Have you ever noticed a change in your child’s behaviour? For instance, has your child who used to speak out freely and play actively suddenly become withdrawn? Does your child cry whenever it is time for school or give excuses that they are sick when it’s school time? Well, chances are high that your child is experiencing challenges at school, among them being bullied. Bullying is when a child or a group of children tease others. It can be verbal (involving calling one names), physical (in form of pinching or beating), or social (involving segregation based on family status or background).
Nine-year-old Maureen Keza, who is in lower primary, says her classmates used to make fun of her because she is big, which she says has lowered her self-esteem and made her hate going to school.
However, she never opened up to her parents about what was taking place at school. Instead, she would cry it off. But because she always topped her class, the children that used to call her ‘fattie’ started consulting her and eventually befriended her.
Many children are bullied just like Keza, but even teachers never get to know because the bullies threaten them not to report. However, it is every parent’s and teacher’s responsibility to ensure that such habits are dealt away with.
Education experts say one way to tell that a child could be having a rought time at school is by watching their behavioural patterns.
Valens Safari, an educationist, says bullying or teasing are rooted in human nature and it has got different forms.
“It may be playful (in this case it does not sound harmful), hurtful (in this case it is in form of harassment and results into adverse effects) or educative (purposed to change undesirable behaviour). Someone may be teased over bad clothing, cleanliness or physical appearance, among others,” he says.
Safari says bullying, especially emotional abuse done publicly affects a student’s relationship with others and leads to fights and violence where the one teased gets angry and attacks their tormentor.
He adds that bullying affects academic performance as the victim loses concentration towards their studies since they spend time reflecting on the insults made by their colleagues.
“This can cause a feeling of rejection and they can even absent themselves from school to avoid being hurt, which affects their academics. The teased student can also feel unwanted or ashamed, hence losing their self-esteem. This can affect their relationship with others and has potential to negatively affect their growth,” he says.
Safari says teachers should take a lead role in sensitising students about the dangers of bullying others.
For Collins Odhiambo, a teacher and counsellor, teachers should be able to identify signs of bullying.
He adds that the parents of the bullies should be informed about their children’s behaviour so that they guide them accordingly. If they do not change, then they should be punished or suspended from school, he says.
“Children should report the bullies to the school administrators, and should learn not to isolate themselves as they can easily be bullied if they are not around people,” the counselor explains.
Odhiambo says bullies should be taught empathy as their behavior could be stemmed in them at home.
“Parents should watch the way they groom their children because when they grow with a bully attitude, it becomes hard for them to change when they grow,” he adds.
Odhiambo warns that bullying can lead to depression and a sense of shame on the part of the victims.
“Let us train children to value others because everyone is created beautifully in their own way. No one is born to suffer insults, unnecessary blame and torture. We should all stand up and say ‘no’ to bullying” he says.
Parents share their thoughts
“We as parents should monitor what our children watch. If they are exposed to violent programmes and movies, they eventually become violent and exercise the same to their colleagues. Quarrelling in the presence of children should be avoided as they will exhibit similar behaviour at school,” says Juliet Nsimemana, a resident of Kibagabaga and mother of one.
“Family influence, whereby some children lack parental love and affection or their parents divorce, can bring frustration to them, hence causing them to turn their anger towards their colleagues at school,” she says.
Nsimemana urges parents to always observe their children’s behavior, saying children open up easily if they are listened to. “If they fought at school, all they need is a warning and some advice not to repeat the same mistake.”
Brian Mugisha, who resides in Nyamirambo, Kigali, says if not helped promptly, the victims of bullying can resort to using drugs as a way of consoling themselves. “They tend to hate school activities and also feel that teachers and parents are not helping out on the situation, which can lead to trauma,” he says.
Mugisha also says the victims can also turn out to be bullies just to prove that they are also strong or as a way of revenge.