Bullying, Islam and Everything In-Between: Practical Tips

In part one of this short series, we discussed the definition of, ways of identifying, and the effects of bullying.  Here, we will move on to practical tips and possible solutions to assist our children and ourselves in coping with this vice.

 Helping the Oppressor (Bully):

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us the importance of offering assistance to both those who are being oppressed and those who are the oppressors by ending the cycle of abuse.  In the case of both the victims and the bullies, it is important to acknowledge that anger is a natural emotion and to help the oppressor to use healthy ways to express this anger.

We often worry what we will do if our child is being bullied, but what if  it is our child who is the one doing the bullying?  Here are some ways in which you can help:

  1. Empower your child inside the home by giving him/her choices (i.e. “What do you want for dinner tonight?”  “Let’s plan the annual family trip together.”).  When a child feels empowered by the adults in her life, she won’t seek to overpower her peers through bullying and intimidation.
  2. Get more involved in your child’s life and show genuine interest in what your child does and says.  This makes a child feel important and less likely to seek attention through aggressive means.
  3. Firm limits are imperative for objectionable behaviors; ensure that you are consistent in enforcing consequences for misbehavior.  For example, if your child hits his brother often, set a limit: “If you choose to hit your brother, you choose not to play with the PlayStation over the weekend.  If you choose to play nicely with you brother, you choose to play with the PlayStation over the weekend.”  By phrasing the limit in this way, your child understands that he is in control of his actions and, therefore, the consequences.
  4. Be sure to act as a positive role model for your child.  If your child overhears you    gossiping about a friend over the phone, she  may take this as a green light to start cruel rumors about others in her class at school.  If you physically punish your child for misbehavior, he may view physical harshness as the way to show his power over his classmates.
  5. Teach your children how to express their emotions in non-physical and healthy ways; allow yourself to be a nonjudgmental, understanding presence in whom they can always confide.  Encourage open communication to discuss emotions asking questions like, “Was there a time that you felt angry/ jealous/ competitive/ mean/ frustrated/etc.?”  Help your child to own up to her feelings rather than bottling them up inside and suppressing them; emotions will come out one way or another so we need to try our best to equip our children with healthy methods of self-expression.

Helping the Oppressed (Victim of Bullying):

And now some tips on what to do when it is your child who is the victim of bullying:

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  1. The best thing, by far, that you can do for a child who is being bullied is to be an active listener.  It is amazing how healing a listening ear can be.  Each day, ask how school went, hold your child when she cries, and talk things out.  This might not seem like much but it is vital to the healing process.
  1. Allow your home to be a refuge and a sanctuary for your children.  Make it a place where they can be filled with love, support and have a feeling of self-worth.
  1. Talk to siblings about what they can do to help.  Your children might not know what to anticipate in their classrooms from day-to-day but they should be able to expect peace and calmness when they enter your home.  Having a stable foundation to return to on a daily basis can mean the difference between a child being able to handle a bully versus feeling completely unequipped.
  1. Be sure to have a family dinner at least once a week; they provide an excellent time to talk together and encourage dialogue.  I remember my mother insisting that everyone eat at the kitchen table every single day at 6 pm.  It made such a huge difference to know that I would have a venue to express myself each day.
  2. Pay close attention to the way you react in front of your child when he speaks to you about being bullied.  If you begin to weep uncontrollably, you have reversed roles and instead of comforting your child, you are the one who needs to be taken care of.  This may even stop your child from confiding in you since he may worry that it is too overwhelming for you to bear.  Simply respond in a loving way but don’t make your child’s battle into your battle; allow your child a sense of autonomy and empowerment by helping her to find ways to deal with it on her own.  Here, role playing exercises can be very helpful.  Engage with your child by pretending to be the bully and brainstorming responses together.

Find out who is bullying your child, how long this has been going on, how the bullying manifests itself and whether the teacher knows this is happening.  Come up with a plan with your child including strategies she can use.

  • Move seat or switch classes, you may even go as far as switching schools.  This might seem extreme but your child’s psychological and emotional health, as well as self-esteem is on the line.
  • Stay with a friend or group of friends during recess, at the bus stop, in the cafeteria or wherever bullying is apt to happen.
  • Bullying is no longer limited to face-to-face interactions.  If cyber bullying is occurring, get off of Facebook and other social networks or at least block the people who are bullying her.
  • Come up with a safety plan for your child.  A good one can be found here.

Enduring bullying is an incredibly humiliating experience for a child.  She may be afraid that you will be disappointed, that you won’t understand her experiences, that you might worry too much, or even that you might side with the bully.  It is imperative to show your child that you are nonjudgmental and to allow him/her to come to you with anything that happens at school.  Ask questions that can lead your child to open up.  Introducing these questions in the third person makes them less personal and may allow your child to feel better equipped to discuss them.

  • When a boy wants to be mean, what does he do?
  • When a girl wants to be mean, what does she do?
  • Does the teacher notice?  What does she do?
  • Do people ever start rumors?
  • Can friends be mean to each other?  How?

Bullying can have a devastating effect on a child’s self-esteem, social skills and ability to trust others.  Here are some ways to counteract this negativity:

  • Encourage your child to join groups/clubs/teams inside and outside of school.  Make sure that these are places where contributions are valued and where other members are disconnected from the bullying she experiences in the classroom.  Get your child a membership at a local YMCA, bring her to masjid activities, help her choose a hobby and connect with others with the same interest.  This will give your child a support system and help her to understand that the bullying has nothing to do with her since she will see that others accept her just as she is.
  • Get therapy for your child if you notice she is becoming overwhelmed with what is happening.  This can be an excellent measure to prevent the issues from escalating into depression or an anxiety disorder.
  • Speak to the school counselor or teacher after consulting with your child.  Please make sure that this is a step that she wants to take.  Be sure to stay calm when discussing the situation with them; it means a lot to your child to see that you are being a strong, firm advocate for them and that you are not overwhelmed.

A United Methodist pastor in rural Tennessee, named Brad Smith, said something beautiful: “God of all people, all shapes and all sizes, all races and all nationalities, all orientations and identities, and all abilities, I pray for all those who will struggle this year as victims of bullying. I pray for those who will be teased relentlessly verbally and online. I pray for those who will be physically assaulted because they are different. I pray for those who have to change in the locker room. I pray for those who think they are alone. They are not. I pray for those who think hope is gone. It is not. I pray for those who think suicide is the only escape. It gets better. I pray for the parents of the bullied who feel helpless to protect their child. God help them. Strengthen them. Show them your love. Let them feel your hope.  Not only this, but I also pray for those who engage in bullying. I pray for those whose self-worth and self-esteem seems tied to making others hurt. I pray for the parents of bullies who ignore the signs and think their child could never do this. I pray for the teachers who stand up for kids and for the teachers who ignore the problem. I pray for those who think this is just a rite of passage. It is not. I pray that not one child this year decides that suicide is the answer. I pray for those who succumbed to hopelessness. I pray that we can all learn from the mistakes and tragedies of the past and that we can protect our children and let every child know they are of great worth.”

Ameen.

 

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12 responses to “Bullying, Islam and Everything In-Between: Practical Tips”

  1. There used to be a time
    when you could get away from bullying. But it’s not that way anymore. For kids
    that are being bullied, it now follows them home and everywhere because so much
    of the bullying happens online. Lots of kids turn to drastic measures to either
    protect themselves or hurt themselves. It is so tragic. I talk about online
    bullying and suicide here:

    http://www.themommypsychologist.com/2012/05/02/online-bullying-and-teenage-suicide/

    • Avatar Sarah Sultan says:

      I completely agree with you, Heather.  Our homes are no longer safe for our children due to the increase in cyber bullying.  We have to be so careful in monitoring our children’s online access since so much can happen there.  Thank you very much for sharing your post- you provided a very insightful reflection on such a tragic occurrence. 

  2. Avatar Shahzad says:

    The way we used to deal with bullying in the playground when we were kids was with our fists. Cowering away and looking weak just gives the bully what he craves which is power and control and perpetuates the cycle of intimidation. Standing up to the bully puts power in your hands. It’s not violence I’m advocating but resilience. 

    Bullying is not just happening on the playground, but even in the adult world. The type of Islamophobia we see where any attempt by Muslims to empower themselves is met with opposition is a type of bullying. As a community we need to be strong in terms of our confidence, compassion, patience and yes, power. Bullying is human nature unfortunately.

    • Avatar Sarah Sultan says:

      Thank you very much for your perspective, Shahzad.  I agree that we must build resilience in ourselves, our children and our community as a whole.  However, I don’t believe that physically fighting back solves any issues.  I have found that they usually actually escalate problems and creates a cycle of violence that is very difficult to end.  I think that building relationships between children, keeping vigilant in spotting bullying and addressing it immediately, and teaching children how to express themselves in emotionally appropriate ways are the best ways to address these issues because they provide long-term solutions.

  3. Avatar Lwehner says:

    As a teacher, I would NOT recommend parents asking the child if it was okay to tell the teacher or school. As a parent it is your responsibility to do what is right for your child, and what is right is to immediately notify the school administrators and counselors of what is happening. Children need to know that there are just some things in life that you have to do..and protecting them is your number one priority. Do not leave the school in the dark as to such unacceptable behavior. We need to know what is going on so that we may take steps to stop the behavior from occurring. No child should ever feel afraid to be at school because of another. We need to work together. Do not give your child a choice on this. Be the parent and take action.

    • Avatar Sarah Sultan says:

      Thank you very much for providing your perspective, Lwehner.  It is always wonderful to hear about topics like this from a viewpoint that is different from my own!  

      I personally find that consulting children empowers them; after all, this is their lives that we are impacting by talking to teachers, counselors and/or school administrators.  I think giving choices is appropriate at any age but in the case of bullying, very young children may not be able to make a choice regarding such a big issue.  In the case of younger children, I think providing a choice of whether to discuss the bullying situation with the teacher OR the counselor is appropriate.  Being bullied results in such a blow to one’s self-esteem, so consulting children regarding how to deal with the situation can be an empowering and therapeutic way to help.

  4. Avatar Sarah Sultan says:

    Walaikum asalam wa Rahmatullah.  That is a very interesting question, Br. Abu Yusuf.  I’m not sure if there is any research regarding the link between genetics and bullying but I’d definitely be interested in exploring that.  If a father/mother acts like a bully, that can definitely impact a child because parents are our first role models… children tend to imitate what they see, which is why it is so critical that parents provide exemplary examples for their children in terms of interaction with others.

  5. Avatar bullied says:

    bismillah wassalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah
    wa jazakum Allah khayran for the article.
    Remember, the teacher can be the one doing the bullying.
    Wa alaykumu salam wa rahmatullah

  6. Avatar bullied says:

    bismillah
    thinking of a certain incident from the self-biography book “Malcolm X”
    understand why it hurt so much to read his (rhm) memories from the ground school, when he expressed wish to be a lawyer (if I remember it correctly)
    teacher’s putting him down was nothing else but bulling; a scarf on the child’s soul. see, there are teachers like that, teachers who hate a certain kind of ppl and bully their kids on a daily basis. as a muslim pupil in a serbian class i used to be bullied by the (only!) teacher, along with other 4 muslim kids in the class, from age 6 to the age of 10. Kazimira Ljubicic was her name, may she burn in hell forever, ameen. She used to systematically bully the muslim kids, and she could do that since she used to be the only teacher. Kids were from 6 to 10 yrs old.
    This was in the 1970’s Yugoslavia, more specifically in Bosnia – where the muslims were subjected to ethic cleansing (genicude). Teachers like trend setters.

    Just be there for your kids, advize them to be patient and not answer back with the same evil, and tell them that Allah sees everything, and that He is with the patient ones. Tell them, everything, good and bad, in this life, has an end, and they should be working towards the Pleasure of Allah ‘azza wa jall.

    Wa jazakum Allah khayran.

  7. Avatar Mustafa says:

    For the parents of the shy kids about bullying from peers.

    Most important thing is to understand the disposition of your child when not in the house. Your kid can be a boisterous loudmouth at home who drives you crazy but an extremely shy introverted at school. Many parents don’t find out until its too late, and Muslims with their foibles of honor and shame most kids keep it a secret. The same goes the opposite because more often than not you think your kid is an angel and quiet but in reality you wouldn’t recognize what he’s like at school or online and on reddit.

    If you have a son teach him to defend himself physically because the world is going to s**t on him. Specifically go beyond the parables, and nice little stories and prepare them for the reality people are going to mock their beliefs, are going to challenge them, are going to threaten them with violence. I grew up with the whole Allah watches and be patient like the boy in that one story and whatever, not very useful in teenage years when everybody else is not necessarily Muslim and seem to blurt out whatever they think and aggression is super high and empathy super low. Tell them belief has nothing to do with respect, if some one mocks you for example for believing in God what they say shouldn’t matter but how they say it. After all people disagree all the time. They should know when to engage in discussion with someone and when to realize their being pulled for a ride. I’m not advocating making your kids into fighters who throw fists at disagreement but understand that young men are very aggressive far more than you can imagine and a Muslim raised with fear of hell and belief of God watching them and of shy disposition may end up being the person that holds it in more than they should and thus gets walked all over because they over think.

    Lastly see your child’s friends or lack thereof. People talk about girls always having cliques or whatever but I’d say boys form tribes. If your child is a fish out of water pay attention to this, it might be because you moved somewhere new, or the school is different or living in another culture, or your kid is too smart, hes too introspective, hes weird etc. Immigrant parents raise their kids to be respectful and good students and committed to religion when the reality of high school is its all about acting stupid and hormones and your kid is a fish out of the water. You can either equip them to overlook such differences in morals or ethics for basic virtues and strength or you can try to insulate them in such a way that the shock will be greater and they wont be prepared (I’m looking at you Muslims who only know other Muslims and whose kids are fundamentalists). If your son is a loner see why and don’t think he isn’t because hes social at home and with family friends and what not. Its one thing with ‘the community’ quite another n the ‘real world’.

    • Avatar Berserk Hijabi says:

      Thank you so much. words like “empowerment” and “choices” and “talking it out” are nice and have their importance,but you have to realize that bullying can be vicious. I’m talking about girls here,I don’t know bout guys, but the are so many ways and so many opportunities for another girl to cut down your teenage daughter. I’m not saying you need to be verbally harsh,but parents have to realize that sometimes u do have to be kind of rude to stop people from walking all over you,and although telling an adult helps it wil not solve the problem completely.You need to let your daughter know that it is ok to stop being mr.nice guy-well,girl-if anybody ever,ever puts them down,even if it is followed up with an “I’m just kidding”. Tell them not to over think it and go ahead and say whatever they want to say. People say that it’s better to stay quiet and take it than open your mouth and say something that could come off as rude.Thats not true.The worst,worst thing u can do is not say anything at all.

  8. Avatar Usman says:

    My dad is the bully, I’m 34, married with kids & he’s still my bully, what can I do? He has destroyed my confidence, I have been unable to progress career wise and have no means to leave the house which hurts my wife

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