BY ANDREW MCDONALD
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’ So states the children’s nursery rhyme, familiar to most of us from our schooldays. First appearing in a text known as ‘Eothen’ written in 1830, it has been around a long time.
What most people don’t know is it is predated, by a couple of millennia, by a statement of the complete opposite. ‘The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones.’ This comes from the largest book of wisdom to have survived from antiquity, The Book of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, an ancient Jewish work of ethical teachings.
In 2022, it is the 19th Century ditty which seems outdated. Rightly so. Whilst physical victimisation is harrowing, and in no way acceptable, spoken abuse leaves scars which reach deep into a person’s character. Indeed, it is not uncommon for an adult to still be trouble by things which were said to them as a child, even when those taunts have proven untrue.
Bullies are cunning. We will never completely eradicate this phenomenon. As soon as one prevention is put in place, a way to circumvent it will be found. What we can do is prepare our children to deal with bullies in helpful ways.
Bullying can, but very often is not, the result of the bully alone. There are usually enablers, some of whom, in the background, may be even crueller. Recognising all of them is important. So too is discovering who sympathises with the victim, peers who are willing to stick up for him or her. Once they are established, the child on the receiving end needs to make them aware of their torment so they can help.
Frequently, there can be bullying patterns. It might be worse in the morning or at night. Maybe it’s online. Once the habitual nature of the bully is noticed, it’s easier for a child to surround themselves with adults or friends at peak times.
Finding a strong voice can be powerful. Usually, the bully wants their victim to react in a way that grabs attention. It gives them a sense of achievement, a reward, and it is something they can play on for laughs. Using a low, but firm, tone frequently works better.
It’s more important than ever that children learn good online practices. Parents who are approachable regarding internet concerns open the door to their kids feeling they can confide.
Seeking support is crucial. The vast majority of teachers and schools take very strict lines on bullying. However, they can only act if they are aware. Unfortunately, bullies are often very clever at hiding their behaviour. Therefore, informing staff at school is a fundamental part of resolving bullying issues.
No child should have to suffer bullying. Sadly, many will. However, by reacting appropriately and consistently, you can hopefully stop it before it gets worse.