Dr Ruth: bullying
Bulling is often seen as ‘part of growing up’ and as such is not regarded with the seriousness that it deserves. Adult comments such as ‘it never hurt me’ or ‘it made me a stronger person’ are misguided and do nothing to assuage the feelings if a child who is being bullied. Bullying, whether it is verbal intimidation such as name calling or physical violence, is never acceptable.
As one of the main reasons for bullying is a fear of difference, living as an English family in France can make you and your family potential targets for bullying. Also, given the current economic climate, a rise in xenophobic behaviour would not be unprecedented.
You say that your daughter has been bullied since the beginning of the year. Is this just when you first noticed or are you sure about this date? Signs and symptoms of bullying such as becoming withdrawn, changes in sleep patterns and school grades dropping can be quite subtle and cumulative. Did anything in particular change in September, for example a move of school or new children in your daughter’s class? Sensitively find out about this (don’t interrogate your daughter – this could make things worse) and gather as much information as you can about what has been happening, where and when.
When bullying is linked to fear of the unknown - your family in this case - making yourself less of a mystery can sometimes serve to alleviate the problem. Your daughter’s (or your?) shyness or quietness due to language issues may be being misinterpreted as ‘stand-offish’ behaviour. Try getting to know the parents of the bully or inviting the bullying child around to play. If you don’t feel up to this, are there other parents you know who would be able to have a word or do this on your behalf?
Whilst it is important that you reassure your daughter that it is in no way her fault that she is being bullied, children who are being bullied can sometimes be taught to act in ways that make them feel safer. If the bullying is mainly verbal taunts, teach your daughter some snappy comebacks or put-downs - all the better if this can be in French so that the bully and those around understand. If the bullying is more physical, encourage her to change her routine and stay near friends or adults whenever possible. Joining an after school club or group and building strong friendships with other children can also help to deflect any bullying behaviour.
If none of this works or you feel that the matter is more serious and needs to be dealt with straight away, you must go in and talk to your daughter’s teacher. Whilst there has been recent negative press about the response of French schools to bullying concerns, most schools will take you seriously and will be willing to put in place measures to keep your child, and others safe.
If you do not get a satisfactory response, the next stage would be to contact one of the parent associations in France the most well-known of which are FCPE - Fédération des conseils de parents d'élèves des écoles publiques and PEEP (scroll down to 'Trouver l'association PEEP
la plus proche de chez vous') - Fédération des Parents d’Elèves de l’Enseignement Public. Their respective websites will be able to direct you to your local branch.
Finally, you may wish to follow this up by approaching the education mediator for your area (here and scroll down) but this should be a last resort and only if you feel the school is failing to react.
Being the parent of a bullied child can be very distressing for you too. Watching your child suffering and feeling unable to help can be very upsetting. Try to remain calm and don’t over react. Talk to a friend and take positive steps to resolve the problem.
Dr Ruth Dennis is an Educational Psychologist registered with the Health Professionals Council.
If you have a question for her, contact us here