The Monster In The Room

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Bullying can have life-long effects on your child’s self-esteem and perception. Teach them how to fight back without getting physical

Anne mutheu is a goodlooking 34-year-old. Looking at her, the picture you get is that of a confident woman who is sure and content with who she is. Until you talk to her.

Anne’s mother and father, a Kenyan of Indian descent, separated when she was a year old. They lived in Nairobi then, but following the separation, she and her mother went back to her home in Makueni. She says that the bullying begun immediately she joined primary school. With her fair skin, straight nose and straight silky hair, she stood out from the other children, who made a game out of pulling her nose and hair. As a result, she disliked school and had no friends. The bullying followed her to high school, where she was forced to shave her hair often after teachers accused her of using chemicals to straighten it, something that was forbidden.

After completing high school, Mutheu moved to Nairobi, where, for the first time in her life, she found people who fully accepted her. In spite of this, Anne still struggles with a low self-esteem, hates how she looks, and is suspicious of people who try to be befriend her, sure that they have an ulterior motive, that they surely cannot like her for who she is. As a result, she has no close friendships, and tends to keep to herself.

Every playground has a bully, and chances are that your child will encounter one when he starts school. Obviously, bullying has far-reaching effects, effects that can follow us from the playground right to adulthood if we internalise the negativity we go through.

Jane Murage, a counselor, points out that it is important to listen keenly as your child tells you about his day, and not brush it off as inconsequential when he mentions that “Trevor” or “Jane” pinched him. “You should also ask your child probing questions about his day at school – his body language will tell you whether he means it or not when he says that his day was ‘fine’,” she says.

Experts also advise talking to your children about bullying, and explaining what it is to them, how to avoid it, and how to deal with it when it happens to them. “Bullies are master intimidators, and your child may fear reporting him or her to his teachers or even to you – however, a confident child is not likely to be intimidated, and is more likely to report the matter, or stand up to the bully if it is safe to do so,” says Ms Murage.

A good school will not take reports of bullying lightly, so if your child complains of harassment from other children, report to his teacher as soon as possible. It also helps to find out whether the school you plan to take your child to has policy on bullying. This can give you an inkling of how committed they are to prevent it.

Bullying can be damaging, tragic even, especially if it goes on for some time with no intervention. For instance, in Western countries where cyber-bullying is common, there are often reports of young people who are bullied committing suicide. It goes without saying that a child who is constantly picked on at school dislikes it, and will even play truant to avoid coming face to face with the bully. This of course leads to dismal grades, an outcome that can aggravate his low self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness.

WHAT DOES BULLYING LOOK LIKE?

Bullying takes many forms:

  • In Physical assault, where the bully derives pleasure from hitting or pushing others.
  • Verbal abuse, where the bully uses demeaning names and tags that cause distress to the target.
  • Rejection: Being isolated from a group is also a form of bullying. Says Ms Murage, “We are social beings, and all want to belong somewhere and feel valued. If we are pushed away by those we would want to be associated with, it can be emotionally wounding.”
  • To keep your child from suffering severe ill effects, keep the communication channels between the two of you open, and encourage him to speak out should he be bullied.

WHY IS YOUR CHILD A TARGET?

Your child can be bullied for various reasons:

  • Like Anne, he or she can be bullied for looking ‘different’, especially if his appearance is significantly different from that of the other children.
  • If your child’s spoken word is influenced by his mother tongue, he may be a target for bullies.
  • Physically impaired children are also more likely to be bullied, as well as children who are small-bodied, and therefore seen as easy prey by the bully.
  • Children who come from poor backgrounds are also likely to be bullied, especially if their peers come from well-off backgrounds.
  • Being the plump kid in class can also get your child unwanted attention from the class bully. In some cases though, your child can be picked on for no reason.
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