HOW BULLIES ARE BORN
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.
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’.
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.