The early years at school are a challenging time for children in terms of learning to hold their own in a school community situation, where they are getting used to being part of a large group and to developing social skills. At this age your child will sometimes come home and inform you of things that other children have said or done at school and it can be difficult to assess how to act on this, if at all.
Sadly, teasing is often part of growing up. The difficulty for parents is in knowing where to draw the line as to what is just an acceptable part of their child getting used to a school environment and mixing with other children, as opposed to what is harmful behaviour and causing unacceptable distress to their child, commonly described as bullying.
Bullying is a very strong word and one that all schools, whether state or independent, take very seriously indeed. They will have a policy as to how they deal with bullying, which is publicised either on their website or circulated to all parents. However, parents need to be careful when communicating concerns to the school regarding their children’s interaction and relationships with other children, not to use the word bullying, in too a generic a way. For example, consider perhaps whether teasing might be a better word to use when raising the matter with the school, until further investigation and observation of children’s behaviours has led to a greater understanding of what is going on, and how to resolve it. One off situations that occur in the playground are not often down to bullying, more likely a clash of personalities and just getting used to considering the wishes and wants of others, as part of learning about social interaction and social skills.
In short, teasing becomes bullying when the behaviour is repetitive or when it is done with a conscious intent to hurt another child. It can be verbal bullying such as name-calling; psychological bullying, such as excluding from the group or spreading rumours; or physical bullying, such as hitting, pushing, or taking another child’s possessions.
What are the signs that my child might be being adversely affected by the behaviour of other children?
Victims of teasing, social exclusion or bullying are often shy, lack confidence and tend to be physically smaller than their peers. They may also have poor social skills, which makes it hard for them to bond with other children and create friendships, as well as to stand up for themselves. Sadly this makes them ‘easy targets’ for bullies, as they do not tend to retaliate.
If you become concerned that your child is experiencing difficulties, as a result of their interaction with other children, look for these signs of stress:
Increased passivity or withdrawal
Frequent crying and/or not wanting to go to school
Your child consistently complains of illness such as stomach ache or headaches, for no apparent reason
Poor levels of attainment at school
Significant change in the number of invitations to parties or play dates
How can parents help?
Read the school bullying policy. If you can’t find it on their website or in your parent information pack, ask the school secretary to give you a copy.
Make the school aware of your concerns being careful to appear calm and choosing the words you use carefully. Stick to the facts, rather than opinions and labels.
Share with the teacher what your child has told you; describe any behaviour you may have witnessed.
Ask the teacher if she sees similar behaviour at school. If the teacher hasn’t seen any previous instances, ask that she keep an eye out for the behaviour you described.
If the teacher says your child is being teased, ask the teacher if they can identify the reasons why your child might be attracting this type of behaviour. Ask what you might talk to your child about at home to assist them to cope with or ideally avoid the situation. Make sure you agree a follow-up appointment with the teacher to discuss how things are going.
If the problem persists, or the teacher ignores your concerns, and your child starts to withdraw or not want to go to school, follow the steps outlined in the school bullying policy. Remember you can always arrange to meet with the school Head to discuss this at a higher level.
Talk with your child. Ask them about their friends at school, who they play with, what they did at playtime or lunchtime and listen to what they have to say.
If they struggle to express themselves, read a story together about children being teased or bullied or you can use dolls or stuffed toys to encourage your child to act out problems you may suspect they are experiencing.
Teach your child ways to respond to the situations they face. Encourage them to walk away from difficult interactions with other children Act them out. Encourage them to take part in after school activities or clubs outside school, so they can make new friends.
The school gates
Adults do need to intervene to help children to resolve their issues in terms of social interaction, teasing and bullying. Do not however take it upon yourself to intervene, remove your child from the situation and then inform the school as soon as possible, asking them how they plan to investigate and if necessary resolve the issue.
Calling another parent directly is seldom helpful unless you know them well as a friend. This usually results in a he said/she said argument that rarely leads to a resolution and does not set a good example in terms of social behaviour to the children.
Always allow the school to mediate the situation. They will observe children’s interactions carefully and ensure any issues of concern are dealt with.
All parents involved need to show commitment to resolving the situation through agreeing a common strategy with the school to help their children to address the situation, rather than throwing around blame.