It’s an age-old question that many parents and childcare professionals ask – when a child is being bullied, what prevents them from speaking out about it and seeking help? Overcoming the natural tendency to conceal bullying from adults and peers is one of the biggest challenges which we face in our profession or as parents, and often understanding the motivation behind the silence can go a long way to supporting us to inspire confidences from victims of bullying.
Understanding the motivation behind non-disclosure
There are a number of reasons why children may choose not to confide that they are being bullied to a trusted adult or caregiver. The primary one may be out of fear. Often, when a child is being bullied in the school environment, the repercussions for the bullies may be less difficult to deal with than the bullies’ response to being ‘told’ on. Children have a natural inclination towards silence if they fear that telling an adult may result in their issues being made public, or have concerns that informing about the bullying could lead to the victimization becoming more covert following the revelation.
Overcoming misplaced embarassment
Another key reason which supports silence in the bullying scenario is a sense of shame. While a rational adult can dismiss any feeling of embarrassment relating to bullying, understanding that the victim is blameless, often children who are being bullied may carry a sense of guilt, or be embarrassed about what is taking place. No child wants to admit that they have been singled out for any reason from the rest of their peer group, and it can be daunting to pluck up the courage and admit that they have been teased for specific reasons which may have led to a sense of shame or embarrassment.
Children are often uncannily vicious when it comes to identifying the most embarrassing aspect of a fellow child and ridiculing it, tapping in to deep-rooted insecurities and drawing them to the attention of others. This can leave the victim feeling particularly vulnerable to teasing or ridicule, to the extent that they lack the confidence to discuss their issues with an adult.
Learning the distinction between ‘telling tales’ and opening up
There is a code of ethics which governs the majority of young peers, involving a refusal to ‘rat’, ‘squeal’ or ‘tell’ on fellow children. Even if it may seem odd to an adult looking in to the particular situation, when bullying is present, this moral code is so entrenched among many peer groups that the victim of bullying may not be able to overcome it and discuss what is taking place.
With all of these factors working against open disclosure, how do we encourage children to speak up openly if they are the victim of bullying? The good news is that by teaching kids and young adults that bullying lays beyond the conventional moral codes, in that the bully does not deserve to be shielded from scrutiny, we can make it easier for children to open up. Similarly, explaining that the child being bullied has no reason for shame or embarrassment, and creating an environment where children feel comfortable speaking out, can go a long way towards overcoming natural reticence for disclosure and supporting our children to vocalize their issues and work with us to combat bullying once and for all.