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Dealing with Bullying 18/09/2014 12:30pm   |  Sarah Elliott

By Sarah Elliott, MANZASW
Haemophilia Outreach Worker – Northern, Haemophilia Foundation of New Zealand Inc.

Both children with and without haemophilia get bullied. Although children with special health needs such as a bleeding disorder can be at an increased risk of being bullied, haemophilia may not be the cause of bullying (in most instances it is NOT about haemophilia). Why a person is being bullied is hard to determine or change, but there are many things we can try to appropriately deal with the bullying.
Bullying is unacceptable and can really hurt people and have lasting effects. Violent behaviour by a bully can result in bleeds for children with bleeding disorders like haemophilia, so it can be more dangerous than for most kids.

Parents and other adults in a child’s life should take bullying seriously. This means knowing and understanding what bullying is and strategies to help your child deal with bullies.

What is bullying?

Bullying is when someone, or a group of people, says or does something that hurts, embarrasses, frightens or upsets somebody else on purpose. It is aggressive and intentional behaviour that involves an imbalance of power. Being bullied can leave someone feeling sad, lonely, scared, and worried. Most often, bullying is repeated over time and sometimes has been around for many years.
In contrast, some behaviour such as light teasing or saying something mean in the heat of the moment is not bullying as it is not done over time or intentionally causing harm. Although they can still be hurtful, these types of behaviours take place for all children in testing friendship and social boundaries.
Many people do not realise that bullying comes in different forms that include:

  • Physical - hurting a person’s body or possessions; 
  • Verbal - saying or writing mean things, threatening;
  • Social -hurting someone’s reputation, embarrassing someone, not talking to them, leaving them out of joint activities or spreading rumours; and
  • Cyber - using social media or texts to target and cause harm to others. 

With teens, bullying can also have a sexual content to it and may involve sexual harassment.

Signs a child is being bullied

Bullying can make children and young people feel lonely, unhappy and frightened. It can make them feel unsafe and think that something must be wrong with themselves. They can lose confidence and may not want to go to school or other social activities.
It is hard to know if a child is being bullied, but there are some signs to look out for.
Has your child been:

  • Coming home with cuts and bruises or torn clothes?
  • Taking a different way to school or home?
  • ‘Losing’ possessions, money or food?
  • Moody and easily upset, quiet and withdrawn?
  • Aggressive with brothers and sisters?
  • Having trouble with school work?

Strategies to deal with bullying or bullies

A workshop on bullying was held at a recent HFNZ regional camp. Together members of HFNZ’s Northern branch discussed strategies to deal with bullying or bullies, both as recommended by professionals and from their own experience. The following is their list of approaches and strategies. Please note: Not all of the listed strategies will work for your child. All children are different so something might work for one and not another – it is about seeing what is the best fit for you and your family.

  • Keep communication open – allow your child to express their feelings and emotions. They may like to write in a journal or express their feelings in other ways. As a parent just listening and understanding can help. If your child is telling you about their feelings it is a BIG first step.
  • If you think your child is dealing with bullying but they do not talk about it then try and engage them gently – let them know that you see something is upsetting them and that when they are ready to talk about it you are ready to listen, you are there for them. Or let them know if they want to talk to someone else they could talk to another relative, teacher, and mentor or call a helpline (details below).
  • If your child doesn’t engage easily with you try having a chat at meal times or before bed and ask about specific things at school and in the class (not just ‘how was your day’) or just sit with your child and don’t say anything and they may open up.
  • A safety plan is great – ‘who to tell if……’ ‘what to do if…… ‘Go over this plan many times with your child so they feel confident of how to interact with a bully, or what to do when bullying arises.
  • Build resilience, strength and self-esteem.
  • Encourage them to say ‘stop it’ or ‘leave me alone’. Encourage them to call out the behaviour ‘don’t hit me’ or ‘stop throwing things at me’ – get them to practise what they might say to the bully.
  • Encourage them to act: tall and strong, hold their head up, make eye contact, use calm and firm voice, and give a poker face to show confidence.
  • Teach your child what to react/respond to and what to ignore. There are times when walking away or acting unimpressed are better than confronting the bully.
  • As a parent learn to control your own emotions about the situation and try to look at it logically. 
  • Keep a bullying record – Who did what and when to your child. This can be helpful to keep perspective on the situation and to show teachers.
  • Get to know your community and other parents at your school or in your child’s class. By being connected or friends with other parents you could prevent bullying happening or quickly respond to it.
  • It is hard for kids to know how to respond to bullies/bullying so do not make them feel bad about their initial response, even if you do not think it is the right course of action. Gently give them some other little ideas/tips for them to try next time 
  • Let your child know you are on their side and that you believe them.
  • Validate and congratulate your child when they have dealt with the situation well, i.e. told you or a teacher.
  • Do not encourage name calling or violence as a form of retaliation as it will just escalate the situation.
  • Help nurture friendships with a non-bully, as having buddies can make dealing with bullying easier.
  • Find places/hobbies that are away from the bully and in places where they will feel accepted. 
  • Encourage them to do things they enjoy like playing games, listening to music, reading books, playing sports, and hanging out with caring people. This might not stop the bullying, but it will help them manage their feelings, and help them to get through the tough times.
  • Let them know bullying is never ok, it’s not cool and that it is not their fault or something they ‘deserve’. Let them know everyone has the right to feel safe and be treated with respect.
  • Identify behaviour or actions which might aggravate the bully and try to curb them if appropriate and if there is a trigger. 
  • Educate your child about bullying and bullies.
  • Encourage your child to come up with the solutions – What do they think might work? What do they think might make them feel better? Who would they like to talk to at school if it happens?
  • As a parent talking to the school teacher or dean about bullying is a good idea– so they can keep an eye out for your child or address it with the bullies in an appropriate way.
  • Ask the schools policy on bullying so you know what action they take.
  • Even after the bullying has stopped the child might need to deal with the effects.

Violence is not a way to deal with bullying or any of life’s problems. If we encourage a child to use violence whilst young, then they will often use it as a way to continue to deal with what life throws at them or as a coping mechanism and this is not good for anyone – especially someone with a bleeding disorder.

Focus on Cyberbullying

These days, kids not only socialise in the physical world, but also in the virtual world. This has created what is now known as cyber-bullying. Cyberbullying is bullying that happens online. It can happen in an email, a text message, an online game or on a social networking site. It might involve rumours or images posted on someone’s profile or passed around for other people to see.

Cyberbullying takes many forms and some of these may be harder to deal with than others. Depending on the situation, some young people are able to sort it out quickly, or simply shrug it off. Other situations may be more serious. About 1 in 5 New Zealand high school students say they have been cyberbullied and many say it makes them feel scared, depressed, angry or ashamed.

Receiving nasty messages outside of school can make it feel hard to escape the bullying. Some people say it’s worse if you can't tell who the bullying messages are coming from. Posting mean or nasty pictures or videos of people online can embarrass them in front of their school and spread quickly out of control. If you or your teen posts altered pictures of people online these can exist long after you delete them and can also be used as evidence by teachers and police.

What can you do to prevent cyberbullying?

  • Be careful who you give your mobile number to and don't pass on friends' numbers without asking them first.
  • Don’t respond to texts from people you don’t know. These can often be sent randomly to find people to bully.
  • Don't post revealing pictures of yourself or others online - they may get sent on and used to bully you or other people.
  • Keep your online identity safe - create strong passwords with a mix of lower and upper case letters and numbers. Pick difficult answers for your “secret question” on your accounts that people who know you wouldn’t easily guess and don't share your password with anyone - even your friends.

What if you or your child is being cyberbullied?

  • Tell people you trust - a good friend, a parent, or a teacher. They will want to help you stop the bullying quickly and safely. You can also report bullying to the police, even anonymously if this feels safer.
  • Do not reply to the people bullying you, especially to text messages from numbers you don't know.
  • Save evidence of all bullying messages and images. You can save messages on your phone and take screen shots of bullying on websites or IM chats. This may be used later if you report the bullying.

As a parent, educating your kids about cyberbullying is the first step to creating awareness around this important issue. Talk to your kids about the risk when being online. Start early and create an honest, open environment. Ask them to tell you if an online message makes them feel threatened or hurt. Keep an open channel of communication with your child, and hopefully he or she will come to you.

Further Resources

  • Kidsline - Kidsline is New Zealand's original telephone counselling service for all kids up to 14 years of age. Kidsline operates from 4pm to 6pm Monday through to Friday. When kids ring they will speak to a Kidsline buddy – a specially trained teenage telephone counsellor.  Call 0800 54 37 54 (0800kidsline)
  • 0800What’s Up – telephone counselling service for 5-18 year olds. Call 0800 942 8787 or visit www.whatsup.co.nz
  • Youthline – offers telephone counselling for young people (aged 10-25), daily from 4-11 pm. Call 0800 37 66 33 or visit www.youthline.co.nz
  • No Bully – call 0800 66 28 55 or visit www.nobully.org.nz
  • Parent Help offer the only parenting helpline in New Zealand that is available 24 hours a day - Call 0800 568 856
  • Cyberbulling – Resources for young people, parents and teachers. Visit: www.cyberbullying.org.nz/

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Bloodline.

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