Several months ago – the unthinkable happened to us. We found out that Emilie had been bullied at school. When we had found out, it was already going on for quite a while and Emilie was exploding with emotions that at the time, she didn’t know how to cope with. I was beside myself. I missed the signs. Didn’t protect my baby. And she being an only child at the time, was so hard up for friends that no matter what anyone did to her. She wanted friends. People to play with and talk to. Sometimes it meant that her friends would boss her around and she would let them. I saw it and didn’t realise that already I was allowing her to be the victim.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to be a kid nowadays. There are all these expectations, from friends, parents, teachers, society. Their bodies are changing. They are noticing things they never noticed before. Which means, as parents we need to be more aware, alert and prepared to help and assist our children when faced with these difficult situations. We need to equip our child to know the difference between a friend and someone who makes a habit of making them feel bad about themselves. To teach them that this is in fact not ok.
Earlier this year Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga revealed that South African children are the most bullied children in the world. Here are signs to look out for:
- The most obvious signs you would think would be bruises and injuries. Yet, I think this is the most overlooked sign. Emilie for example, is always coming home with bruises. She always has – she is a tom boy, this means I wont as easily notice “bruising”
- Sudden changes in behaviour, such as being withdrawn or moody
- Feeling sick often
- A general feeling of not being good enough – with regard to school work, sports and just activities in general
- Seems more clingy around you, doesn’t want to be alone
- Has few friends or avoids social interactions, going out to parties etc.
- Intense emotional reactions or unexpected or overexerted emotional reactions
I remember when it actually happened to us, I couldn’t remember any signs. Retrospectively though they were there, she was asking for help I just didn’t realise it at the time. Picture a broken hearted mom, with a child that was being bullied. You can imagine all I wanted to do was go and just bleep bloop bleep that kid. This is not an appropriate reaction by the way.
The most important thing you can do for your child once you find out they have been bullied is to make sure that they understand that it is not their fault. That children or people who treat you badly are never ever a reflection of who you are. Strategies that can help kids cope with bullies are:
- Try to avoid the bully and stay with a buddy – so that you are never alone.
- Bullies are trying to upset you. Ignore them as much as possible.
- Tell an adult – teachers, principal, parents, family can all help you stop the bullying
- Talk about it – so that you will feel less alone and more supported
The biggest effect bullying has had on Emilie has been her confidence. To build and restore this for her we do a lot of asserting, and try to focus on efforts more than outcomes. I still watch her and worry about all the things and people I cannot protect her from. She’s not as confident as I would like her to be – but sometimes I think that helps me to be a better parent. The knowing that she needs me to be more. I truthfully am not always the more I would like to be. But my heart is always in the right place.