Children’s friendships often go through stages of closeness and distance, agreement and disagreement, flattering and teasing. For many parents simply letting these stages cycle seems a natural way to deal with them. But when negative behaviour from either friend descends into bullying parents must act. Recognising signs of bullying, speaking with your child, speaking with your child’s teacher and speaking with the parent of your child’s friends are all positive steps you can take to nip a bout of bullying in the bud.
Recognising Signs of Bullying
Children’s friendships often include teasing and arguments, much of which makes very little impression on children. In fact, many parents often wonder at the way best friends can fight over toys one day, declaring each other mortal enemies, and then happily play on their bikes the next. Due to such up-and-down relationships it is often easier for parents to watch the children involved for signs of bullying rather than their actions. Look for:
- Frequent crying
- Unexplained cuts or bruises
- Not wanting to go to school or an after-school activity
- Frequent upset stomachs or headaches which don’t seem related to illness
- Withdrawal from social life or once-favoured activities
- Increased passivity in personality
- Loss of self-confidence
- Verbal cues, such as labelling a former friend and enemy
- Defeating self-talk, such as telling himself he is stupid, a baby, etc.
Speaking With Your Child
Whether you believe your child is being bullied or bullying others it is important to speak with him or her about it. Arrange a private chat in an environment your child finds supportive. Explain that you would like to chat about his or her friendship. Ask about:
- Why (s)he enjoys the friendship.
- If the friendship ever makes him or her sad.
- If the friendship ever makes him or her mad.
- If (s)he still likes spending time with the friend.
- What (s)he thinks might help the friendship.
- If (s)he’d like to end the friendship, and why.
- If (s)he needs to apologise for inappropriate behaviour.
- If (s)he feels that she is being bullied, or is a bully.
Speaking With Your Child’s Teacher
If your child and his or her friend attend the same school, then speaking with your child’s teacher about this situation is a good idea. Let the teacher know what you have observed, both in terms of actions (teasing, hitting, etc) and results (crying, headaches, defeating self-talk, etc). Share with the teacher the pertinent details of your chat with your child. If your child is the one bullying someone else this may feel like tattling on your own child, but really it is protecting both children involved. Ask the teacher about your child and his or her friendship at school, and brainstorm together about how you can both encourage a more positive relationship. If the teacher is non-responsive, consider speaking with someone else such as your child’s head teacher or the school counsellor.
Speaking With the Parent of Your Child’s Friend
It may feel very awkward to meet up the parents of your child’s friends and relate what you have learn about your children’s friendship, but if bullying has not ceased after speaking with your children then this may be a necessary step. You may choose to meet with parents before or after speaking with a teacher, but the important thing is to offer suggestions of how you can tackle the problems together. Perhaps having coffee together during your kids’ next play date or teaming up to walk the kids to school together would give you all the opportunity to witness the same relationship and express the same disapproval of inappropriate comments and behaviours.
When friends begin to bully it can be a confusing time for both children and parents. On the one hand the relationship might still be important, but on the other the inappropriate facets must be stopped. Parents can help end bullying in friendships by recognising the warning signs of bullying, speaking with their children, speaking with their children’s teachers and speaking with the parents of their children’s friends to form alliances and defeat this kind of bullying amongst friends.