Facing bullying Facing bullying

Facing Bullying

Thu, Sep. 14, 2017
CAIRO – 14 September 2017:With school upon us, you might find your child reluctant to go back to school, you might even misinterpret it for laziness. There are various signs that your child is being bullied, and learning how to spot these signs and deal with the situation is essential. Even when we do spot the signs, or our children actually admits they are being bullied, we’re often left debating whether we should teach our children to fight back, ignore or tell a teacher and risk being the class snitch.

Bullying is defined as intentionally and purposely targeting other students for recurrent psychological or physical attacks. But with today’s tech-savvy schoolkids, bullying has gone far beyond the classic forms and cyberbullying has become a real threat around the world, including in Egypt.

Clinical psychologist Engy Laz, who specializes in children and adolescents, to give us tips on how to teach your kid to stand up for him/herself and what to do if you suspect your child is being bullied.

What are the most common forms of bullying in Egyptian schools?

Emotional bullying is the most common; and the form it takes is different depending on the ages. Emotional bullying occurs the most in grades 6 to 8. In grades 1 to 3, bullying is normally in the form of bossing classmates around and so on, having exclusive groups and telling friends not to speak to a certain person, for instance. As they get older, bullying normally takes the form of trying to break the person being bullied by making indirect comments that they know will hurt and break them; things like “your hairdo isn’t nice,” “you’ve put on weight,” or “why doesn’t anyone like you?” The comments can be so covert that you can’t hold anything against the person bullying.

Have the forms changed?

Cyberbullying is very common and often starts around the age of 14, of course it can start younger. It takes the form of people hacking accounts, posting photos of your childhood you don’t like and so on. Recently, girls would take pictures of themselves naked and start sending them to boys, the boys would then blackmail them into doing things they don’t want or else they would post the girls’ pictures online and humiliate them. The same happens amongst girls’ gatherings as well; when they take selfies at sleepovers or after pool parties, for instance, and then they fight and are no longer friends and decide to post the photos to humiliate each other. These are all real-life examples from my clinic and such cases are happening more and more these days.

What are some of the signs that parents need to look for?

Injuries, stomachaches and headaches are signs. If your child doesn’t want to go to school, won’t wake up in the morning for school or pretend that they’re sick to stay home. If they’re sleeping too much or start feeling indifferent. Also watch out for changes in eating habits, difficulty sleeping, losing interest in school and activities he or she used to love there, or starts not having any friends. If your child’s personal belongings start getting destroyed or lost and he can’t explain what happened to them, or if the child starts avoiding social situations and his self-esteem decreases. Kids can even start stuttering and some may even injure themselves, which can start at around the age of 13, they might cut themselves with razors or pens in places on their bodies that don’t show.

How should parents approach the subject of bullying with a child if they suspect he’s being bullied without embarrassing them?

The responsibility all rests on the parents’ shoulders; some kids are taught by their parents to say no and stand up for themselves and answer back politely and express their needs and feelings. Other parents beat their kids and generally break him so he’ll accept it from anyone. The parents are the key to the personality. If there’s no bonding, the children won’t tell them about minor incidents before they turn into proper bullying.

It’s very important to say, “How can we help; what are our options? How do you want me to help? What can I do? Do you want me to tell you your options and possible ways of handling the situations? Do you want to tell me what you want to do and plan it together? Do you want me to interfere or not?” You’re guiding, but you’re also empowering the child and making him trust his thinking and abilities.

Should parents resort to the school if they suspect bullying, or tell children to stand up for themselves?

The parents should be very careful in choosing their wording; and there are steps. If someone pushes you, for instance, the first step is to move back, then the next is to hold his hand and push it, then say “stop this at once,” and be firm and look him in the eye. The last step is to go to an adult. Bullying normally happens on buses, in corridors; places with no supervision; so resorting to an adult is the last step. But there will be situations where, depending on the severity, you should interfere, and you have to take the child’s permission first and see what they want you to do and I have to respect their choices.

In general they have to stand up for themselves, be firm and never feed the bully’s behavior. It’s important to stand up and look the bully in the eye, smile and leave. If I’m defending myself because that’s what I always do at home when I am blamed or criticized, I will repeat the behavior at school. It’s important to stand up for, not defend myself.

Why do children bully?

The child bullying is already bullied himself, they’re lacking attention or affection from the caregiver, who are mostly the parents. They might be bullied from an elder sibling or their own aggressive parents.

The teacher might be a bully, so if an incident happens in school, they don’t allow the kids the chance to speak and explain the incident, puts them in time out and if they try to explain what happened then it’s answering back. So they reflect that bullying behavior on their peers. When the child feels he can’t defend himself or take his right, he channels it in different forms, “I will do the same with those who are weaker or younger.” Those who bully lack empathy and never accept consequences of their actions. They always have low-self esteem and don’t appreciate themselves so they try to compensate by bullying.

Who’s more likely to get bullied?

The person being bullied has to be bright at something, good at whatever he’s doing, intelligent, creative, popular, friendly and kind, or he might have an illness, a disability, a physical feature, his skin color; something different. They must have a vulnerability to approach him from and put pressure on. As soon as he reacts, he’s feeding the bully’s ego and so he continues to bully. Those who choose the victim normally fear groups because they can stand for each other, so they go for someone with few friends.

What can schools do about bullying?

A clear, common and consistent definition of bullying that is communicated across the board is key; it can’t be vague. There must be a code that everyone follows without labelling the child as a bully or a victim, because otherwise the child will stop caring and will live up to whichever label they’re described by. We should address the behavior without judging. The rule should be clear and enforceable with implementable consequences based on age that are communicated to students and teachers across the board. It also needs to be worded in a positive voice that is neither threatening or negative. So don’t say, “If you hit someone you will be punished,” but rather “we don’t hit because we respect ourselves and respect body boundaries and we are good and respect ourselves and those in front of us.” The number of rules stated has to be small; three to five depending on the age are enough so students can follow and cope. Lastly, parents and teachers have to set an example and consistency is key. et

Engy Laz studied psychology at the American University in Cairo and received a master’s of science in psychology from California Southern University. She specializes in child and adolescents counseling and psychotherapy and has done extensive work in the field of learning difficulties and behavioral changes.
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