Article by Justin Coulson.
See his Happy Families blog here or follow Justin’s twitter.
More than two thirds of girls under the age of 10 are bullied, according to a study recently completed by the Girl Guides association of Australia.
Here is a frightening audio example of just how serious it can get.
According to a report in the SMH “68 per cent aged between five and nine reporting that that they had been bullied, many of them online. One fifth of those aged 10 to 14 had also experienced bullying and some 65 per cent said that reports in the media made them worry for their own safety.”
The study pointed out the significant challenges associated with cyber-bullying and the use of mobile telephones.
Bullying and teasing occurs in every school yard (and many families) every single day.
Cruel remarks that are delivered to ridicule, taunt, embarrass, and make fun of a victim are common, and are unfortunately accepted as part of life. Parents need effective strategies to help their child overcome the mockery, and bounce back with a resilient mindset. The internet and mobile technology have enlarged the probability that your children will be involved, either as bully, or bullied.
Each case is unique, and should be treated accordingly. Below are three common mistakes parents make when dealing with children upset by teasing, and three simple strategies for providing a supportive environment that buffers your child from the harm teasing can cause. (It is important to note that if threats of serious harm are made, they should be taken seriously and acted on immediately. Intimidatory behaviour is never acceptable).
Mistake 1 – Dismissive Responding
“Oh get over it.”
“Well if you’re going to listen to that, or play with them, it’s your own fault.”
Children who are being teased, harrassed, or bullied will often come to parents for support. Parents who are dismissive are often trying to ‘harden up’ their child, but may reduce resilience by failing to provide needed support.
Mistake 2 – Retaliation
A nine year-old boy was told by his father, “If he’s mean to you again tomorrow, punch him in the nose”.
An eleven year-old girl was told by her mother, “You tell her she’s a rude little cow if she treats you like that again.”
While fighting fire with fire may seem logical in the heat of the moment, retaliation rarely resolves concerns in relationships. Clever comebacks only create an ongoing contentious spiral of teasing and hurt.
Mistake 3 – Ignore it and it Will Go Away
Passivity is unhelpful. Shrugging our shoulders, turning our back, or failing to address the issues will not meet the needs of our children. Ignoring our child’s plight will leave her feeling isolated, lonely, and questioning her value as a person.
Here are three strategies to use when your child is being teased:
1. Be Emotionally Available
Kids who have parents that are emotionally available are far more likely to have positive relationships with others (among a multitude of other benefits). Kids whose parents are not emotionally available are more likely to have negative relationships with others.
If your child is being teased, take time to simply be with him or her. Listen. Don’t offer advice. Just be there as an emotionally safe place.
2. Perspective Taking
Chloe and Lilly were best friends and in second grade. Lilly was crying because Chloe had hit her. After her mother took some time to be emotionally available, Lilly calmed down. Her mother asked why Chloe hit her. Lilly replied, “I don’t know.”
Her mother then said, “Let’s do a little experiment. I want you to pretend that you’re Chloe. Imagine I asked you, as Chloe, why you hit Lilly. What would you say to me if you were Chloe and I asked you that?”
Sheepishly Lilly replied, “That Lilly was teasing me about how she could see my undies.”
Through perspective taking, parents can gain insight into how their children feel. They can also develop the skill of perspective taking in their children to discover other important aspects of relationships in the school yard that their children may be less willing to share through typical questioning.
3. Strategise Together
When teasing is creating distress, children need parents who are available, and who want to help. But helping too much may not allow our children to develop important relationship skills. We may also undermine their decision making development.
It can be helpful to offer reassurance, and then invite your child to consider useful solutions. Often the answers are inside them, and will come out if they know we, as parents, are available to them.
Kindness, patience, and invitations to be friends are often far more effective in restoring friendship than aggressive practices, and as we strategies it will be useful to guide our children toward these types of mutually beneficial responses.