Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bullying the bully

Its the start of school season and going back to school is probably peppered with a little trepidation for some of our little ones. Trepidation at the impending prospect of dealing with the officially designated bully in school. I know. My son has had a bitter experience with a friend turned bully last week, which has terrorised him so intensely that he is now refusing to go to school. (Details on my blog) Its been over a week now and thankfully, the rains have been bad enough to keep him at home. But it is scaring me. How do I bolster my child's selfconfidence enough to enable him to deal with bullying and teasing on his own, without me being around to defend him or give him security? I am sure many of us parents grapple with these questions everyday.
According to recent studies,about 50 percent of children and adolescents are the victims of some form of bullying during some point in their educational life. According to statistic, one of five children is being bullied regularly by either a single other child or a group of other children who gang up on the victim. Bullying takes various forms from the mild form of teasing, jibes, derogatory comments, threats, to physical aggresion and intimidation. And research does show that contrary to our expectations, bullying does exist in preschool and day care facilities, populated primarily by children under the age of five.
What are the signs by which you know your child is being a victim of bullying in school? A child who earlier loved to go to school but now refuses to go to school is one clear indication that something is drastically wrong at school. A child who clams up when you ask him what happened at school is another indication. A child who pulls out all stops at pretending to be ill with a tummy ache or another excuse to continuously avoid going to school is another. My son has all these. I am terrified because more than the physical scars of bullying, I hate seeing my happy go lucky cheerful son being morose and terrified of going into school. What sort of emotional scars has he received already before I have even become aware of it?
For my son, the bullying has progressed from verbal teasing and physical intimidation to actual pushing and shoving. Pushing down a flight of stairs is terrifying for anyone, adult or child. Not to mention the grave physical danger it presents to the child. It scares me as a mother. No, it terrifies me. Not only is this physically dangerous to my child. It is also affecting him emotionally and psychologically. And short of keeping him at home, there seems to be at the outset, little I can do to protect him.
Over the past week I have been thinking a lot about how I can help my child deal with bullying appropriately, without it progressing to physical harassment and pushing, shoving and such violent behavior. Can I try to keep my child safe from a distance? Short of actually morphing into a fly on the wall ready to grow a sting and bite the child harassing my child? I can only try from the outside to make a difference and this is what I have been doing:

Encourage my child to talk about the bullying experience with me. And getting him to understand why it is happening, and that it is not his fault. In my son's case, it is because he is tinier and quite clueless about what is going on in class thanks to his hyperactivity and attention issues that makes him a soft target for some other children to pick on.

Insist that my son immediately bring instances of bullying to the notice of the classteacher who will deal with it appropriately.

Remove himself from the situation immediately if the bully gets aggressive or call for help loudly.

On no account is he to hit back, or get aggressive with the aggressor.That would be just the trigger needed to put the aggressor on overdrive.

He is to stay out of the path of the bully, and as far as possible remain within sight of an authority figure in class.

He is not to go to the toilet alone. He is to ask to be accompanied by an ayah or an assistant teacher.

Develop a friendship and bonding with other children in the class to enable him to have a support group should he be picked on. This I will encourage and nurture by organising playdates with some other children in the class with whom he gets along well.

Another important thing I have started with him is practicing possible situations with the bully and getting him trained in possible responses. While he is not to fight back or be his "mard ka bachcha' self, he is to make sure the bully knows that the behaviour will be reported to the authorities (aka the classteacher and me) and that the bully can get duly punished for the same. I am trying to build up his self confidence so he can intimidate the bully without getting into the vicious cycle of rewarding aggression with aggression.

If the bully's parents are reasonable people, you could meet up with them to explain your concerns and ask them to speak to their child to desist from such behaviour. In my case, the mother is in complete denial that her son could cause another child any harm deliberately, and so I have not pursued the matter further.

Talk to the classteacher as well as the school coordinator about the issue and your fears. Sometimes, since bullying happens away from the gaze of the teacher, the teacher might not even be aware that this is happening.

Dont make your complaints personal against another child. When you speak, put your concern for the physical and emotional wellbeing of your child over everything.

And finally, I have told my child that he is to come to me with everything that happens in school. I am not judging him. I am not going to ask him what he could have done to provoke the situation. I want him to know that his parents are rocks of support who will do all they can to smooth out the wrinkles in his school life.

What are your suggestions? Have you ever faced such a situation with your child? How did you deal with it? How did your child deal with it? I would love to hear them and try and implement them. Right now, my son needs all the help he can get.


bird's eye view said...

Kiran - it is a serious issue, bullying, and us parents of the bullied really need to take it up. It happened with Chubbocks earlier this year - his former best friend knocked him down and stomped on his ear while wearing sneakers. I promptly sent a note to his teacher and have told C to immediately inform someone in authority as soon as any such incident happens. But more importantly, i feel media literacy is an issue that schools need to take up with not kids but parents. Very often kids are busy imitating the violent cartoons they have seen and inflict this kind of punishment on other kids, and it is up to parents to ensure they monitor what the child is watching and help the child decipher and make sense of what's happening

noon said...

Kiran - good post and such an important issue...kids are so impressionable at this age - you don't want them to start off with emotional scars/fears that will slowly feed on itself. I think school authorities need to be brought to task here - how can this happen - how could a child be left unattended enough for a bully to push him down the stairs?! It is one thing if it happens on level palyground - but stairs - that is so dangerous - they cannot let little preschoolers alone on the stairs like this...
It happens even amongst gentle looking Indian kids here...my friend told me that her daughter was in tears telling her that her friend gives her time outs while they are playing because she played with some one that this bully friend doesn't approve of!
I am so terrified if I pause to think about all this...
And I think you should try talking to the mother again and tell her what the pushing has done to K...how afraid he is...she has to acknowledge and apologize and make sure her son doesn't repeat something like this...

karmickids said...

Birdseyeview: True. I think most parents try to either sweep it under the carpet or try and tell their kids to fight it out on their own, which is ridiculous. And yes, them cartoons are at play. TV should definitely be restricted.

Noon:Yup, am taking it up with the authorities am going level by level. Have spoken to the coordinator. Am speaking one on one with the teacher tomorrow. Appointments will be taken for the higher ups to be informed. But talking to this particular mother is not going to help. As I wrote this post, I got a call from another distressed mother. Her son, also Krish's classmate has come home with his face scratched all over, by said bully. And bully's mom has been informed by teacher and she says I am told, "What can I do, he's a naughty child."

We parents are going to speak with the teachers about this as a group as well.

choxbox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
choxbox said...

kiran, went through something similar (albeit not physical bullying) and we dealt with it i'd say in hindsight fairly well.

other than all the things you are doing, here's one thing i could suggest - keep a written record. document as unemotionally as possible when/what the other child did. you could also include instances involving this child and other kids. i did this and then went to talk with the teacher and the parent of the bully. with hardcore proof, there wasnt much scope for denying. have to give a teeny bit of credit to the other mom though - she was willing to cooperate in resolving the issue even though she didnt completely believe her child could be a bully. here is where the hard evidence helped.
the teacher focussed on clearly how certain things werent acceptable w/o naming anyone and the mother i guess spoke to the child. we also arranged couple of playdates for the girls.

the end result was almost bollywood-ish - the girls became friends.

Subhashree said...

A very important issue and a great post Kiran.

Sue said...

No suggestions. But yeah, it's vital to ensure that he tells you about his day. Now and ten years later.

Good luck with the school authorities.

Rohini said...

Right now, I worry ore about my son being the bully. Though recent events seem to suggest that his aggressive side asserts himself mostly when I am around. I am fine being his punching bag but I am totally awake to the possibility of him being aggressive with other kids. What I don't get about this particular kid's mom is how she can pretend to be blind to her son's issues...

Salil said...

My daughter has to be send to school next year and "I" am already worried about her being bullied. Silly me :-)