Are we putting our children at risk of bullying?

Are we putting our children at risk of bullying?

If we jump in to protect our children’s feelings, could we actually be making a situation worse?

Let me begin by saying that from a mum’s perspective, it’s just about impossible for me to avoid being over-protective of my children. It breaks my heart when my eldest comes home from school and tells me, with quivering lip, that he’s feeling left out or that “everyone’s being mean”.

But how much should we as mothers get involved in our children’s social lives?

It goes without saying that if I suspected my child was being bullied (and by this I mean sustained verbal, emotional or physical abuse), someone would have to put a choker chain around my neck to hold me back.

But it’s different when a child is finding it difficult to fit in, or is being teased because he got bird poo on his jumper one afternoon (seriously, this happens to my boy all the time!). What if it’s because the child is behaving in a way that’s making other kids avoid him? If he’s too quick to kick, or too hesitant to share? Shouldn’t he learn the appropriate behaviour, rather than have mum try and force the other kids to like him by coercion?

It’s easy to get into the habit of asking our children who they played with that day, or who’s best friends with whom. But if we give them a whole heap of sympathy when they mention the bad bits, aren’t we encouraging them to focus on the negative by creating a victim/reward mentality? And if we bail up the other children’s mothers, demanding they do something, isn’t that just making them more reluctant to invite our little kids over for a play date?

Research tells us to: ‘stand aside’

I worry that this sort of over-parenting could make a child so focused on their social position that they second-guess their own ability to make friends. Recent research seems to back this up, with a proven link between overprotective mums and bullying. The University of Warwick focused on 70 related studies of bullying involving over 200,000 children. Professor Dieter Wolke, who led the study, found that one of the most interesting findings was the phenomenon of ‘overprotecting’ and the dynamic it can create in the lives of children:

“Children need support, but some parents try to buffer (them) from all negative experiences. In the process, they prevent their children from learning ways of dealing with bullies making them more vulnerable.”

He also suggested that children with overprotective parents may not develop qualities such as autonomy and assertion and therefore may be easy targets for bullies. While parents of victims may simply become overprotective of their kids in reaction to the reality of what happens on the playground, he concluded that parents must stand aside, allow their children to experience life — conflicts and all — so that they can learn how to deal with all the difficult issues they will face later in life.

Which is all well and good, but when you've got a six-year-old coming home in tears because they've been left out and pushed aside, how can possibly ignore it and leave your kid tear stained and sniffly at the school gate every morning?

The experts tell us we really shouldn’t fight our children’s battles, as much as we’d like to. And if one of my kids offers up the information that they’re having a hard time at lunchtime (as my eldest coincidentally did as I write this!), then I should listen, perhaps suggest that he try playing with so-and-so instead, and then move onto something else, like why he’s not allowed to play Moshi Monsters before he’s done his homework.

But if I suspect it's more than the usual trials and tribulations of the playground, you better get the choker chain at the ready.


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