My child is a school bully, now what?

De­nial. Dis­be­lief. You’re over your shock, here’s how to deal with your child.

Cape Argus - - FRONT PAGE - By Marchelle Abra­hams

FOR sin­gle mom Jan­ice Jo­hannes, rais­ing two boys on her own is hard enough. So when she re­ceived a let­ter from her 6-yearold son’s teacher say­ing he’d pinned his class­mate against the wall, she was gut­ted.

“There was some al­ter­ca­tion. Sasha felt his teacher was giv­ing this pupil more at­ten­tion than him, and things es­ca­lated from there,” she re­calls.

It started with red let­ters from his Grade R teacher telling her of his be­havioural prob­lems. She couldn’t un­der­stand the rea­son for his out­bursts, and ev­ery time she was called into school, she looked at him with re­signed in­dig­na­tion, think­ing: “this isn’t my son”.

Jo­hannes ad­mits that Sasha’s strong per­son­al­ity does play a part: “He’s very dom­i­neer­ing and jeal­ous. It seems like he’s al­ways com­pet­ing for my at­ten­tion with his brother – I find it all very tir­ing.”

Many par­ents find them­selves in the same po­si­tion as Jo­hannes. With count­less sto­ries do­ing the rounds about in­ci­dents at school, ac­counts are al­ways re­lated from a vic­tim’s point of view.

But what hap­pens when your child is the bully?

Par­ents want only the best for their chil­dren, and hope the core val­ues they in­stil in them will put them on the path to be­com­ing happy, em­pa­thetic adults.

In Jo­hannes’s case, she was at her wits’ end and even re­sorted to threat­en­ing Sasha with ex­pul­sion from school.

“Par­ents are key to deal­ing with the is­sue,” says child rights ad­vo­cate Joan van Niek­erk.

They should “clearly la­bel bul­ly­ing of all kinds – cy­ber, phys­i­cal, emo­tional as to­tally un­ac­cept­able”.

Van Niek­erk is also quick to point out that vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors need help – pun­ish­ment on its own means lit­tle. In fact, it may push the be­hav­iour into some­thing more sub­tle.

Many times, the bully has a history of be­ing bul­lied – at home or at school.

“Bul­ly­ing an­other child deals with their sense of dis­em­pow­er­ment and anger.”

And here’s the mis­take that many par­ents make; of­ten out of frus­tra­tion, some will re­sort to phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment: “One can­not deal with any form of vi­o­lence with vi­o­lence and then ex­pect be­hav­iour to change.”

It starts with you

Liane Lurie, a Jo­han­nes­burg-based clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist who has a spe­cial in­ter­est in ado­les­cent per­son­al­ity dis­or­ders and bul­ly­ing, says very of­ten par­ents in­sist on pun­ish­ing the bully and giv­ing the vic­tim coun­selling.

Van Niek­erk’s sen­ti­ment res­onates with her, and she agrees a “child that’s bul­ly­ing is also a child in dis­tress”.

“With chil­dren we say their be­hav­iour has com­mu­ni­ca­tion value – what is it that the child is try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with their ag­gres­sion?”

Lurie adds that bul­ly­ing be­hav­iour is not one-di­men­sional. For in­stance: What is it in their lives that they feel help­less or pow­er­less about?

“We live in a world where ev­ery­thing is about in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. Nor­mal meth­ods of prob­lem solv­ing through ver­bal means need to be in­stilled in chil­dren.”

Here, she makes an im­por­tant ob­ser­va­tion, say­ing that chil­dren need sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing by putting them­selves in their vic­tim’s shoes. Ask them: If this was hap­pen­ing to you, how would it make you feel?

As par­ents, you need to keep an open, non-judge­men­tal space with your child. “Al­low them to speak to you about stuff they wouldn’t or­di­nar­ily do,” adds Lurie.

She says the key to deal­ing with bul­ly­ing is to in­volve all sys­tems, from the fam­ily to the school, even par­ents of the vic­tims.

“And don’t wait for it to es­ca­late. Get your child the help they need so that they can chan­nel their feel­ings into some­thing con­struc­tive.”


CORE VAL­UES: Chil­dren need sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing by putting them­selves in their vic­tim’s shoes. Ask: If this was you, how would you feel?

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