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Four types of bullying all parents need to know about

When dealing with bullying at your child's school, always contact your child's teacher so the situation can be monitored until it stops.

Parents must understand how to recognise the four most common types of bullying that children face.

Bullying is defined as “harmful, repeated behaviour” in a relationship characterised by an “imbalance of power or strength”. Bullying can manifest in various ways, including verbal, physical, relational, and cyberbullying. Although schools are doing more to combat bullying, parents remain crucial in empowering children in the fight against bullying.

Here are some strategies for how to deal with the four most common types of bullying.

1. Verbal bullying

Verbal bullying consists of continuous name-calling, threatening, and making disparaging remarks about someone’s characteristics (appearance, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, etc.).

How to recognise the signs of verbal bullying: Children who are victims of verbal bullying may withdraw, become moody, or experience a change in appetite. They may tell you something hurtful that was said about them and ask you if you believe it.

What to do: First, teach your children the value of respect. Reinforce how everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. Instil self-esteem in your children and help them recognise their own strengths.

“The best protection parents can provide is to encourage their child’s confidence and independence, as well as to be willing to intervene when necessary,” says Shane Jimerson, a school psychologist and professor.

“Discuss and practise safe, constructive responses to bullies with your child. Teach them how to respond to verbal bullying by saying, “That wasn’t nice,” “Leave me alone,” or “Back off” in a firm but not antagonistic tone.

2. Physical bullying

Physical bullying, also known as aggressive physical intimidation, involves unwanted and inappropriate hitting, kicking, tripping, blocking, pushing, and touching.

How to recognise the signs of physical bullying: Because many children do not report physical bullying to their parents, look for unexplained cuts, scratches, or bruises, missing or damaged clothing, or frequent complaints of headaches and stomachaches.

What to do: If you suspect your child is being physically bullied, initiate a casual conversation and inquire about the situation. Ask if anyone has been mean to them or physically tried to hurt them. Try to keep your emotions under control. Instil the importance of open, ongoing communication with your child, as well as with their teachers or school counsellors.

Keep track of the dates and times of bullying incidents. Do not contact the bully or their parents to resolve the situation alone. Contact local law enforcement if your child continues to be physically harmed and you require assistance beyond what the school can provide.

3. Relational bullying

Exclusionary bullying, also known as relational bullying, involves preventing someone from joining or being a part of a group, whether at a lunch table, game, sport, or social activity.

A group of girls in dance class, for example, keep talking about and sharing pictures from a weekend sleepover while treating the one uninvited child as if she were invisible.

How to recognise the signs of relational bullying: Look for mood changes in your child, withdrawal from peer groups, and increased time spent alone. Girls are more likely to face social exclusion, non-verbal or emotional intimidation than boys. The agony can be as intense as physical bullying and last much longer.

What to do: Jennifer Cannon, a family therapist, recommends making it a nightly routine to talk with your children about their day. Help them find things that make them happy, highlight their positive qualities, and let them know they are loved and cared for. Develop your children’s talents and interests in music, arts, sports, reading, and after-school activities, so they can form relationships outside the classroom.

4. Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is harassing someone by spreading hurtful words, lies, and false rumours via e-mails, text messages, and social media posts. Even when not directly targeting your child, sexist, racist, and homophobic statements create a hostile environment.

How to recognise the signs of cyberbullying: Keep an eye out if your child spends more time online (visiting social media pages or texting) but then appears sad and anxious. Take note if your child has difficulty sleeping, requests to be excused from school, or withdraws from activities they once enjoyed.

What to do: Establish household Internet safety rules. Set age-appropriate time limits. Before allowing your children to use popular and potentially abusive websites, apps, and digital devices, familiarise yourself with them. Inform your children that you will be monitoring their online activities. Inform them that if they are subjected to cyberbullying, they should not engage, respond, or forward it.

Instead, they should notify you so that you can print out the offending messages and the dates and times they were received. Inform the school and the online service provider about cyberbullying. Contact local law enforcement if the cyberbullying escalates, including threats and sexually explicit messages.

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