Posted on: 01.12.2022.
We talk about child-to-child violence when one or more children intentionally and repeatedly disturb, injure, attack, or exclude another child who cannot defend themselves. This violence can be physical as physical injuries caused by pinching, hitting, biting, etc., and psychological, which refers to mocking, teasing, insulting, etc. Children may be threatened by violent peers, rejection, gossip, and taking or destroying personal belongings.
Which children are most likely to experience peer violence?
Children who behave violently often find victims who are vulnerable for whatever reason or who differ from other children based on certain features. In most cases, the victim is a child of lower socio-economic status, a child of a different ethnic group a child with special needs, a new child in the classroom, a gifted child, a child of divorced parents, and a child who is a victim of family violence. Victims of peer violence are usually calm, quiet, passive, and insecure children. They have less developed social skills (problems in "defending themselves"), a lack of will to seek help, a feeling of guilt for what is happening to them, a lack of support from other children, and a desire to integrate in any way.
How do you recognize signs of child abuse?
Children who are victims of peer abuse often try to hide it from their parents, educators, or teachers because they are afraid it will get worse. Therefore, it is important to look for any of the following behaviors: refusal to attend school or kindergarten, physical pain (headaches, stomach aches) before going to school or kindergarten, torn clothing or damaged toys or books, unexplained scratches or bruises in a child, frequent crying, nightmares, getting out of the social environment, refusing to talk about the behaviors mentioned, etc.
Peer violence can have several consequences, such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, insecurity, and lack of self-confidence. If neglected, these consequences usually persist even into adulthood.
How can parents help?
Children who complain to a parent that they are being abused by peers should never receive comments that they should ignore bullying. It is important to listen to the child and not interrupt them, and convince them that they are not to blame for the violence they are experiencing. Don't ask the child why they didn't tell you what happened to them before, it can be hard for the child to talk about painful experiences. Congratulate the child for opening up and getting that information to you.
Be sure to report violence to the facility, teachers, educators, and related professionals. Do not encourage the child to resist violence on his own or to respond to violence with violence.
Teach your child social skills such as strong communication, active listening, non-violent conflict resolution, and clear expression of desires and needs. Encourage your child to seek help from peers and encourage them to make and maintain friendships with other children.
To discover how is your child doing in school/ kindergarten and check if the child is experiencing any form of abuse, it is important to maintain a trusting relationship and open communication with your child. Regularly talk to the child about how they felt at school or kindergarten that day, how their peers in their class or group agree, with whom they are most comfortable and with whom they are least comfortable, if there are children who treat other children inappropriately, are they concerned about anything related to school/preschool, etc. The most important thing is to show sincere concern and interest and let the child know that violence can be stopped.
Written by: Marica Marasović, mag.psych., Center for Mental Health MBM PSY