As reported by Chester and Chilcott and many other news stories, a storm has broken over K.Rudd’s head over his thoughts on how parents should deal with bullying. The comment causing all the debate is that parents of children who are being bullied should contact the parents of the child who is bullying – if the school is not dealing with the issue.
I don’t want to wade into the debate as everyone has their own valid opinion, and the PM’s advice may work for some. I just want to suggest some things for parents to think about before they talk to the family of a child who is bullying their child.
Do you know the full story?
Identifying whether an incident is really bullying, what has really happened, and why it may be happening is not always easy – see to the discussions on this blog in January, February and March. If you do not know the whole context of an incident your child has reported to you, you may find a totally different response from the other parent than expected.
It may be that it is an incident of conflict, where there has been some disagreement or difficulties raised from both children. It may be that there are some significant issues going on for the other child and family, which mean they may over-react or not be able to cope with your suggestion that their child is bullying your child. This may lead to a sense that their child has been “falsely accused.” This is likely to promote anger or frustration, and could put them in conflict with you and perhaps increase the bullying experienced by the child.
Do you know what the other parent’s opinion of the incident is?
There are many different understandings of bullying. Some families will be supportive in response to a report that their child is bullying another. They may be keen to work with their child to change the behaviour.
However, some families have a strong belief that children should be able to cope with these difficulties without adult assistance. They may suggest that you are cosseting your child and you should teach them to “fight back”.
Other families will not agree with you that their child is treating yours in an inappropriate way.
Other families may find it difficult to accept that their child may be doing anything inappropriate because they have not seen that type of behaviour in the home environment.
In these cases, it will be unlikely that you will be able to work with them to formulate a solution that will be satisfactory to both of you. It may again mean that the bullying increases, and/or conflict between you and the family may escalate. You may even find that emotions run so high that you, and perhaps even the other family, feel intimidated and harassed as well.
Does your child want you to get directly involved?
This is important as children are at increased risk of being bullied if they are seen as “weak” in some way – for example, being a “mummy’s boy”. Listening to what your child wants will give you an indication of what their peers might think if parents become directly involved in the incident. This is especially relevant in the case of adolescents and youth.
However, this does not mean that you can’t be indirectly involved. For example, you can help teach your child about protective behaviour. You can challenge the beliefs that your child may be taking on board from what others have said, you can help them avoid being in places and situations where they may be bullying, you can teach them to stand up for themselves if this will not lead to further harm, and you can help them report the incident to the appropriate staff at school and support them in following through with what the school and/or police have in place.
Knowing you are supporting them, that you know what is happening and you are doing your best to help them has been known to make a big difference in the resilience of children.
Can you deal with it calmly?
When your child’s safety and well-being is threatened, it is very understandable that emotions will run high. We are so emotionally invested in our children that dealing with such an issue will be fraught with emotions such as anger, frustration, anxiety or distress.
For the same reason, if someone suggested our child was bullying their child it is highly likely that similarly strong emotions will arise. And these emotions may become even stronger depending on the emotion and how it is expressed by the other family.
In some cases, families can discuss the issue without emotions getting in the way. However, if you feel your own and the other families reactions are unpredictable due to the intensity of emotions involved, using schools, community advocates and/or the police as mediators is one way of minimising possible negative outcomes as a result of emotions running high.
While we are in the grip of strong emotions, it is very hard to negotiate, problem-solve and come to an agreement about a solution. It is important to recognise this, and use the community resources available to you. If the school is not working with you, then approach your local community centre to see if they have youth workers, social workers that may help. Or contact the local Education Department office and ask for the person responsible for student welfare. Alternately, contact advocacy services or the police.
Can the parent change the child’s behaviour?
In some cases a parent my feel powerless to change their child’s behaviour. There are many reasons why this may be the case:
- The incidents are not happening in an environment where they have direct control over their child’s behaviour (school, school bus)
- They do not understand why their child may be acting a certain way and have exhausted all their strategies – usually this indicates deeper issues related to a disability, mental health issue and so on that requires third party professional assistance.
- Their background, family culture or prior experiences have not equipped them to deal with the situation.
Have you tried all other options?
We would be naive to pretend that there is a simple, one-size-fits-all response to bullying. Each situation has a different context. Each individual will respond differently according to their context and background.
Stopping bullying can be a very complex, time-consuming, emotionally charged and intricate process. When we start dealing with the incident, the bullying may even increase at first. So whatever we do, we should take time to think about all the possible consequences of our actions.
What we don’t want is to get caught up in an incident that is spiralling out of control, sapping us of the emotional and physical energy we need to support and protect our children. In responding to bullying, we should act in a measured way. In fact, we couldn’t do better than to follow the risk assessment method recommended in the occupational health and safety Acts and Regulations.
Step 1 Identification of foreseeable hazards – Ask: If I do this, what are the potential hazards/dangers to myself and my child?
Step 2 Assessing the risks – Rank these hazards in order of how significantly they will impact your ability to support and protect your child, or how significantly they may impact the health and wellbeing of you and your child.
Step 3 Eliminating or controlling the risks – Ask: What can be done to minimise or eliminate these risks or dangers? In some cases, this will mean finding a different method to deal with bullying. You should also devise a crisis management plan to you and your child know exactly what to do if you are faced with unacceptable danger or distress.
Step 4 Reviewing and monitoring – Talk to others about what you plan to do. This can bring up things that you might not have thought about. Then, give your plan a go. If it doesn’t work, or if you and your child start experiencing increased distress, anxiety or fear… then start this process again and try something else.
If you need ideas, visit this site: www.bullyingnoway.com.au
On another note:
Yes, parents have a responsibility to care for and teach their children. But according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child:
1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.
2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.
Yes, parents need to be held accountable, to take responsibility. But so do other children, schools, police, the Department of Community Services and the whole community. It is only when we all work together, when we all recognise and act on our duty of care, that a child can truly be protected from bullying.