How to deal with bullying and what are the conclusive signs if your child is a victim

Intimidation is at the heart of our lives and is not limited to a classroom. This can be at the home of siblings, cousins, or parents, or even at a place of work. You see, conflicts happen between people, but if there is an imbalance of power, which may be due to age, physical strength, language, race, religion or abilities , and if this position of power is used as a means of repeated aggression, whether verbal, psychological or physical, qualified as intimidation.

What is bullying?

Bullying is common and complex, and often not obvious. Physical intimidation is much more obvious. If a child pushes or hits another or breaks their crayons, you can see it in front of you. But often there is subtle bullying that happens in the form of name-calling, shaming, criticism or ostracism, which can be very damaging to children. There are also cases in older children who spread rumors or transform photos on social media to humiliate the other person.

Short term effects

Harassment can be traumatic. It is a dehumanizing experience and can leave the child completely helpless and at the mercy of the bully. And in spaces where children expect to feel safe, whether at school or at home, they no longer feel safe. Look for signs in your child. Children who are bullied complain of aches and pains, do not eat or sleep well and some may have nightmares, cries easily and refuses to go to school. Younger ones might get clingy or some might start wetting the bed.

If this happens regularly, much of the child’s day is spent in anticipation and fear of the experience of going to school. This could have a profound impact on his immediate emotional well-being, and sometimes this fractured sense of self could become permanent. This feeling of being weak and vulnerable, of not being able to express oneself or fight back, of feeling like the “victim”, all of this can come across as complex mental health disorderswater in life.

Long term impact

The effects of bullying in childhood and adolescence may or may not have immediate consequences, but may begin to manifest much later. Young adults who have been bullied in the past may have abusive relationships, feel victimized at work, become bullies themselves and, in extreme cases, develop serious mental health issues such as anxiety, a eating disorderdepression and suicidal behavior.

how to live with

To be aware: First we need to bust the myths associated with bullying. Often schools will say “we don’t have bullying in our school”, which is not possible. There is no place on earth where there is no bullying. Such denial is extremely disabling to bullied children. So, first, we need to understand and be aware of what constitutes bullying, the different forms it can take and its consequences. People will also ignorantly say, “Oh, that’s just a little teasing, you need to toughen up or come clean.” Such an attitude adds insult to injury and makes the victim even more uncomfortable. It is important to listen to a child who has found the courage to talk about her difficult situation and to support her in any way possible.

Preventive strategies: More often than not, there are viewers who just watch and not talk, or even enjoy the ridicule instead of talking. Such a passive attitude on the part of others serves to empower bully even more.

In schools, children should attend workshops where they can share their own experiences and discuss the impact and consequences of such behaviour. In fact, some kids don’t even realize they are bullies and just letting them know stops them from doing it. Schools need to send a clear message that there is zero tolerance for bullying and that there will be serious consequences whenever detected.

Empower the community: It’s important to call him. Parents can help form a community with the school, listen to their children and advocate for them if necessary. Empower students and teachers to inform and let the school or institution know, and establish protocols for dealing with it. There must be mechanisms in place to help the parents of the person being bullied as well. the school must find ways to repair the harm done to the victim, perhaps through a public apology or an act of reparation that is attributed to the bully. There are ideas we can borrow from the concept of “restorative justice” in such situations.

In the second part on this topic, we discuss case studies and research in India.

(Dr. Amit Sen is a child and adolescent psychiatrist working in Delhi. He served in the Army Medical Corps from December 1982 to January 1988)

(This column by different experts will appear fortnightly)

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