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What is bullying?

Bullying is defined as when one person repeatedly tries to dominate another through teasing, violence or rejection. Bullies usually act deliberately with the intention of harming or hurting others. We are not just talking about a simple argument between friends in the schoolyard, but a power imbalance in which one person intends to harm another over an extended period of time. Bullying often takes place in the presence of witnesses; moreover, the more witnesses there are, the more power is given to the bully himself.

The different forms of bullying

The gestures and behaviours described below must be repeated and extended over a certain period of time to conclude that they are bullying. However, it is still important to encourage your child to report any situation where he feels hurt or threatened, even if it only happens once.

Bullying can be:

Physical or material: hitting someone, knocking them down, pushing them, pulling their hair, breaking or taking their personal objects or making unwanted touches. This is the easiest form of bullying to observe.
Verbal: insulting someone, threatening them, making unpleasant remarks or humiliating them.
Social: feeding false rumors about someone, attacking their reputation, excluding them from a group. In elementary school, for example, this can often manifest itself in the bully asking others not to play with the victim anymore.

The consequences of bullying

All forms of bullying are harmful to a child. He may experience feelings of distress, humiliation, insecurity and invasion of his privacy. In the short term, bullying damages his self esteem. He could also be demotivated, afraid and may no longer want to come to school. In the long term, bullying can lead to anxiety, academic difficulties, absenteeism from school, memory problems, depression, etc. Therefore, it is important not to take such a situation lightly, to detect the first signs of bullying and to intervene appropriately.

Cyberbullying: things to watch out for

Cyberbulling entails using cyberspace (text messages, emails, social networks, online games, etc.) to send insulting or threatening messages, to exclude a child from a group, or to ridicule him by publishing a photo without his consent. This type of bullying is distinguished by its often anonymous nature, which can lead to more impulsive actions and reach a wider audience, as these messages can be shared on social media. The bullying situation can then become out of control for the victim. Cyberbullying is present especially in adolescence. However, it can affect elementary school children, especially if they spend a lot of time online. Children are increasingly using social networks to communicate with their friends. Many also play online video games that allow them to chat with other gamers.

Cyberbullying can easily remain invisible to parents. It is therefore strongly recommended to know with whom your child communicates when he is online and to check the nature of his conversations. Make sure you can see what he is up to online and don’t hesitate to ask questions about his virtual relationships. Teach him not to chat with people he doesn’t know, since there is no way to verify their identity. It is also advisable to take an interest in games and social networks popular with children to understand how they work and ensure that your child uses them in a safe manner. You could also install parental control programs or applications on your screens to limit access to certain sites and content.

How do you know if a child is being bullied?

When a child is bullied, he might not always have the reflex to come and talk to his parents or an adult. He may also be afraid to talk about it. It is therefore important to be attentive and listen to your child to recognise signs that he might be experiencing bullying. The following are some attitudes and behaviours which may indicate that your child is being bullied:

  • Their interest and motivation for school are greatly reduced
  • He no longer wants to go to school
  • He withdraws into himself, becomes more secretive and isolates himself
  • He seems sad, unhappy and easily irritated
  • He often tells you that he does not feel well, or that he is sick
  • His grades start dropping without you being able to explain why
  • He comes home with dirty clothes or wounds
  • He sleeps poorly

His attitude towards others may change, for example:

  • He is not enthusiastic about doing group or school activities
  • He lives with anxiety, fear, or mistrust
  • He doesn’t want to talk to you about what he’s doing at school or about his peers
  • He seeks the presence of adults
  • He makes detours so as not to take the usual route, or wants to arrive very early or very late at school so as not to meet other students in the yard
  • He denigrates himself – for example, he believes that he is not good at school and that the others are better than him
  • He says that he has lost or had his personal items stolen, such as his lunch, his snacks, his toque or clothes, his game cards, etc.

How do you help a child who is being bullied?

  • If your child tells you about a problem that looks like bullying or if you suspect bulllying, do not wait – act immediately.
  • Try to find out more by asking him questions.
  • Stay calm and attentive, because your child needs to feel comforted.
  • Let him talk at his own pace without interrupting.
  • Don’t judge him. Don’t tell him what he should or shouldn’t have done. Just ask him to describe the situation to you in detail.
  • Show him that you are with him. Tell him he has a right to feel safe and that you are going to take action and help him find a solution.
  • Assess the situation with him. For example, can he change the situation by clearly expressing his limits? Does he have allies? How far does the intimidation go? Above all, do not incite him to violence.
  • Get him to name what he feels. Build on his strengths and help him assess the importance he places on the bully.
  • Encourage him to report the situation by talking to his teacher. Explain to him that he is not causing a problem by denouncing this type of situation; on the contrary, he is protecting himself and other students against the bully.
  • Contact the school, notify his teacher and the school administration. Stay calm and do not alert everyone around you. Do not try to resolve the situation yourself directly with the bully or his parents. Instead, use a mediator, such as the school administration.
  • If the school administration does not respond or react in a way that you are satisfied with, notify the school’s service centre of the situation. If you are not satisfied with this process either, contact the student representative at your child’s school’s service centre.
  • Encourage your child to hang out with friends he can count on. Your child is less likely to be bullied when he is in a group, he will be better able to defend himself if he is surrounded by friends.
  • Stay tuned. Ask for a follow-up with school staff to make sure the problem is resolved.
  • If the problem persists and you feel that your child is very affected by it, seek help from a psychologist or educational psychologist from the school, or an external organisation.

Bullying at school: what the law says

The Education Act requires school service centers to establish a prevention and intervention plan in the event of violence or bullying. This plan must be given to the parents. The school administration is responsible for reporting complaints in cases of bullying or violence. Each school service centre has a student representative (or ombudsman), who ensures that everyone’s rights are respected.

What to say to a child who witnesses bullying

If your child tells you that he saw someone else being harassed or bullied, ask him to tell you the details of what happened. Make sure he was a witness, not the victim. Also praise him for telling you about it and remind him not to remain silent in the face of an act of intimidation.

Ask him if he wants to talk to someone from the school staff with you. It is possible that he is afraid of becoming a victim himself if he denounces the situation. Reassure him and explain to him the importance of denouncing this type of behaviour. Do not hesitate to use children’s literature to discuss the situation with him.

If he does not want to tell his teacher, tell him that you must inform the school, because this kind of behaviour is not acceptable. This shows him the importance of taking action to stop the bullying. This would encourage him to follow your lead if he witnesses bullying again.

How to prevent bullying in children

You cannot completely prevent bullying because unfortunately this situation is very common. However, it is possible to make your child aware of the phenomenon to help him have a good attitude towards bullying.

Here are some ideas:

  • Explain to him what bullying is and teach him to recognise bullying gestures with concrete examples. You can use children’s books on the subject to help you.
  • Encourage your child to name and express the emotions he experiences. Encourage him to tell you and others what is bothering him.
  • If his discomfort persists, encourage him to seek help from someone you trust.
  • Do not hesitate to role play with your child to put him in situations where he must assert himself, say what he thinks and set his limits.
  • Remind him that he can always come and talk to you about it if he feels intimidated, and that you will help him.
  • Teach him the basic rules of how to act if he is being bullied: leave the bullying scene, do not respond to the attack, tell a trusted adult or find a friend who agrees to stay with him when he is not safe.

What to do when your child bullies another child

It is also possible that your child is bullying another child himself. The first thing to do is to discuss it calmly with him to try to understand why he is acting this way. Listen to your child with kindness and let him express his point of view. Make it clear to him that you take the situation very seriously and that you do not accept this kind of behaviour.

Explain to him the consequences his actions have on him and on others. It may be appropriate to set out consequences for their actions which relate to their particular situation, such as apologising to the other or replacing an object they broke. Speak with his teacher or the school administration to find a solution together.

In addition, you should try to spend more time with your child and observe his attitude to better point out his behavior and correct it if necessary. Insist that he respects others and accepts people who are different from him. It is also important to find ways for him to better express his anger and frustrations; it may be a good idea to work with him on his confidence and how he approaches others. If necessary, consult a psychologist or educational psychologist to help your child better manage his emotions and also equip yourself to deal with this situation.

Different reasons can push a child to bully others, for example:

  • He seeks to enhance himself in the eyes of a certain group to feel included
  • He lacks self-confidence and does not know how to assert himself otherwise
  • A child may exhibit intimidating gestures and behaviours without always understanding the seriousness of the consequences for the victim
  • He has trouble expressing his anger and frustrations
  • He does not like to admit his mistakes or be vulnerable
  • He has a harsh temperament and may lack empathy for others
  • He perceives his actions as self-defence (attacking before being attacked)
  • He has already experienced bullying himself

Signs a child is bullying others

Certain signs in your child’s behavior may indicate that he might be bullying other children. For example, it has been shown that children are more likely to intimidate others if they: openly defy authority; are unable to admit wrongdoing; use anger to get what they want; like to fight or tend to be manipulative.

A child who feels little remorse, lacks empathy, and is insensitive to the distress of others may also tend to bully other children. If you observe this kind of behaviour in your child, do not hesitate to seek professional help.

Leader or bully?

It is important to note that there is a difference between a leader and a bully. To lead is not to intimidate. Some children tend to be more authoritative than others and may take the lead in a pair or a group to conduct a game or organise things their way. They are natural leaders. Although we must remain vigilant and teach them to listen to others and to respect their classmates, it is not certain that these children will become bullies. The bullying discussed here includes a child that acts with intent to harm other children, without respect for their desires or their needs.

Final thoughts to remember

Bullying can be verbal, physical, social or virtual. It occurs when a person repeatedly hurts, insults, humiliates, threatens or excludes another person in order to gain power.

If you think your child is being bullied or is a bully, talk to him calmly, tell him that the situation is not acceptable and that you will help him take action to correct it.

Finally, in the case of bullying, it is important to notify the school to find a solution together.

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