Ev­ery­thing you need to know about trig­gers and cop­ing mech­a­nisms


While the role of the bully and the vic­tim are most of­ten man­i­fested in school or on the play­ground, the prob­lem takes root most of­ten at home, says Dr Har­ish Shetty, a veteran child psy­chi­a­trist. “Both the bully and the vic­tim most of­ten suf­fer from low self es­teem,” he says, ex­plain­ing that some chil­dren in­ter­ject their low self es­teem, thus be­com­ing vic­tims, while oth­ers ex­tro­ject their low self es­teem, turn­ing into bul­lies. He un­der­scores that both cat­e­gories of chil­dren need coun­selling, rather than pun­ish­ment. How is any if this rel­e­vant to your new­born or tod­dler, you ask? The fact is that your in­ter­ac­tion with your child and your in­ter­ac­tion with your spouse (re­mem­ber that chil­dren are very at­tuned to non-ver­bal cues too), have a tremen­dous bear­ing on how your child will in­ter­act with his peers.

The trig­gers

1. Con­flict: If a child is ex­posed to con­flict at home, it will find expression in the child’s in­ter­ac­tion with peers and teach­ers, though it is not easy to pre­dict whether the child will be­come a bully or a vic­tim. Shetty is keen for par­ents to un­der­stand that chil­dren can­not be lied to. “They are very sim­ple and it is this sim­plic­ity that al­lows them to un­der­stand things in a very pro­found way,” he ex­plains.

2. Molly-cod­dling: While con­flict is one of the most well-known fac­tors that con­trib­ute detri­men­tally to a child, far less recog­nised but an equally-detri­men­tal prac­tice that is ex­tremely com­mon in In­dia, is cod­dling. “The ruin of the child be­gins when the mother de­cides that the child is her life or is the whole and soul of her life,” Dr Har­ish says, re­veal­ing that this sen­ti­ment re­sults in over-in­volve­ment which pre­vents the child from learn­ing how to stand on their own feet. “Over-pro­tec­tive­ness,” he ex­plains, “makes the child more vul­ner­a­ble in all their in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.” 3. Shar­maji ka beta syn­drome: It is com­mon­place for par­ents to com­pare chil­dren with those of oth­ers in their so­cial cir­cles or with the child’s peers in school. Dr Har­ish makes it a point to cau­tion par­ents against this as it causes the child to feel re­jected, which re­sults in low self es­teem. “Never look at a child with con­tempt. Don’t hu­mil­i­ate them about their per­for­mance in any­thing,” he says. For chil­dren who have be­gun go­ing to school, don’t look at a project and say: ‘why are your scores so low’; it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber to re­frain from re­act­ing in a con­de­scend­ing na­ture to any mark-sheets, home­work or class­work. He isn’t alone in ad­vo­cat­ing the pro­tec­tion of very young chil­dren from the emo­tional and men­tal strain that emerge from grades com­par­i­son and con­temp­tu­ous­ness. Most schools to­day have com­pletely done away with ex­ams for pri­mary school stu­dents for this very rea­son.

4. Your own ghosts: A par­ent’s past could play a part in the child’s propen­sity to de­velop into ei­ther a bully or a vic­tim. “Par­ents who have been hu­mil­i­ated as chil­dren tend to also hu­mil­i­ate their chil­dren; par­ents who suf­fered from sex­ual abuse, tend to be over­pro­tec­tive. All of this re­sults in a vi­cious cy­cle,” he says. Ad­di­tion­ally, par­ents who might have been bul­lied them­selves could be prone to giv­ing their kids bad ad­vice. Some ex­am­ples ac­cord­ing to Dr Har­ish are ‘be strong’, ‘go fight back, and worst of all, ‘don’t tell any­one’.

Smart tech­niques

1. Story-swap­ping: Dr Har­ish rec­om­mends al­ter­na­tive bet­ter­ment tech­niques such as shar­ing in­ci­dents from your own life. For ex­am­ple, telling your child that you were yelled at by your boss for not com­plet­ing ‘X’ task ef­fi­ciently, can serve as some sort of sup­port. Of course, you have to im­me­di­ately follow it up with ‘To­mor­row I will try harder and fo­cus on this par­tic­u­lar task that I am find­ing a lit­tle dif­fi­cult’. Shar­ing is in fact an im­por­tant tool for par­ent-child bond­ing, even at the tod­dler level. Get­ting your child to share his feel­ings or emo­tions with you from a very early age will be­come the foun­da­tion for a healthy re­la­tion­ship which will be in­te­gral to his well-be­ing as he grows up.

2. Non-ver­bal cues: But what hap­pens if your child isn’t ex­actly say­ing much? Ac­cord­ing to Dr Har­ish, nail-bit­ing, bed-wet­ting, not want­ing to go to school and other signs of anx­i­ety are warn­ing sig­nals that should not be ig­nored.

3. Cake and bal­loons: If a child is hav­ing trou­ble mak­ing friends, or is be­ing bul­lied, Dr Har­ish’s rec­om­men­da­tion is to throw a party and in­vite all the kids from his play­group or school, in­clud­ing the prob­lem ones. If some­thing more dras­tic has hap­pened at a school, such as abuse, it is im­per­a­tive for the par­ents to move the child to an­other school. “It is your right and your duty to pro­tect your child,” he un­der­lines.

4. The great out­doors: Chil­dren from tribal schools, says Dr Har­ish, are proven to be more peace­ful and the only con­clu­sion that ex­perts could come to, is that th­ese chil­dren sim­ply com­mune with na­ture far more than their ur­ban coun­ter­parts. The take-away from this is rather straight­for­ward: pic­nics, treks, walks, vis­its to the park and lots of out­door play­time should take prece­dence over all the tech time that ur­ban kids are ac­cus­tomed to.

In the end...

Some chil­dren are im­pul­sive by na­ture and tend to be ag­gres­sive with their peers. In such cases, par­ents should seek ex­pert guid­ance and treat­ment, ad­vises Dr Har­ish. Im­pul­sive­ness, he as­sures, can be calmed. Some chil­dren are born with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and veer to­wards get­ting bul­lied. He in­sists that ev­ery child can learn, and un­der­scores his ear­lier points about re­frain­ing from hu­mil­i­a­tion, com­par­i­son and con­tempt. All in all, the ear­lier par­ents fine-tune their non-ver­bal cues to chil­dren, the bet­ter the child’s in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships are likely to be in the fu­ture.

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