In Trinidad and Tobago, a 13 year old boy was recently hospitalized after being badly beaten by his schoolmates. The child who is in form 1, will be transferred to another school when he is given the all clear to return to school. Education Minister, Anthony Garcia gave this assurance. The issue of bullying remains a prevalent one in Trinidad and Tobago.
The child’s mother recounted the events, saying:
“My son said that he and a friend were playing hand strength and another boy came over. He was pushing down the boy’s hand and thinking they were playing. Then another boy clout him on the head and another boy held him by the neck and slammed him on a desk. He said it was a group of boys but he is not sure how many were beating him. They hit him over and over to the head.”
Here are a few tips for parents in the eventuality that such a situation arises:
- Talk to your child’s teacher. If the harassment is happening at preschool or kindergarten, make administrators aware of the problem right away. Many schools have a specific protocol for intervening. When you report an incident, be specific about what happened and who was involved.
- Contact the offender’s parents. This is the right approach only for persistent acts of intimidation, and when you feel these parents will be receptive to working in a cooperative manner with you. Call or e-mail them in a non-confrontational way, making it clear that your goal is to resolve the matter together. You might say something like, “I’m phoning because my daughter has come home from school feeling upset every day this week. She tells me that Alicia has called her names and excluded her from games at the playground. I don’t know whether Alicia has mentioned any of this, but I’d like us to help them get along better. Do you have any suggestions?”
- Coach your child to get help. No matter how your child is being targeted, fighting back usually isn’t the best solution. Rather, teach him to walk away and seek help from a teacher or a supervising adult. To avoid being harassed, suggest that he sit next to friends, since a bully is less likely to pick on a kid in a group. But you may need to get involved.
Encourage Positive Behavior
- Promote positive body language. By age 3, your child is ready to learn tricks that will make her a less inviting target. “Tell your child to practice looking at the color of her friends’ eyes and to do the same thing when she’s talking to a child who’s bothering her,” says Michele Borba, Ed.D., a Parents advisor and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. This will force her to hold her head up so she’ll appear more confident. Also practice making sad, brave, and happy faces and tell her to switch to “brave” if she’s being bothered. “How you look when you encounter a bully is more important than what you say,” says Dr. Borba.
- Practice a script. Rehearse the right way to respond to a tough kid (you might even use a stuffed animal as a stand-in) so your child will feel better prepared. Teach him to speak in a strong, firm voice — whining or crying will only encourage a bully. Suggest that he say something like, “Stop bothering me!” or “I’m not going to play with you if you act mean.” He could also try, “Yeah, whatever,” and then walk away. “The key is that a comeback shouldn’t be a put-down, because that aggravates a bully,” says Dr. Borba.
- Praise progress. When your child tells you how she defused a harasser, let her know you’re proud. If you witness another child standing up to a bully, point it out to your child so she can copy that approach. Above all, emphasize the idea that your own mom may have told you when you were a kid: If your child shows that she can’t be bothered, a bully will usually move on.
Is Your Kid the Problem?
When your child is the one teasing and threatening, you need to take action right away — not just for the sake of the victims but to nip this behavior in the bud. If you’re unsure, watch for these warning signs:
- She’s impulsive and gets very angry quickly.
- He takes out his frustration by hitting or pushing other kids.
- She hangs out with other kids who behave aggressively.
- He fights bitterly or physically with his siblings.
- She has difficulty understanding how her actions affect others.
- He gets into trouble at school frequently.
If one or more of the above fits your child, have him practice techniques, such as taking deep breaths or counting to ten, to help control his negative emotions. When you see your child acting in a hurtful way, tell him to stop, remove him from the situation, and then talk about what he can do instead next time. However, if your efforts don’t make a dent in his behavior, ask your doctor to recommend an appropriate mental-health professional.