Is your child being bullied?

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Most parents know that bullying is a serious issue. However, many don’t realise that it can start at a very young age, sometimes even in the nursery school years. At this stage, bullying behaviour is often dismissed as ‘just kids being kids’, but it is actually never acceptable for one child to repeatedly hurt another.

No matter your child’s age, if you suspect that your son or daughter is being picked on, pushed around, taunted or shunned by a peer – trust your instincts and set time aside to investigate the issue. The last thing you want is for your kid’s self-esteem to be dented or for school to become a scary place.

According to the experts, children bully each other for various reasons. Some kids imitate the negative behaviour of their siblings and parents, while others turn to bullying to get attention from their teachers or peers.

While accidents and squabbles do happen on the playground, bullying is a systematic behaviour that hurts a child, either physically or emotionally. This includes name-calling and verbal insults, social exclusion, spreading rumours, biting, scratching, pushing, punching and kicking. Unfortunately, not all kids are able to ask for help when incidents like this occur. Some feel helpless, some feel ashamed, while others are scared that mom or dad could react in a way that will only make their situation worse.

Is your child affected by bullying? Look for these warning signs:

  • Sudden reluctance or refusal to go to school, or a lack of interest in school work. Younger children may cry at drop-off time.
  • Not wanting to socialise with a child or group of peers that your little one once enjoyed playing with previously.
  • Faking illness or complaining of a sore tummy or headache more often than you’re comfortable with.
  • Changes in behaviour and mood, such as becoming uncharacteristically withdrawn, depressed, anxious or clingy.
  • Bruises, scrapes and bumps that your child can’t or won’t explain.
  • Changes in eating habits, like a loss of appetite, eating more than usual or often coming home hungry (bullying can happen at lunchbreak, preventing your child from eating a school snack).
  • Disrupted sleep or frequent nightmares.
  • Self-depreciating comments, such as “I’m stupid” or “No-one wants to be my friend”.

If you recognise these signs and you suspect that your child may be dealing with a bully at school, crèche or on the playground, take time to sit down with your son or daughter and chat about it. Try to find out as many details as you can so that you can take action decisively.

Whatever you hear, be sure to take your child seriously and show your love and support. Also, try to stay calm – you’re the adult in the situation and you want your child to see the value in confiding in a grown-up. If you take out your anger on your child’s teacher or the suspected bully, you may make the situation even worse for your kid.

If relevant, set up a meeting with the teacher, caregiver or relevant parent and discuss a solution to the problem. If you’re unable to reach one, consider moving classes or even schools – or find a new playground.

It is important to note that these warning signs can also point to other issues, so do seek the help of a trained medical professional if bullying is ruled out yet the signs continue or intensify.