It is crucial with to build a relationship of trust and security with a child from its early age. This doesn’t mean that the child shouldn’t have any consequences for his or her behavior, but that the consequences shouldn’t be replaced with the violence or focused solely on child’s negative behaviors. Consequence of behavior should also be praise, corroboration, parental attention… which can be given to the child whenever he or she behaves in the way that parents expect od in the way they believe that child should behave following their example, in accordance with clear and unambiguous rules.
When undesirable behaviors occur, consequences are also important, but in a way that when the child made a mistake it doesn’t lose the love and security of the parent: children may be denied certain privileges, given the opportunity to repair some of the damage s/he has done, and make it clear that s/he can and should do otherwise in the future. Children who grow up with their parents in the described way won’t be immune to peer violence or other problems that occur while growing up, but when facing problems that they can’t solve alone, that children will will most likely confide in parents and accept their help to solve that problems together, whether they are victims or perpetrators of, for example, peer violence. These are children who – when they find themselves in a problem – won’t say, “I have a problem. I was wrong. I have to make sure my parents don’t find out about it,”but rather: “I have a problem. I was wrong. I have to reach out to my parents.”
Trust and security in relationship is important in order for child to trust us without a fear
There are some signs of bullying that can be recognized, which include any sudden changes in the child’s behavior and mood, fear of school or some other place, loss of interest and enjoyment in activities that previously cheered the child on, withdrawing from oneself, isolation from society, decreased graces in school… Similar signs may also appear in a child abuser. Research shows that children who are victims of violence (whether in the family or from peers) are at a significantly higher risk of becoming perpetrators of violence, and that these children have the biggest mental health problems. The signs we described can be signs of various other problems during adulthood as well as some adolescent stages. Parents cannot have control over everything in their child’s life forever to protect him or her, nor would it be natural. It is for this reason that the relationship of trust and security develops from an early age, so that the child can trust us without fear when s/he needs help. It is also important for parents to have a continuous relationship with school staff in order to exchange relevant information on time, and these are not only about school achievement, the “struggle” for grades and points.
Information at school: Parents need to talk to teachers
It is important to ask the child with a genuine interest how is s/he, not just about results they got from the test. Although they will reluctantly gave answer, especially adolescents, every child needs the interest and care of their parents. When a child tell us about his or her problems, we should listen and take it seriously. Many adults find it hard to bear the tears and suffering of a child, they need to resolve the cause of the problem quickly, and in the way they think it would be best to keep the child happy. That’s why they often say: “Don’t cry, everything will be O.K. Just turn off your cell phone if they bother you. Let it go in one ear and out the other. You are hypersensitive, you take everything to heart. You have to harden a little. You are so overwhelmed with such a little thing, imagine how big problems do I have with my big credit payment.”
None of this helps the child, moreover, it creates a sense of shame and encourages additional withdrawal. And if we don’t listen to the little problems of our children, they won’t trust us one day when they have big problems. It is the best when parents listen to child when s/he talks about what is happening to her/him: child needs to be heard and hugged by parents. Only when a child has cried out or otherwise “ventilated” her/his emotions can we move on to a joint search for a problem solution, with patience because it can take some time to find it. For example, a child may be sad because they have no friends in the new school. He will hardly have friends at the end of the conversation with his parents, but he may have a safe place, a crying shoulder, an ear for listening, understanding, and some ideas and support for what to do next. This is more than enough for children. Children learn the most from their parents’ examples, and empathy is something to be learned. Parents who systematically empathically respond to a child’s emotions, instead of belittling or even abusing a child when it suffers, have a better chance of raising empathetic children, who won’t be bully nor silent “bystander”, but will seek help.
Not every peer conflict is bullying or violence
Adults should let children resolve their peer conflicts, which are a normal part of growing up, by relying on themselves and their resources, possibly with adult guidance. It teaches children strategies for problem solving, communication, coping with unpleasant emotions, and gives them a sense of their own competence for life, as opposed to feeling helpless and fully relying on the guidance of others.
The difference between conflict and violence
The power relationship is what distinguishes peer conflicts and violence. While in the ordinary peer conflict both sides have approximately equal power (physical, status…), violence occurs when one of conflicted sides is noticeably more powerful. Furthermore, peer conflict usually has some specific reason or reasons, such as a conflict over who is in the game and thus has a solution. Violence doesn’t have a specific cause that can lead to a solution: it makes one side feel bad, which sometimes becomes a goal. Finally, the difference is in the consequences. While it is common for peer conflicts to resolve themselves, so conflicted children normally play and socialize tomorrow, they conflict with someone else, while their emotions of sadness and anger are short and transient, in violence one side systematically feels ashamed. scared and lonely, which significantly reflects on its functioning. When a child confides in bullying, parents often feel scared and angry. Talking to your child about this topic is subjected to all the same rules as talking about any of the other issues mentioned earlier, with one exception – the conclusion of the conversation will be that parents will actively engage and protect their child from violence. It is essential to refrain from blaming the child, for example in the case of cyberbullying, if the child is blackmailed afater posting a provocative photo of himself or herself, parents shouldn’t blame the child for the violence he or she is suffering. Although child is responsible for its behavior, the perpetrator is always guilty of violence. Parents can certanily talk about boundaries and keeping children’s intimacy safe, but after the child is protected from violence.
In the case of electronic violence, it is important to collect all the pictures and messages, not to delete the conversations but preserve them and hand them over to the police. In case of violence among children, it is important to inform the school, but also the Center for Social Welfare, sometimes the police (in case of uncertainty, it is sufficient to notify the Center; they will forward the notification if necessary). I would advise the same to parents of a child who does violence, who clearly needs help and support, there is no shame in that. Perpetrators are only children, and research and clinical practice shows that their mental health is often equal or even more impaired than the mental health of victims of violence. It is important to act clearly and actively as soon as violence occurs, no matter how banal it may seem, instead of wainting for the violence to escalate, when a minor perpetrator commit more serious form of violence and becomes adult offender.
Both victims and perpetrators parents need help and support
Schools and all other institutions should follow the law and protocols in situations of violence and bullying and involve the relevant services. It seems like new protocols and guidelines are coming out, but in Croatia we’ve had them for over 20 years. It’s time to put words into action – everywhere, constantly and systematically. Sometimes this doesn’t happen in practice, but instead of pointing our finger at schools, each of us can take responsibility and react. If any of us sees a suffering child, or has information about it, and is dissatisfied with the response of the institutions, he can contact them repeatedly, contact the competent institutions, inspect the Ministry and so on. There are always ways, though it is much more difficult if all the institutions responsible for child care do not act in a coordinated and consistent manner. Both victims and perpetrators parents need the help and support of professionals, they shouldn’t ot run away from a social worker or psychologist. None of us has a goal to blame parents or deprive them of their children, nor to declare them or their child mentally ill, etc., although media can, unfortunatelly, present it so to public. Just as we need help when our foot, arm or stomach hurts, parents need guidance when a child has high blood sugar: as we need help when our soul hurts, parents need guidance when a child has “increased” sadness or anger. Children who need love most often seek it out in the worst possible ways, and no one can even handle it alone.
Not only the victims, but the perpetrators of violence too, have signs and consequences
The most common consequences for the victim’s children are impaired self-image, lack of self-esteem and self-respect, feelings of helplessness, intense anger and sadness, destructive and self-destructive behavior, self-harm, suicidality, various risky behaviors, substance abuse, anxiety, depression … This consequences are more expressed if bullying is long-lasting and chronic and if the child is not assisted by adults who know about bullying, which includes parents but also professionals. A child can retreat for a long time, then kill themselves or hurt others at once, and then media becomes flooded with headlines about a “calm and well-wandered student”. This is never a sudden incident, and it is the responsibility of the media how they report such cases, how they label children (“abusers, crazy, monsters ..”.) and finally how they magnify bullying and impose violent heroes for children.
Children who commit violence are not abusers, they are still children, so prevention and early intervention are crucial. No child who is emotionally satisfied has decided out of pure peace to be violent and suddenly become bully. As we go deeper into each story, it can be clearly seen that the signs existed years earlier. The child perpetrator of the violence may lack love, attention, may be a victim or witness of domestic violence, may have poorly developed social skills, and so on. So, apart from the sanction for violent behavior, we must always and without exception ask ourselves: what is behind the violent behavior, what is the need of the child who remains dissatisfied, so s/he tries to satisfy him/her with violence, in what other ways can we satisfy him/her. No child likes to be labeled as a “bad” child and if they can get love, attention and approval in other ways, they will choose those other ways. Closing your eyes to child violence is equally devastating for child victims, child perpetrators, and often child watchers, who learn that violence is acceptable or even desirable.
Victim children are usually children who are somewhat different, children who are more withdrawn, who do not have pronounced social power in the group. This makes them more vulnerable to bullying and more frequent victims, although bullying can happen to any child. It is very important to talk with children from very early age about violence. In the event of any violence,you should immediately stop other activities and dedicate yourself to solving the problem of violence – not pro forma, but really. For example, it can happen that even in severe school violence, children are only forced to apologize and shake hands, victim is questioned in front of the perpetrator, and all this to avoid parental and / or social welfare center’s involvement. That is a superficial and apparent solution to the problem, which can in reality become bigger, because children lose confidence that we adults will really help them. Research shows that this hapenns: for example, in the event of violence at school less than a fifth of children seek the help from a teacher and a professional, so it is crucial to work on trust and justify that trust.
This text is also published on the Miss7Mama portal:
Written by Mia Roje Đapić, mag. psych.