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It is 5am and 8-year-old Mark is pretending to be fast asleep as his mother wakes him up to prepare to go to school. His young mind is awake but clouded by disturbing thoughts. He has grown to like his teachers but he dreads facing another long day in the company of some three boys out to make his school life torturous. They have unceasingly unleashed bad names and even cooked bad stories about him and try he has, but his rebuttals haven’t assuaged the bad feeling the attack lines leaves him with.
Not once has the trio accosted him, physically roughed him up and only letting go of him when he started whimpering. He has reported the bullying to his teacher but the reprimand the boys got, ironically, seemed to embolden them to work in cahoots against Mark. His mom shakes him hard and he knows it is time to be up to get prepared to run to school to learn and, sadly, contend with his tormentors.
Bullying which means the use of superior strength or influence to intimidate another person, typically to force him or her to do what one wants to do is a vexing vice in any society. Esther Kinuthia, a psychologist at Baby Insight explains that bullying is a behavioural presentation that serves to fulfill a bully’s need of power, aggression, control, fame, acceptance. There is an increase in bullying especially with current day access to social media and its ability to reach masses in a short time span.
“Bullying can have a long-lasting effect on the victim and should be addressed as a major social concern. Bullies generally target the weak or those perceived weak as recipients of their hurtful ways. In most if not all cases, bullies are hurting children, who have themselves experienced hurt and unconsciously feed on a need by hurting others,” she says.
According to the psychologist, a number of issues account for this vice. She says children from dysfunctional families have been recipients of some form of aggression, either emotional or physical, and are likely to engage in bullying on their peers. Equally, children who are themselves experiencing high stress courtesy of factors like low self-esteem are prone to attacking their age mates in school or in the neighbourhood.
Victims of bullying may themselves lack self-confidence due to a feeling of low self-esteem, making them easy targets for the bullies to isolate. She cautions that children that may easily be turned into victims of bullying are those coming from dysfunctional families since they have previous hurtful experiences and therefore lack assertive skills practised in their social settings.
According to Esther, the other group susceptible to bullying are children who are admirable in ways such as excelling in class, sports or come from financially privileged families. In this latter category, the bully picks on them out of envy and jealousy and seeks to pull them down.
The psychologist lends advice on how to help victims of bullying. What tops the trick to win over a bully is to assist kids have assertive skills; to boldly say no to mistreatment. Esther cautions against asking minors to cower from their bullies saying this will contribute to a feeling of low self-worth.
“Re-assure your child of her worth. Tell her that what the bullies say is nothing but their own creation aimed at dampening her spirits....that being bullied is a reflection of her tormentors’ insecurities not theirs,” she says. She guides parents and guardians that their young ones have to be made aware of bully tactics which include name-calling, humiliating and intimidating and be told that they are wrong whether used against them or by them against other children.
“A victim’s reaction to bullying is of key importance since bullies thrive more when their victims react in a way that makes them seem they have reached their goal. There is no joy to a bully than seeing his or her object of abuse crying, sulking and withdrawing from a social circle,” she adds. The victims are urged to respond immediately against bullying because the longer the bully gets away with his cheeky act, the more power and control he gains.
The counsellor is of the view that victims need to be guided to make their body language and their spoken rebuttals against bully tactics be in tandem.
“It doesn’t help to say no or brush aside a bully attack lines while crying or shaking. Teach victims to reinforce assertive use of words with accompanying body language like looking straight into the eye of their abuser as they tell them to keep off. Older children can be taught to interpret the bully’s behaviour from bully’s world to avoid taking everything either done or said to them personally. For instance, being called stupid doesn’t make one stupid.
Bullies too can be helped to overcome this vexing vice. The starting point is to identify cause of bullying. For example, abuse at home can cause a child to express abuse he experienced at home on another child at school. The psychologist cautions that punishing alone cannot help the child; a holistic assessment of behaviour is important.
She advises that a child who bullies needs to be sat down and taken through consequences of bullying. “Teach the children to appreciate diversity in others. Homes and schools need to teach and lead by example in teaching children that life encompasses people of different races, social status, financial and physical abilities and all these people are important and have a right to exist; none being more important than another,” she advises.
According to Esther, children need to learn to communicate in healthy, socially acceptable ways while making clear consequences of bullying behaviour, both at home and in school. It is possible to teach children to care for others, learn to identify their feelings and express the same in a constructive manner, but this can only happen in a supportive environment where adults lead by example. It is important to ensure bullying is not tolerated and reinforced through lack of consequences.
“Imagine a child in kindergarten bullying classmates and getting away with this behaviour. Twenty-five years later, this may be a child facing problems with the law,” Esther warns. A parent and teacher would have been in a better, more influential position during kindergarten years than they would in adulthood.
A parent may find oneself at a crossroad not knowing whether a child has crossed the red line on her behaviour. On such a case, Esther advises that while assessing behaviour as acceptable or not, always project the behaviour 20-30 years from current time. She asks parents to ponder along these lines, “ does the habit add any value to the child? Will it contribute to their growth as a person and in society? Does it prepare the child to fit into and positively contribute to society or cause the child to become a misfit who will faces numerous rejection?”