Bullying is a pervasive and concerning issue that affects children globally, and Singapore is no exception.
It can have a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of young children, as early as childcare-going toddlers.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately one in five students in the United States reports being bullied at school (NCES, 2020).
Closer to home, to a study conducted by the Singapore Children’s Society in 2018 shared that approximately one in four primary and secondary school students in Singapore reported being bullied at least once (The Straits Times, 2018). The study surveyed 3,612 students from 36 primary and secondary schools in Singapore and found that verbal bullying was the most common form of bullying, followed by physical bullying and social bullying.
Furthermore, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2019 found that approximately 7% of primary school students and 5% of secondary school students reported experiencing bullying on a weekly basis (Channel News Asia, 2019). The study, which surveyed 3,600 students from 18 primary and 16 secondary schools, also found that boys were more likely to be involved in physical bullying, while girls were more likely to be involved in verbal and social bullying.
These statistics highlight the prevalence of bullying in Singaporean schools and the need for effective interventions to address this issue. However, it is important to note that these numbers may not fully capture the extent of bullying in Singapore, as many cases of bullying go unreported.
Our Roles as Parents
As parents, it is important to understand the signs of bullying and to know how to help our children face bullying in a healthy and effective way.
Bullying is defined as repeated aggressive behaviour towards an individual, usually involving a power imbalance (Olweus, 1993). This behaviour can take many forms, including physical, verbal, and social bullying. Physical bullying involves hitting, kicking, or other forms of physical harm, while verbal bullying includes name-calling, teasing, and other forms of verbal abuse.
Social bullying involves isolating or excluding someone from a group or spreading rumours about them. All forms of bullying can have negative effects on the victim’s self-esteem, mental health, and academic performance.
Being bullied is not harmless nor an inevitable part of growing up – it often leads to serious long-term consequences (Kahn, 2015). Studies have also shown that bullying can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and poor academic performance (Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009).
Signs of Bullying
Children who are being bullied may exhibit a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and a reluctance to go to school. They may also withdraw from social activities and become isolated.
As parents, we should be on the look out for any recent changes in our children’s behaviours or signs and take actions if we suspect our child is being bullied. A bullying incident may be kept hidden for a long time, or it can quickly escalate.
Helping Children Face Bullying
Here are some ways parents can help their children face bullying.
Communicate openly with your child
In order to support our children against bullying, open communication and allowing our children the space to talk about it and to trust that we are here to help them, and not criticize or reprimand them, is very important.
Encourage your child to talk about their experiences and listen to them without judgment. This will help them feel heard and supported, and will give you a better understanding of what they are going through.
Giving them this space would also allow us as parents to see where their challenges are before we rush to solve the problem.
Teach your child to stand up for themselves
There is a huge difference between teaching our children to stand up for themselves as opposed to being aggressive. A child who resolve issues through aggression or violence may being this behaviour to other aspect of their lives even into adult stage.
It is a valuable skill when we can teach our children to voice their needs and boundaries assertively. Encourage your child to assert themselves in a non-violent way.
Help them develop strategies for dealing with bullies, such as walking away, even using humour, or seeking help from an adult.
Letting them know that there is no shame or wrong in seeking help from someone else or an adult when they recognise that they need it can be empowering to a child.
Teach empathy and respect
Encourage your child to treat others with kindness and respect. Teach them to understand and empathize with others’ feelings and perspectives.
This is helpful when guiding our child to see the other individual as equal and not having any power or authority over them. Letting them know that bullies are human and same as them might help shift that thought.
Encourage involvement in activities
Encourage your child to get involved in activities that they enjoy, such as sports, music, or art. This will help them develop confidence and a sense of belonging.
Consequently, when they have built a belonging and friends, they might be less inclined to withdraw and this may help to reduce of eliminate being bullied. Bullies tend to look for people who are alone.
Work with the school
Talk to your child’s teacher or school counsellor about the bullying. Work together to develop a plan for addressing the situation and protecting your child.
Chances are, schools might have been monitoring or managing the incident. Bringing this up to the school may help protect not only your child, but also others from experiencing the same.
As the last option, changing to a new environment may help a child greatly if the school is not able to effectively provide a resolution.
Seek professional help if necessary
As parents, we want the best for our children and sometimes, in addressing conflicts and challenges, it can be challenging for us to guide our child patiently given our goals. It may be helpful to seek professional help when necessary or if you find your child not wanting to engage continually.
If your child is exhibiting signs of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, it is important seek professional help sooner rather than later. A therapist who is experienced working with children can help your child develop coping strategies and work through the emotional effects of bullying.
The Impact of Bullying on Parents
This is another huge topic that, as parents, we need to address while helping our children face bullying.
Bullying can have a significant impact on us as parents. Parents may feel helpless, angry, and frustrated when they see their child being bullied. We may also feel guilty for not being able to protect our child from the bullying.
It is important to be aware and remember that we are also affected by the bullying, and we need to take care of our own mental health as well.
Here are some ways parents can take care of themselves while navigating this challenging period.
Seek The Support You Need
One option is to talk to other parents or a therapist about your feelings. It can be helpful to talk to someone who understands what you are going through.
Additionally, parents also need to be aware of the emotions and thoughts if the bullying incident evokes past childhood bullying experiences. If so, it may be helpful to seek professional support either through a counsellor or a trusted person who can help to process these past experiences.
Taking care of ourselves is important as we navigate difficult emotions and have to hold space for our child.
Take a breather from time to time for yourself to do things you enjoy, such as exercise, reading, or spending time with friends.
Other ways of caring for yourself include processing your thoughts and emotions over journalling, arts or music expressions, or simply taking a walk at the park.
It is tough to support you child when the issue happens in school where your child may be in contact with the bully. It can be nerve-wrecking and stressful not knowing how to support your child when they are not around you.
An important practical step is to communicate and work with the school to address the bullying. Asking for specific actions such as requesting teacher to monitor and keep a look out for your child can help us feel more in control and can be empowering.
Stay patient and optimistic
It can be tough to think positive and know that it is okay to acknowledge that it is indeed a trying period for your child and yourself, including the family. Find ways to cope individually as well as a family. Let your child know that they are loved and cared for, no matter what.
Focus on the positive aspects of your child’s life and encourage them to do the same. Provide them with strength-based affirmations and validate their emotions and experiences as much as you can. Help them develop a sense of resilience and optimism.
In conclusion, bullying amongst young children is a serious issue that can have long-lasting effects.
Bullying is a serious problem that can have lasting effects on children’s mental health and academic performance, amongst many other aspects including their self-esteem.
As parents, it is our responsibility to understand the signs of bullying and help our children face it in a healthy and effective way. By communicating openly with our children, teaching empathy and respect, encouraging involvement in activities, working with the school, and seeking professional help if necessary, we can help our children work through bullying. And by taking care of our own mental health, we can be better equipped to support our children through this difficult time.
Channel News Asia. (2019, March 26). About 5% of secondary school students in Singapore experience bullying weekly: MOE survey. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/about-5-of-secondary-school-students-in-singapore-experience-11378674
Kahn, J. (2015, April 28). For Kids, Bullying by Peers Is Worse Than Abuse from Adults. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/for-kids-bullying-by-peers-is-worse-than-abuse-from-adults-042815
National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). Bullying at school. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=49
Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.
The Straits Times. (2018, November 20). 1 in 4 primary, secondary students in Singapore report being bullied in past year: Study. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/1-in-4-primary-secondary-students-in-singapore-report-being-bullied-in-past-year
Wang, J., Iannotti, R. J., & Nansel, T. R. (2009). School bullying among adolescents in the United States: Physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45(4), 368-375. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.03.021