Bullying in schools and how to protect your children

Bullies usually pick on those they perceive to be weak. PHOTO/NET

What you need to know:

If you, the parent, are a bully yourself, mistreating other road users or neighbours, your child will probably have taken a cue and is imitating you by bullying others.

I remember him: He was a tall, burly, bearded fellow. His barrel chest and broad shoulders sat atop his voluptuous thighs and ‘potato’ calf muscles like a solidly-built robot man-machine. He played rugby for our school team and was good at it.

But I remember his drawl more: He had a Barry White-like bass-baritone voice and spoke such fine English you wanted him to keep talking but not until he stood at the only door to Hanlon House, our expansively-built colonial dormitory, and roared like a hungry lion. He would announce what he wanted to eat and command us the newcomers to bring it to him.

Terrorised, we would run to our suitcases but he would be so close behind walking from one suitcase to another like a military parade inspector, picking anything he wanted. Bullying us was how he got his kicks. He was our worst nightmare. Call him Jeff. 

Jeff terrorised us with his voice but never laid his huge hands on us; he did not have to because whatever he wanted he got. But another fellow, allegedly from the same Hanlon House, quiet, craven, and short in stature, probably coveting the fear Jeff commanded but getting none from us or anyone else, and our class and dormitory mate, Victor Rwomwiju, in particular, hired a mob of cheap bullies from a nearby dormitory.

They attacked Victor in the dorm one night while we slept, and beat him with clubs and metal so bad he was pronounced dead the following evening. The school was Namilyango College.

The year was 1992.

It is 2022 and bullying still happens in schools, especially secondary ones.

Bullying, in its extreme, can cause physical harm and death as we have seen for Victor and in some cases, poor academic results, school dropouts, emotional and psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, withdrawal from others, and life generally, ideating on suicide, and harm to self.

A keen parent should be able to observe these signs in their child in case they are being bullied.   

What is bullying? It is “the experience of any type (teased, left out of play, had lies spread about them, been threatened, hit, forced to do things, had things stolen or made to feel afraid) at least once in a couple of months” is the most robust definition by a UNICEF working Paper, by Dominic Richardson and Chii Fen Hiu, July 2018.

African countries occupy the top ten positions in terms of bullying rates on the globe, according to this report.          

How should a parent help their children who are being bullied?

1. Look out for signs of bullying:

They may or may not have any physical signs of bullying and will probably not want to talk about it because they have been threatened with retaliation by the bully.

But you can notice their emotions; if they suddenly become withdrawn, lose appetite or sleep, or behave moodier than usual then take a cue and interrogate them lovingly to find out the cause. Let them know you have their back and will step up to protect them.  

2. Report to school authorities:

If you find out that your child has indeed been bullied, raise the matter with the school authorities; the headteacher, or the class teacher.

Some parents become very emotional at this point but it is important you get a hold of yourself and together with your child state the facts as they are.

If you lose yourself, your child might not want to confide in you again in the future.

The school should take it from here and call in the bully to ascertain the authenticity of the information.

Most bullies would want to remain in the shadows but once their cover is blown, they might think twice about repeating this behaviour.

After Victor’s death, the school headmaster, the now late Dr. Peregrine Kibuuka, protected us by suspending some and expelling others immediately and assigning specific dormitories to specific classes so that each class had its own two or three dormitories.

He also issued tough laws against the practice. What freedom we had!

3. Teach your child to stand up for themselves:

Bullies usually pick on those they perceive to be weak. I know a parent who encouraged his child to physically fight back and the boy went and did just that and the bullying stopped. Your child might not be so lucky. It might lead to more violence.

Rather, you can teach your child to assert themselves without being offensive. Teach them to walk away from a confrontation or to ignore the words of the bully. When a bully cannot get a response, they will probably figure out it is waste of time so they will give up.

If you can, teach your child basic self-defense skills to tackle anyone who tries to harm them. Self-defense is critical in helping a child defend themselves against not just bullies but also rapists and abductors.  

4. Engage the parents of the bully:

If the bully is not relenting, it might be time to involve theyparent and the school administration. Have a parent-to-parent talk.

This will likely deflate the bully’s ego. He knows he is cornered and if his parents are strict enough, that will end his appetite for bullying others.   

5. Teach your child some social skills:

Some people in life will hate others for what they have or know that they do not. The fastest way to gather enemies at school or work or anywhere else is to show yourself as the aloof one. Teach your child to blend in.

Teach them to respect others. To share. To be kind. To study a situation at hand and be adaptable without being overbearing on others. In this way, they will live at peace with everyone and most likely escape being bullied. 

How should a parent help a child who is a bully?

1. Communication and Counseling:

In some cases, children who bully others are acting out deep emotional hurts from home or environments that pressure them to fit in at school.

“Bullies are a product of dysfunctional homes, adolescence peer pressure, and drug abuse.

Punishments in the form of manual labour, and caning will yield little discipline in such cases but rather communication, counseling, follow-up and mentoring of bullies will help them cope better” according to Peter Aine, a former Head prefect and Head of the Disciplinary Committee of Ntare School (2018-2019).         

2. Model behavior:

If you, the parent, are a bully yourself, mistreating other road users or neighbors, your child will probably have taken a cue and is imitating you by bullying others. How about they see you treat others with respect and they will do the same.

Every child in school deserves to be protected for their well-being. Bullying should never be allowed in any school in this age.

To stump out his vice, it will take the concerted efforts of the children, parents, the Ministry of Education and Sports, and schools administrators.