Is your child being bullied in school?
Emotional bullying – in which a child is abused with taunts, whispered remarks, social exclusion from her peer group and hurtful texts – is just as punishing for the victim as physical bullying.
Unfortunately, though, a child who is emotionally bullied may be extremely reluctant to tell anyone about her suffering because she has nothing to show for it. After all, there are no bruises or cuts, no stolen recess money and no torn schoolbooks. If you suspect your child is subject to this form of peer persecution and yet refuses to discuss this with you, approach this sensitively and carefully.
The first step is to gather evidence, which demonstrates you know she is abused in this way. Has she become withdrawn, whereas she was previously outgoing? Has her self-confidence dropped? Does she spend less time with her pals and is she no longer invited to her classmates’ parties? Is she upset whenever a text arrives? Does she avoid particular children in the school playground? These, and other behavioural changes, could be your child’s reaction to emotional bullying.
Related: How to deal with bullying
START A DIALOGUE
Once you have drawn up a list of your concerns, sit down with your child during a quiet time when there is nobody else at home. Remind her you love her and that you can help her solve any problem she faces.
Use a gentle, warm voice when speaking to her. Explain that you are worried because of the changes in her you have noticed recently. Point out that you will be able to make things better for her if you both work together.
Avoid making your observations sound like criticisms. For instance, instead of saying “You’ve become very irritable recently”, you could say “You’re normally such a charming, loving child and that’s why I’m surprised you have become a bit irritable at times. I know you wouldn’t be like this unless something was bothering you.” Include the words “emotional bullying” because it demonstrates that you take the matter seriously.
Whatever she says or does in response to your comments – she might sit in total silence, try to run out the room or deny there is any problem at all – don’t get upset, angry or raise your voice. Instead, keep things calm and relaxed. But persist with your discussion anyway. Let your child know that you are sure she is on the receiving end of nasty treatment by some of her peers, and that you can help her.
LET HER TALK
And when you have had your say, give her a good opportunity to respond. You could say: “I know it’s difficult for you to talk about something as personal as this, but I am here to listen” or “Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words, so take as long as you want to say what is bottled up inside you” or “You’ll feel so much better when you tell me all about it.”
Then sit back quietly and allow her to talk, without interruption. It might help if you stroke her hair or hold her hand during this interaction. Show by your facial expression and eye contact that you are listening. Make occasional supportive comments as she speaks, for instance, “I’m so pleased you’ve started to tell me about this” or “This must be a very difficult time for you.”
Related: How she should respond to mean girls
These strategies should enable an informative, sharing communication between you and your child, which will be the start of the recovery process. The resolution of emotional bullying can’t take place until your child admits to you – and herself – that she is indeed a victim. That’s why you need to put all your effort into getting her to open up about it.