The process of bullying involves a victim and a bully. Yes, the victim is the one who is most affected by this. However, both parties are subject to stress and mental health issues in some form or other. Victims normally face mental health issues during the period of the coercion, while the bullies go into depression at a later stage in their life, when they reach the reflection mode, and undergo guilt, which they find difficult to overcome.
It is not a healthy scenario to be in either, and you as parents can try to take a step to help your children manage the stress that comes along with this coercion.
- Talk to your children about the effects of bullying. It’s good to bring this topic up, and let them know about being a bully or the victim. Take a piece of plain paper, and tell them to say mean things, hurtful things. Every time they say it, crush the paper little by little. Once they are done, ask them how they felt after saying it. Respect whatever their feelings are. Then ask them to say sorry. Open the paper and show them that the wrinkles they made by saying these things will always remain with the person they are bullying. And maybe tomorrow the same can happen to us i.e with the bully.
- As parents, courage is the greatest asset you can inculcate in them. Start by respecting if children have fears. Don’t say “Oh you are a strong boy/girl”, or “You are not scared of anything”. This only suppresses the fear for a short period of time. Allow them to express, and understand them, “I can see your fear, what’s troubling you, or what will make you feel better”. This will allow them to handle their fear, making them courageous. Then make them practise feeling brave, mindfully. Also accept their failures, because this is a normal process of life too. Make them understand that there are learnings from these failures, and next time you have to just get up again and try again.
- Look for signals. Unexplained injuries, things getting lost, emotional outbursts, regular physical ailments, sitting alone most of the time, not enjoying the things they normally would, depression, mental health issues, bullying their siblings, or any irrational behaviour you notice. Once you feel you have spotted these, talk to a counsellor. Children normally do not feel free to open up about this abuse with their family. Ask them if they would like to visit a counsellor to help resolve any issues they are facing. Be supportive of it and support this journey, as they are going through emotional torture. Sometimes, children try to avoid a particular situation, like going in the bus maybe. This is probably the point when they are bullied. It is important to bring this up in family conversations and share stories of your childhood. Sometimes parents’ experiences can show them that it is normal and allow them to talk freely. Just put up a simple question like “How are things at school, or what’s new in school these days”. As parents, it is very important to look for signals and understand them.
- Make sure to give them a healthy family environment. When children are emotionally fulfilled, these situations tend to come up less. Children who bully or are bullied, normally have empty emotional tanks. You can fill their tanks by making them “feel loved”, understanding and respecting them for who they are, however different they are from you. Create family rituals so you can bond over them. Allow them to express themselves. Play games, as this will show you a lot about their behaviour, and you will understand how they think.
- It is important to teach children to accept differences in humans. A major reason for bullying is when the bully finds the other child is different in some way and starts making fun of it. Children have to be aware that there will be differences of opinions, and it is important to listen to all points of view before deciding anything. This can be practised at home too, by allowing children to speak their minds and respecting their points of view. You can even practise a technique, wherein when the parent and child are conversing or arguing on a point, both physically move, to exchange positions with each other and continue the conversation from there. “POINT OF VIEW”, literally means how you are looking at things standing from that point, when we physically move, sometimes our minds shift too!
- Give them some tips on how to handle it, if it ever happens to them. Explain to them the following:
Confidence is key. Sometimes children may be low on self-esteem. Tell them even if they don’t feel confident, try to fake it. They will have one shield to protect them at that very moment. Bullies only like to bully the powerless.
Clear language while communicating with the bully. Tell them to state what they don’t like. Tell them to use an assertive voice. This will be another shield for their protection. Practise this at home too. When they give their opinion, listen to them so they start gaining confidence and have the capability of expressing their points of view.
Let them connect to their friends and the community where they stay. This will help them feel more powerful as they have other people to fall back on. This will be their third layer of protection. Bullies don’t indulge with people who are in groups but are loners.
A cool mind will be their fourth layer of protection. Ask them to come up with one phrase that makes them feel calm and powerful whenever they feel stressed out. It can be anything like “I am strong and can handle this”. Once they calm down, they will find better ways to cope with it, rather than give in to the bullying.
Comfortable in their own skin. Children should be made to feel that they are ok for who they are. As parents stop using phrases like “Look at that aunty’s child, how they perform”, “You can even do this”, “you are fat”, “you are so dark, or so short”. Respect your children for who they are, so they are comfortable physically and emotionally.
Communicate. It is important to report or talk about it to their safe circle. Talk to counsellors to unburden them. Counsellors can help children bring their fears and true feelings out and show them ways to confront the situation. Mental depression has to be handled at an early stage before it becomes untreatable.
Consistency is vital. Lastly, repeat these steps consistently as it may not ward the bullies off initially, but when they see your child as strong and powerful they will automatically back off.
Bullying is a difficult situation, and as parents, you may also find it tough to handle the situation. Seek help from counsellors/coaches as every child is different. You and your child can both overcome this, and remember that every problem has a solution.
The views expressed are that of the expert alone.
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