This article was written by Ann Camilleri (B.A Psychology).
Ann is a Manager at The Inspire Foundation in Gozo
Why does this person say such hateful things to me?
Am I different?
Should I tell someone or will this bully harm me?
These may be some questions running through the minds of children who are unfortunately picked on by bullies. As parents, we do our utmost to protect our children. However, within the confines of the school, playground or even the Internet, we may find ourselves unable to defend our child.
We may not be aware about the fear-inducing bully trying to break our child’s spirit. In fact, a small-scale study co-authored by Prof. Carmel Cefai, the head of the Department of Psychology and director for Centre for Resilience and Socio-Emotional Health at the University of Malta, suggests that one-third of Maltese students experience bullying and Prof. Cefai suspects that many instances of bullying that are directed towards a person with a disability, go unreported.
It is not a helpless situation though. There are tools that can empower your child to protect him/herself from the bully. Bully-proofing starts at home. By keeping the following in mind, you can teach your child to avoid becoming the victim of a bully in just a few simple steps.
- Intimidation is at the crux of the bullying act. It is an abuse of power on a physical, verbal and psychological level and is very common amongst children and adolescents. Needless to say that fear is the source of the bully’s power. To mitigate this power, we must instill in our children emotional resilience – a silent confidence so to speak. This starts within the family as strength within our children comes from us, as parents, accepting our children as they are, no matter how different from us they are, or how we expected them to be. Celebrate your child’s unique qualities and make him more confident in who he or she is. Modeling confident behavior is another way to help empower our children. Children tend to imitate parents and other people they admire – and this confidence is key in thwarting the bully. Because bullies are typically on the lookout for victims that lack self-confidence and they are looking to exploit their weaknesses.
- Encourage your child to talk about it. You can teach your child to seek help when needed and not to give in to the fear the bully is propagating. Keeping the issue from family, teacher or anyone else that may help him/her, can have a serious impact on the cycle of abuse perpetrated by the bully. Stop the cycle and encourage your child to speak out.
- Buddying up with other children can be another defense for your child as lonely kids are more likely to be bullied. Remember, a bully thrives on power and can only acquire this from another that he has backed into a corner out of fear. Paired or in groups, a bully will think twice about getting into a power battle while being outnumbered from the start.
- Role play with a child on how he/she can stand up to a bully. Teach your child to be assertive and to say ‘ no’. Your child can maintain his/her dignity, say ‘no thank you’, count to ten, and stay calm. Sometimes this ‘no’ is all it takes to break that power cycle.
- Should the cycle of abuse start deteriorating your child’s happiness at school, don’t try to fight the battle on your own, but don’t take matters into your own hands either. Get your child’s teacher and headmaster involved. They would be most able to reach out to the parents of the bully child and provide some solutions to best protect your child and stop the bully in his tracks.
- If the child has difficulties in communication and social skills because of a disability and is unable to tell anyone about it, then it is important for parents, teachers and peers alike to be vigilant and become the voice for these children.
Bullying is a prevalent occurrence in our children’s lives whether on the playground, at school or in the cyber world. It is our responsibility as adults to do all we can to thwart bullying of our children by talking about it, empowering our children and seeking help. Speak out and stomp it out!
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Inspire Foundation is the advocate voice for inclusion of persons with disability and through education of parents, peers and the general public seeks to bring awareness of the challenges encountered by persons with disability.