Bullying is a serious problem.

There are various reports and surveys on bullying which report between 46% and 74% of young people will experience bullying at some point. Sometimes this is relatively minor, however, the majority of the time it is not. Bullying by it’s very nature is most frequently an ongoing campaign which has dire, long-term affects on its victims. 76% of students reported that they felt mentally hurt by bullying, and a disturbing 30% felt that it made them feel suicidal.

Obviously the real damage bullying does is not the bruises but the damage to a child’s self-esteem. Sadly damage to a child’s self-esteem in these formative years is often carried for a lifetime.

Think for a second about how their self-esteem effects their decisions, who they spend time with who they will date and what they aspire to, both now and in the future.

Spotting the signs

The challenge for us as adults is that children and especially teens don’t often tell parents or report incidences to teachers or authorities. We can’t wrap our children in cotton wool or jump to the conclusion that they are the victims of bullying at the first instance of any change in behaviour. However, we do need to look out for warning signs and also react appropriately, so they feel comfortable in continuing to talk with us about incidents.

Here are some signs of bullying:

  • Belongings getting “lost” or damaged
  • Physical injuries such as unexplained bruises
  • Being afraid to go to school, being mysteriously ‘ill’ each morning, or skipping school
  • Not doing as well at school
  • Asking for, or stealing, money (to give to a bully)
  • Being nervous, losing confidence, or becoming distressed and withdrawn
  • Problems with eating or sleeping
  • Bullying others

Bullying is not always physical

Name calling, teasing, undermining or social exclusion are all forms of bullying which can be just as bad as physical assaults. Girls are much more likely to be emotionally bullied or to be emotional bullies.

What to do if your child is bullied

We must take a calm and considered approach to ensure that we are working towards the best solution possible. As a parent there are two major mistakes to avoid:

1. Overreacting

It is easy as a protective parent to storm into school and kick up a fuss or even tell off the other child yourself. This may work in some cases but it can often make things worse, as you cannot always be there to protect your child and your conspicuous involvement may cause repercussions like:

  • The further lowering your child’s self-esteem because they now feel like they can’t protect themselves and rely on you to protect them, or
  • It may result in an escalation of attacks or incidents either because of a new “mummy’s boy” type avenue of teasing or out of a more sinister escalation of their campaign to dissuade your child from talking to you or other authorities again.

2. The wrong advice

While it is essential to stand up to your bullies, to show you are not afraid and they will get no satisfaction from you, the classic parental advice of “punch them in the nose” may well be very bad advice. In generally bullies do not pick on people they think they can’t intimidate or beat. So if your child reluctantly takes the advice of punching them in the nose and the punch is ineffective what happens next? Your child has now escalated the situations into a serious fight with a bigger, stronger bully who now has something to prove to on-lookers.

In self-defence you should not escalate a situation unless you are certain the situation is about to escalate anyway and escape is impossible.

Obviously, if you are reading this your child trains in Shinkyu Martial Arts, our goal is to train your child to be able to stand up to the bigger, stronger bully, but depending on how long and how hard they have been training for your child might not be up to that level yet. It’s worth noting that the real advantage of getting good at self-defence and martial arts is that your child becomes more confident and assertive resulting in bullies leaving them alone in the first place.

We are not saying your child shouldn’t strike back but only if escape is not possible and the situation is almost certainly going to escalate into striking anyway.

There are lots of ways your child can stand up for themselves and show bullies that they are no longer going to be a victim without escalating the situation into violence.

So what should you do?

Bullying can take so many forms and every child and every bully is different so sadly there is no one size fits all solution. Resultantly the first major key to resolving any bullying situation is understanding what is going on and who is involved. The first step is to talk to your child.

Talk at length with your child about:

  • The bully or bullies: Who they are? How old? How big are they?  Do they bully others? What are their motives if known? Why have they chosen to pick on your child?
  • Details of the incidents, what exactly happened, when, where, who was present etc
  • It is very important to learn how and why the bullying started as discovering the cause may be a major key to finding a solution
  • And how it makes them feel

Knowing and understanding more is a very big help in developing the best possible solutions. Get as much detail as possible.

Try not to be judgemental about your child’s behaviour when they open up to you. It may even be that your child did something they shouldn’t have which started or escalated the situation. If your child confesses something like that try to put that issue aside and continue to work on finding out more about the situation and being solution orientated. Also, praise your child for coming to you and being forthcoming with details. This should be highly encouraged.

Often children will be reluctant to open up to you. Be understanding and persistent, don’t show your frustration, always remind them you are there to listen anytime they want to talk. If you simply can not get anything out of your child then seek external advice call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or Childline 0800 1111 or seek advice online or talk to your child’s instructor.

Once you have a clearer picture you can start to work with your child on a solution. Obviously, their involvement in developing a solution will depend on the age of your child. Rather than trying to impose your idea of what should happen ask your child lots of “what if” questions to guide them to a solution.

It can be tough to work on a solution together, especially if the child feels powerless to stop them or has a defeatist attitude. Work hard to motivate them and work through “what if” scenarios to work out what is the best course of action to take. Often it won’t be an easy process, however, it is important to work together to develop a solution as this empowers your child and they are far more likely to support a course of action they helped come up with.

The most important thing to do is start to keep an “incident log” that you or your child (if they are older) record every instance of bullying behaviour. Record the date, time, location, what happened and also what action has been taken in terms of reporting it to authorities, and any solutions that you or your child have implemented. It is really important to record as much evidence as possible, take photos of all injuries, torn clothing etc. Better yet if your child’s friends can record instances on a mobile phone discreetly this is even better.

Keeping an incident log will be very important with helping authorities take you seriously. It will also help greatly if criminal charges need to be laid.

Here are some options:

Avoid the bullies

Children often overlook this solution but come up with a plan of how to avoid the bullies. Ie make a list of every place you might see them and come up with a plan to avoid them especially in unsupervised areas like toilets. This may involve changing the places your child hangs out both in and out of school. Sometimes this can affect their social lives or be inconvenient like having to change the way they get to and from school but the pros and cons must be balanced out.

Sometimes simple changes like changing where you eat by packing a lunch can really help and simple tactics like stepping out of line or changing seats also really help.

Obviously, there are going to be times and places where bullies can’t be avoided, if possible try to organise these times to be supervised, but at some point, your child is probably going to have to face their bullies and they need to be prepared for it.

Avoiding bullies is always a good strategy but it cannot be the only one. The danger with an extreme avoidance strategy is your child may feel alienated, this may be acceptable for a short period of time while other solutions to make sure the bullying stops, but the effect of being alienated over the long term may be detrimental to your child too. Your child should not grow up in fear, other action must be taken.

Try to minimise the reasons why they may be picking on your child

Obviously, there are some things they cannot change or things that you or your child don’t want to or shouldn’t have to change because they are part of who they are or their personal identity, but there may be other minor things that aren’t really a big deal. Most importantly there may be some behaviours from your child which either instigated or escalated situations.

Talk to the school

Make an appointment preferably at a time when you and your child can speak to teachers or the principal when the bullies are not around. Pass on the details you and your child have discussed and work together with the school on coming up with some solutions.

Talk to the police

It is really important to understand that serious assaults in schools are like assaults anywhere else, they can and should be reported to the police and charges pressed. You should, out of courtesy, talk to your school first before going to the police. Just because an assault takes place at school doesn’t mean the law doesn’t apply.

Talk to the bullies parents

Most parents are horrified to find out their child is a bully, as often they can be blissfully unaware. Often talking to their parents before talking to the school is greatly appreciated by the other parent. Also, parents can sometimes get better results in changing their children’s behaviours than schools, certainly both schools and parents involvement will get even better result together.

Ideally be discrete so that the bullying child does not know that you have spoken to their parents.

Be prepared, sometimes a bully’s parents will either not care or be ineffective at changing their child’s behaviour. Some parents will be quite defensive about it so be prepared with details and notes of exactly what has happened. It is best to meet in a neutral place rather than their home or yours. Often bullies bully more that one child so finds out who the other victims and also witnesses are, talk their parents so they are ready to back up your story.

Make sure when you speak to the bully’s parents that you are solution orientated rather than attacking or persecuting them or their child. Your goal is to form a team with the bullying child’s parents to put an end to the bullying.

Teaching your child how to deal with the bullies

Shinkyu has a 6-week program to help your child deal with bullies, it covers avoidance skills, physical defences but most importantly it teaches how to deal with bullies mentally to minimise the damage they can do and hopefully turn bullies off targeting your child in the first place.

Without a doubt the most important thing you can do is encourage your child to train frequently and train hard. The reality is participating in our 6 week isn’t enough to give your child the skills and confidence to stand up to a really bad bully, but with time training will. And most importantly training will build your child’s self-esteem which will go along way to undo and prevent the emotional damage a bully will try to inflict on them.