We parents usually have a natural instinct for this kind of thing, but it's important to hear our child's side of things before we take action. Sit down in a comfortable and quiet place and have a heart to heart. You might find that your child is open to talking about the problem, but many children feel embarrassed and try to hide bullying from their parents. Either way, your role is to support them emotionally, make sure they realize that nobody deserves to be bullied and offer them advice about what to do if bullying occurs.
Now that you've spoken to your child and you're sure that there's something nasty going on, you'll want to stomp over and sort it out. Take a moment to think about the reasons behind the bullying. Children bully for all sorts of different reasons: to alleviate their own feelings of anger or upset, in an attempt to feel powerful or even because they don't realize that the jokes they're making aren't acceptable. Remember that it's quite likely that the bully has problems too and being hostile toward them won't help the situation.
If you happen to see the bullying firsthand, it's definitely time to step in. The first thing to do is to separate your child and the bully. Be firm but fair when you speak to the bully, and let them know that their behavior is unacceptable. Don't let either your child or the bully try to write the incident off as a joke, as this only downplays bad behavior. If the bully's parents are around, make sure you explain the situation to them and have them take part in the conversation too.
There must always be consequences of bullying to avoid repeat incidents. If the bullying is happening inside school, make sure to inform the class teacher and members of staff who may need to know. You may need to fill out an incident report. Also contact the parent of the bully and discuss the problems at hand. Many schools have anti-bullying strategies, such as "buddies" who keep an eye out for younger children or discussion groups where children can share their problems. These measures are most effective when the whole school is on board.
The playground environment can certainly play a role in bullying incidents. Crowded playgrounds where space is tight can mean children don't have a good place to release energy or to pause and think about their situation. Studies have shown that simple playground improvements can reduce bullying. Talk to your child's school or local council about the possibility of introducing line markings to separate play areas, ensuring there are quiet, green spaces and improving the playground with flowers or gardens.
Sam Flatman is a dad of two, living in Bristol. He believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, and is currently an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Sport.
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