A mother-of-two who suffered from childhood bullying is all too aware of how this destructive behaviour can ruin lives.
Sara Drew, of Hervey Bay in Queensland, now uses her life experience to help her recognise the warning signs of virtual and real-life bullying.
Mrs Drew revealed to The Sunshine Coast Daily that although she had been affected by bullying and feels concerned for her young two boys, parenting is often a balancing act.
Speaking to the publication, Mrs Drew said she went through a difficult period as a teenager because of high school bullying.
‘When I was 15-years-old there were a lot of tough times and while I was sensitive, the bullying and the pressure of school lead to anorexia and bulimia,’ she said.
While the mum-of-two draws on her these experiences to help her recognise the warning signs, she also advocates for keeping the lines of communication open.
‘I say ”you’re going to meet people online who are not nice like you do in the real world but it’s about how you react”,’ she said.
Speaking to FEMAIL, parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson said fostering an environment of safety where children feel heard and supportive is the best way to encourage an open conversation.
He said parents tend to respond to challenging situations their children present in a number of ways.
‘If parents turn away from their kids and say “don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine”, they are being dismissive,’ said the author of 10 Things Every Parent Needs To Know.
He continued: ‘What parents are doing in this scenario is actually dismissing the feelings their child might be having about the situation.
‘Parents can also turn against their children. In some cases, parents might say, “You’ve told me about this and I have told you what to do about it, you’re not doing it, so it’s your problem, not mine”.
‘These responses shut down communication, and undermine trust.’
The most optimal response, the expert outlined is to turn toward children so children feel both understood and heard.
He advises parents to recognise the signals their child might be distressed and said this may manifest as the child isolating in their room or not speaking to anyone.
How to recognise the emotional and behavioural signs of bullying:
* Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
* Frequent tears, outbursts of anger or mood swings
* Child starts making excuses for not wanting to attend school
* Signs of distress can include stammering or withdrawing
* Becomes aggressive or unreasonable
* Won’t talk about what is wrong, refuses to open up
* May start to target siblings
* Continually ‘loses’ money or may start stealing
‘See the situation as one to connect, and try to listen carefully, try to recognise what’s going on by seeing the world through their eyes,’ he said.
‘They need someone to understand not reprimand.
‘Give their emotions a label. Kids need to know that the emotions they are feeling are a normal part of the human experience.’
Finally, Dr Coulson recommends empowering children by asking them what they feel might be the best way to handle a difficult situation.
‘If they don’t have any suggestions, parents can offer their own – but always ask “How do you think this will work”.
‘Don’t offer your suggestions until children have offered their ideas,’ he said.
While Mrs Drew said she uses her own her experiences to protect her children, she also takes extra precautions when her children are online.
She said she does this by blocking apps and websites and making sure they only have YouTube kids access, which she still monitors.