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My Son, A Bully?

Shocked to get a letter from the teacher about your son's behavior? How could your angel be a bully? Could he be lacking a sense of empowerment? Homemaker Joanne was surprised when her husband called one day with alarming news: Their son, Jacky, had been taking money from other kids in school. He'd go to their schoolbags, empty their wallets, pocket the money and hide it in his desk at home.

Finally, one of his "victims" spilled the beans to his parents after they questioned why he was walloping double the usual amount of dinner. Jacky's teacher was informed and the boy confessed to taking money from three boys. Says Joanne, 36: "We never expected him to do something like this because we give him $2 every day." Even Jackys teacher agrees that the boy doesn't look at all like a bully. "He looks like a decent kid."

Apparently, Joanne had told his "victims" he didn't have enough pocket money and if they didn't give him money, he would beat them. When asked by his mum, he said the kids didn't want to be his friend, so "he decided to punish them". The money was spent on new stationery. She confiscated the money he hid and returned what he'd taken from the kids.

Joanne believes Jacky has been finding it hard to settle in since the family had moved to USA early this year. "He found it hard to make friends and felt left out in school. The school environment is also very different." Says Jacky's teacher: "We take a serious view of bullying... When I knew he found it hard to adjust being in a new school, I made more effort to encourage him in class." The school followed up with calls to the parents of the other boys to ensure the incidents had stopped.

Jane, a discipline mistress, says: "Some parents are shocked that their child can be a bully. But children may behave differently at home and in school. "Often, bullies have a lot of anger in them. They may feel they've been unjustly treated. Parents must try and find out why their child's acting this way. "It may be a cry for help."

Why Children Bully

Jane, a discipline mistress in a primary school, says it's important to establish why the child is bullying. "If you simply ask him to stop, he may start his behavior again in future or outside school. But if you find out the root cause of his behavior, you can solve the problem. A young bully commits minor offences like stealing but if he may turn into a teenage gangster later on."

Child bullies often have psychological problems, says Jane. They may be facing problems at home. "Their parents may be picking on then at home and making them feel small. So in order to feel like someone, they terrorise other kids. Or their parents might be quarrelling at home or the father is bearing up the mother. The child can't vent out his emotions at home out of fear so he does it outside," she says. Boys may bull, by taunting, name-calling and hitting, but girls tend to spread nasty rumors about someone they dislike.

How Your Child Can Face The School Bully

  • Define bullying for your child - eg it may include snatching items, taking belongings without permission, threatening, extortion, hitting, or verbal abuse. A bully might convince another child that giving up his lunch money is a kind act. If the victim is unsure, he will be an easy target.
  • Ask the teacher about the school's anti-bullying action plan, ie what the school does if a child is bullied.
  • Role-play with your child. Let him practise what to do and say when approached by a bully. Jane suggests: "The child should show that he's not frightened. If he tells the bully he's going to report to the teacher, the bully knows that some action will be taken against him. Of course pupils must be told that teachers will support them when they report an incident."
  • Walk tall and confidently. Self-confident children are less likely to become targets of bullies. Says general practitioner Dr Dennis Chua, whose children learn martial arts: "Just knowing they can protect themselves gives them confidence."
  • Encourage your child to share what happens at school and take time to catch up with your child every day. You can pick up clues if something's bothering him even if he doesn't tell you the whole story.
  • Suggest that your child keeps a journal.
  • Encourage him to make friends. It's easier for bullies to pick on those who are often alone. If you organise play dates, small parties or outings for your child and her friends, she'll expand her social circle and you'll meet mothers to network with.
  • Encourage your child to stay in a group as much as possible if there are bullies in school.

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