No parent wants to see their child hurting physically, mentally, or emotionally. Life will always present situations where this will happen, however, and it is our common fear that we won’t be able to fix it and scar our children with lingering trauma for the rest of their lives. Bullying in schools, school buses, extracurricular programs, playgrounds or even the workplace (if you have a teen) can happen to any child. Many times, we may not be able to catch the signs of bullying in our children because they may hide it well. But there are many times our children do present signs and communicate their grievances.
According to Nemours KidsHealth online resources, “bullying is when peers intentionally use physical, verbal, or psychological ways to torment someone else, using a real or perceived power imbalance between the bully and the victim. Bullying can range from hitting, shoving, name-calling, threats, and mocking to extorting money and possessions. Some kids bully by shunning others and spreading rumors about them. Others use social media or electronic messaging to taunt others or hurt their feelings.
“It's important to take bullying seriously and not just brush it off as something that kids have to "tough out." The effects can be serious and affect kids' sense of safety and self-worth. In severe cases, bullying has contributed to tragedies, such as suicides and school shootings.”1
Whether we know or not, at first, we feel frustrated as to what steps to take next in dealing with the situation. We may feel very hurt or angry by what our children tell us and find it hard to contain, for example. Moreover, we vicariously feel the violation our children face and want to do something immediately. If you feel that you are going through this situation, this is where we can take a step back and learn how to absorb what is happening and then think about what steps to take so that our children can learn from this experience and be saved from further harm in sha Allah.
When You Initially Find Out
If your child first comes to you to share some distressing details about how he/she is being treated at school, listen quietly, and try not to let your emotions take over. Ask him/her how it made them feel, and avoid asking if your child did something to instigate the bullying. You want to try to build a rapport with your child first to bring out the whole story. Your children need to feel that they can always turn to you whenever a problem arises. If your child has not shared anything with you but you suspect that something is amiss and would like to know if it has anything to do with bullying, then here are some signs to look for:
- They express that they don’t want to go to school every day and the pattern of not going persists for an unusually long time. For example, they say they are sick or have other excuses.
- They fake sicknesses such as headaches, stomach aches, or a cold.
- They are more anxious, in a low mood, or frustrated more than usual when school or certain places are mentioned.
- They have trouble sleeping or wake up at night due to nightmares or have sleep anxiety and want to sleep with their parents.
- They are not eating enough or are eating too much due to eating disorders caused by stress.
- Their grades are slipping or the teacher has informed you that your child is not motivated in class.
- Their self-esteem or confidence has gone down.
- They have unexplainable injuries where they explain it wasn’t inflicted by a person, but that might likely be the case.
- They are missing valuables such as electronics, money, jewelry, etc.
- They have lost their usual friends or are not willing to engage in social situations anymore.
- You can also check if your child is self-mutilating themselves by checking their limbs or other areas.
- Your child might avoid going to the bathroom or certain areas of the school because that might be where the bullying happens. You can find out by asking your child or the teacher might notify the parent of this.
- They speak of suicide.
- They have tried to run away from home.
How can you address the situation at home?
If your child is being bullied, it's important that you help them understand that bullying is never their fault.
Brainstorming ways to handle it with your child is key. You can ask questions like:
- “What do you think you can say or do next time?”
- “Would involving the help of a teacher work?”
- “Is there a specific place where the bullying happens (online or areas in the school)?”
- "What can we do to help you avoid those places or situations from happening?”
This helps the child feel a bit empowered in taking care of the situation on their own, as well as feel that you are interested in helping them at a deeper level. When they start giving you ideas, you can talk about what the outcome might be – a negative or positive one. You can also role-play and help the child practice different strategies. Some strategies can simply mean walking away from the bully as well; they don’t always have to engage with the bully.
It is also important to ask what’s going to make the child feel better about this situation. Gently coax it to a meaningful and positive way of feeling about it. It may be that the child feels enraged and wishes the worst for their bully. Acknowledge that, however, guide them to see how the situation can be handled in a pragmatic way without dire consequences. A lot of the time, children feel humiliated and feel that no one would understand their situation. They need to know that someone is there for them.
How can you address the situation with the school or space where the bullying occurred?
As soon as you know more about the situation, address it to the authority of the place where the bullying occurred.
If it is online, report it as a cybercrime to the police. They will give you a protocol on how to handle the situation from there.
If the bullying is happening at school, set up an appointment with their teacher to talk about the situation. Likely, the teacher does not know about the bullying situation because children are smart enough to do it outside of earshot or the presence of the teacher. Therefore, address the situation calmly about what your child has shared or is showing symptoms of and how it's affecting him/her. Ask the teacher to look out for signs of bullying during school time and have him/her follow up with you shortly. Coordinate a plan with each other on how to address the bullying; it can even mean involving the children and their parents if addressing the problem with the children alone is not stopping the bullying incidents.
Obtain a copy of the school’s anti-bullying policy to determine if the bully violated a school policy.
File a report of the incident(s).
If the situation is not changing for the better for your child, speak to the principal. Ask the principal exactly when you can hear back from them and what the next steps are. Your child should be informed of your efforts so that they know you are trying to help them resolve it; it gives them hope.
What to do if the situation does not change?
If actual physical violence has occurred or even threats of violence, extortion, leaking of personal pictures or videos, and any other kind of psychologically damaging threats are given to the child, involve the police right away. This is the best path to take before anything worse can take place.
Moreover, if the authorities are not doing much to help stop the situation, then it would be time to consider moving your child out of that school or program. It would be a big family decision, however, it would be best for your child’s physical and psychological well-being, inshaAllah, God-willing.
Overall, your children need to see that you are working hard towards fixing the situation together. Moreover, our first action after hearing about our child's situation should be to make dua or supplication, that Allah keep your child safe, to resolve the situation, and help you all get through this difficult time with ease. Encourage your child to turn to Allah in such situations through demonstration as well. This helps the child to have a more positive outlook, potentially saving them from further harm from others and themselves, and to have more confidence in facing future challenges, inshaAllah, God-willing.
Further Reading Recommendations
STOP BULLYING NOW HOTLINE (USA) 1-800-273-8255
Sumayya Khan is a homeschooling mother of two and a teacher. She has worked with several Islamic schools and organizations in the last 10 years. She is currently teaching Literature online with Dawanet and studying the Qur’an through Al-Huda Institute. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her family and friends, play sports, enjoy nature, and read books. She currently resides with her family in Toronto, Canada.