At school, you expect your children to learn, play and be well looked after. You don't expect them to be hospitalised by their classmates. But that's exactly what happened to Lujain Hussein, a pupil at Al Maali International Private School, who made headlines recently after she was beaten up on the playground. The attack caused the 11-year-old girl to have a brain haemorrhage and left her fighting for her life.
While you can't be with your child every second of the day, here are five strategies that you can employ to help them cope, physically and emotionally, when confronted with bullies.
Engage for 10 minutes a day
Lujain's parents didn't know she was being bullied until she ended up in hospital. To avoid this happening in your family, make sure you open up the lines of communication with your child. When most of us ask "How was your day?", we get a monosyllabic response, largely because children don't find it easy to share on demand.
"A good way of establishing a comfortable communication style with a child is to engage in a special time, at least once a day for 10 minutes, doing an activity of your child's choice," says Naeema Jiwani, a child development psychologist at the Human Relations Institute in Dubai (www.hridubai.com). It could be as simple as colouring a picture together or playing on the Wii. "This would ideally be when your child discloses anything about events in their day, their classmates and whether they're having problems at school." If your child reveals they're being bullied, reassure them that they've done the right thing by speaking to you and make sure you take it up with the school immediately.
Teach problem-solving skills
Teaching these skills ahead of time helps children solve conflicts in the heat of the moment. "This is particularly true if they have practised verbal assertiveness skills with their parents through role play," says Jiwani. Kids should pretend to feel brave and confident and tell the bully: "No! Stop it!" in a loud voice and walk away. If a child does what a bully tells them to do, they will probably continue to be bullied. It's also best if your child can avoid showing his feelings. Discuss strategies your child can use to stop himself from getting angry or showing he's upset, by using distraction techniques such as counting backwards from 100.
Create a buddy system
One of the most powerful ways of protecting your child from being bullied is through encouraging a "buddy system" within the school. "A child will find strength from travelling around their school in 'packs' of friends and that way the bully has less of a target because there are plenty of friends to protect the victim," explains Jiwani. Bullying is much easier to do when the victim travels alone.
Beware of cyber bullies
Traditional playground bullying has evolved. "Cyber bullying is increasingly common and a more sinister and secretive type of bullying," says Clare Smart, a counsellor at LifeWorks Counselling and Development in Dubai (www.lifeworksdubai.com). "A victim can be targeted 24 hours a day and the effect can be greater as more people can be involved and home is no longer a sanctuary." Teach your child to never give out personal information online or ever tell anyone their passwords. Keep your home computer in a busy area of your house and emphasise that you won't take away your child's computer privileges if they are cyber bullied - this is the main reason that kids don't tell adults it's happening.
Enrol your child in self-defence classes, such as taekwondo, karate or kick boxing. "Contrary to popular belief, classes such as these do not increase violence but give the child boundaries for self-discipline, self-control, confidence and self-esteem," says Jiwani. Parents should continually remind their child that their new skills are solely for the purpose of self-defence.
New bullying guidelines for pupils and teachers
The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) has introduced new guidelines to help schools prevent bullying and other behavioural problems in pupils. Adec believes every student has the right to be educated in a safe, supportive and orderly school environment that is free from disruptions and obstacles that impede learning.
Problems lie not only between students, but also in the way some teachers treat pupils. Only recently, a Sharjah teacher was accused of punishing a six-year-old boy by forcing him to lie on the floor and then standing on him, despite the fact physical punishment has been banned in schools since 1988. Adec's new guidelines will add to a disciplinary code issued by the Ministry of Education in December, which calls for teachers to deal with students "on the basis of respect" and to avoid angry or vengeful punishment.