A movie poster for the documentary film Bully seen at the movies premiere in Hollywood in March 2012.

Bullying is an increasingly serious problem in schools. It seems to be getting worse and has recently begun to take different dimensions. The fact is that bullying is the most common form of violence in our society.

There are three different forms of bullying:

Verbal

This includes teasing, name-calling and making threats.

Physical

This includes hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing and taking a person’s belongings.

Psychological

This involves the spreading of rumours, manipulation of relationships and intimidation.

Verbal and physical bullying are more common among primary school pupils, whereas psychological bullying increases in severity in high school pupils.

Between 15% and 30% of pupils are bullied every day. In the US, the CIA says two-thirds of recent school shootings were committed by adolescents who were severely bullied at school.

It is obviously important that parents and teachers work together to stop bullying and help children experience a safe learning environment.

Often moms and dads don’t know what their children have to endure at school because their children are too scared of being bullied even more or to upset their parents if they talk to them. Here’s what you can do:

■ Look out for symptoms, such as unexplained reluctance to go to school, sudden difficulty concentrating or doing schoolwork, fearfulness or anxiety, getting upset easily, recurring headaches or stomach pain when the child has to go to school, nightmares or disturbed sleep or missing belongings.

Ask tactfully how the child spends his or her break-time, what it is like getting to school and coming home and if there are other children who are bullied in school.

If you hear that your child is bullied, stay calm, listen well and give your child time to explain the whole story and his or her feelings. Explain to your child that it is not their fault. Try not to overreact and get too upset in front of the child.

Don’t try to minimise the situation either. Children need support and don’t want to hear: “Just ignore them” or “Don’t be silly, they’re just teasing”, or “Fight back”.

Remember, hitting back doesn’t solve the issue. Also, children who are bullied don’t have sufficient social skills to defend themselves. If they did, there would be less likelihood of them being bullied.

After you’ve learnt that your child is being bullied, you need to think about your next steps carefully. You don’t want to make your child’s problem worse.

Instead, you should keep a cool head and also discuss with your child what to do next.

It’s helpful to write down all the incidences, make an appointment with the headmaster or mistress and the class teacher. Solving the problem means getting teachers, management, parents and children involved.

Parents can help the child to:

* Learn how to avoid situations in which they are bullied. For instance, walk home with friends or an adult, stay with others during break or stay close to a place where teachers can see them.

* Learn how to report an incident so it does not sound like “telling on”. For instance, only report the serious incidents and don’t always go to the teacher if another child doesn’t want to share his crayons.

* Identify and encourage their positive attributes, which will increase their self-esteem.

* Become more assertive and stand up for their rights. Children need to learn to express their feelings and know that others do not have a right to hurt them.

* Learn how to adapt their body language to appear more confident, for example, walk upright to appear more confident.

* Make new friends which will help change their environment.

Parents should make sure that the school:

* Talks to the bully and his or her parents.

* Increases adult supervision.

* Monitors and offers support for the child who is being bullied.

* Helps the bully to change his/her behaviour effectively.

Bullying can be very hurtful, humiliating and frightening. Often children feel powerless to stop it. You need to help your child to deal with the situation and to heal.

Ask your child regularly how it’s going at school and during break. Follow up frequently with the school. Teach your child better social skills and show them their strong points.

It can also be helpful to find a healing extramural activity (self-defence classes, Brownies or Scouts, church activities), do something together as a family and very importantly, tell your child you love him or her.

Be strong, this can turn negative feelings into positive, pro-active actions.

* Andrea Kellerman (Educational Psychologist) can be reached at 031 266 8563, www.eq-advantedge.co.za or [email protected]