November is anti-bullying month: with a rise in press campaigns and awareness around bullying, what is available to parents to support their bullied children, or to prevent their children becoming bullied?
As anyone with personal experience of bullying knows, it can be an incredibly harmful and devastating experience for all of those involved.
Childline and the NSPCC have raised awareness of a sharp increase in children's depression and suicidal thoughts, as children's access to social networks has increased.
Bullying is discussed more than almost any other topic in calls to Childline, charity NSPCC has reported, whilst calls reporting suicidal thoughts have also increased by 43% .
How can we help our children?
The statistics are shocking and sad, but the essential information for parents going through the distressing and challenging consequences of bullying for their child is - how can we help them?
The digital nature of bullying is uncharted territory for many parents. As it's a side of bullying that most of us will never have been exposed to, there can be a sense that it's beyond our knowledge or capacity to advise.
However, the fundamentals of supporting our children are the same, whatever the form bullying takes. Conscious efforts to build resilience in our children can help to protect them -- and need to start earlier than ever. With resilience in our children and our family lives, we can accept that bullying goes on, but equip our children better to deal with the effects of it or even to stop it.
The charity Young Minds advocates a whole school approach, where children can learn to focus on their strengths and their positive attributes in order to build self knowledge - and then integrate and learn from challenges. In order to do this, the school community of teachers and pupils become happiness or resilience advocates. When a child faces a difficult situation such as bullying, or has a setback in their life at school, the focus is on reducing negative self talk, such as "I'm rubbish / unpopular / I can't".
Replacing the internal cassette recorder with positive affirmation can be the first step for staff and pupils to work together to create a holistic environment in which it's OK to try and fail sometimes, it's OK to tell on bullying behaviour -- but it's not OK to pick on, dominate, find fault with your peers.
Alternatively, groups such as Action for Happiness encourage individual actions to create a society in which happiness is contagious. Small gestures such as smiling, helping strangers and connecting with your neighbours, friends and family make a difference to everyone's quality of life - and ultimately build resilience. The group's 10 Keys To Happier Living is a practical and accessible approach that children and adults alike can use to increase their levels of happiness and resilience.
Resilience is a way of describing a number of attributes that work together to allow a child to react in an appropriate manner and move on from negative experiences such as bullying.
Whereas previous generations might have characterised the correct response to bullying as mental strength, being tough, sticking up for yourself or giving them "a dose of their own medicine" - resilience brings in the positive and more beneficial character traits such as positive attitude, moving on and the long term benefits of generosity of spirit and community-mindedness.
5 practical tips to help your child develop resilience
Why not try some of these activities advocated by Action for Happiness, Young Minds and the parenting and psychology experts they work with? Cheap and available to all, building happiness and it's playmate resilience can make a world of difference to your child's experience and response to difficult life situations.
1. New activities. Encourage your child to participate in a group activity either within the family network or the local community. This can be something as simple as a nature walk or an event at the local library. This will allow them to experience new things and gain perspective on new experiences, giving them confidence to try new things without your support.
2. Focus on strengths. Allow your child to pursue the things that they love, help them identify those passions and support them to continue doing them. With personal attributes, help your child recognise the good in themselves such as kindness, tolerance and gentleness - character traits sometimes overlooked in the school environment or amongst peers.
3. Establish and support connectedness. Quite different from digital connectedness, this is connections and regular support and contact between families, peer networks and children themselves. Nurture your child's positive relationships and listen to their worries and concerns - knowing that you are there for them can make a huge difference.
4. Practice happiness. Take some of the steps outlined by Action for Happiness and make happiness your top priority for your family. Share silly times and crazy music with your family, dance with your dog or curl up with your cat, and above all as the parent - make sure that your children see you happy and enjoying life.
5. Model and teach positive digital behaviour. Promote digital detoxes, screen free time and regulate and monitor your children's social network interaction. Take the time to put your own devices away and show your children that real human interaction is the best way to build meaningful and lasting relationships and friendships. With good relationships built off line, children will learn to foster positive and healthy relationships in the digital world. That way when someone is sounding off or posting hurtful comments on line, they will have the strength to block, report or else pick up the phone to that person and simply ask, "what's wrong?"