten year old etc) . Reduce or remove all extra-curricular activities for under nines, except swimming. Keep the number of activities for over nines to a two or three a week. Play with them more – but enter their world, this is not a time for teaching or control or boundary setting (apart from basic safety). Have daily rough and tumble, especially for boys, but also for girls. Have weekly tickle fests, but stop when they want to stop. Never, ever carry on when they are over it.
9. Make sure children between 18 months and school age mix more than once a week with other children. This does not mean children should be separated from their mothers – old fashioned coffee-groups are perfect, especially if there are one or two unpleasant children involved.
10. Stop forcing them to cuddle you. They are not there for your personal gratification. Yes, ask. Yes, be available to hug most times. Yes, learn to give great Boring Cuddles. Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing
11. Stop fussing when they hurt themselves or are about to hurt themselves. Yes, you do feel it more than some other parents: it’s all to do with your own wiring. The key is not to be overwhelmed by your emotions. Give Boring Cuddles without speaking, and don’t warn a child they are about to hurt themselves (unless death is going to be a possible outcome) -they may not, and learning to deal with pain, in a healthy way, is a good thing.
12. Remove all cellphones, facebook pages etc. Be firm, don’t give into emotional blackmail. They might say they hate you, underneath they’ll appreciate the break. But have their friends around more often. Have homework dates for older children. Play board games rather than computer games. Put the time in, but be childish – pull pranks, trick them, have them on. For older children, including teens, pull out their old lego and dolls and see what happens.
13. If your child is younger than nine start bed-sharing. No, it’s not bad. Yes, you might have to have sex in the lounge. Yes, it could take up to six months for the kicking to stop. Yes, you might have to avoid some questions. Yes, you will have to keep doing it every night, for years. Yes, there will be times when it’s a pain (vomitting and night-wetting etc). If your child is older than nine, or you just can’t bring yourself to fully bed-share at least stay with them while they go to sleep, and allow them to come into your bed at night if they are worried. For younger teens sit on the end of the bed, and say nothing. Just be there.
Bully-proofed children are self-assured and resilent, they are rarely victims. They make great choices with friends, and they find each other even in the toughest of settings. I am well aware that many of these suggestions go against the grain for many parents: think of it like losing weight – life changes not temporary solutions. Also, expect that the first month will be hard work: you’re all unlearning and relearning, just keep consciously making the changes. Few current bullying programmes work: perhaps, in the end, it’s time to think outside the box.
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Copyright: Karyn Van Der Zwet