Authors: Joanna Węgrzynowska, Agnieszka Milczarek

Dear Parent  

  It is always very painful to learn that your child is the victim of violence at school. You may experience anger, sadness, helplessness and feeling of guilt. Even if you can hardly believe it yourselves, don't shy away from the issue, don't think that "things will be alright in the end" or "maybe it's not so bad anyway".
Your child is suffering and every day counts.
You must help your child, be supportive and not let your son or daughter lose his or her self-confidence and trust in his or her parents.

What may your child be experiencing at school?  

  There is a common belief that physical violence is the most painful and standard form of violence at school.

But there are many different forms of aggression among children at school:

Physical violence:  
beating, kicking and pushing, damage to personal belongings,
spitting, bullying into handing over money;

Verbal violence:  
name calling, ridiculing, humiliating, threatening and gossiping, blackmail;

Non-Physical and Non-Verbal violence:
pulling faces, aggressive gestures, isolating, manipulating of relationships;

  If your child tells you he or she has been ridiculed at class - don't ignore it! It may be a bigger problem than a single fight - depending on the sensibility of the child and the behaviour of aggressors.
Violence may be exercised by pupils of the same class (individuals or groups), as well as from other classes.
Girls also bully, though this may be more camouflaged boys' bullying.
Girls don't usually use physical aggression but more often harmful words, gossip and the manipulation of relationships.

Violence performed over a longer period is called bullying.


How to recognise if your child has become a victim?  

  Most children don't inform adults (parents, teachers) about their experiences of bullying. There are many reasons for this: they may be afraid of revenge, they may not believe they can be helped or think that the situation will change, they may be afraid that no-one will believe them, or feel guilty and ashamed about what has happened to them, etc.
You must pay careful attention to your child. The symptoms listed below will help you see if your child has become the victim of aggression at school:

Children who are victims of bullying usually:   
  • have bruises, dirty, torn cloths, damaged school accessories (bag, pencil case, copy books) and if asked they often can't explain what has happened;
  • look unhappy, have sleeping problems;
  • have deteriorating class performances;
  • think of themselves as "inferior", avoid relationships;
  • become distanced;
  • grow apathetic or aggressive, exhibit mood swings;
  • not have any close friend(s);
  • avoid school, e.g. in the morning they complain of headaches or stomach-aches, loose their appetites;
  • say: "I don't like the school", "I hate my class"' "I don't want to go there", etc;
  • are late to school, stick to the teacher;
  • get back from school slowly, often choosing the longest route;
  • steal money or valuable things from home;

How to talk to your child?  

  If you suspect that your child may be victimised at school the first thing you can do is to talk openly about it.
The conversation will help you assess how bad the situation is and how to start taking the appropriate action.
Your child may be afraid of talking about this, so your tact and delicacy is essential.

If you decide to talk with your child, remember:  

  • listen carefully (don't disturb, don't hurry, clarify if you've properly understood);
  • note the the cases of aggression;
  • tell him or her that you love them, that you are on their side and that you are not going to allow any harm happen to them;
  • zapewnić o swojej gotowości do pomocy;
  • don't laugh at his or her weakness and vulnerability;
  • help him or her believe in him or herself and appreciate all efforts he or she takes ("you tried to defend yourself", "you kept your head up, well done!", "you did your best");
  • let you child cry if he or she wants to, appreciate his or her fear and helplessness ("I know it's hard", "it's not easy protecting yourself");
  • don't ignore or make light of what he or she says.
Don't make yourself or your child feel guilty. Don't ask "why did it happen to my child?" but work towards "how we can stop it".

    It is not the child's fault that he or she has become a victim of violence.

    Everybody has the right to be sensible, or weaker, or helpless.

    Nobody is allowed to use violence.
If you judge from your child's story that his or her situation is not insurmountable  
  and that your child should be able to cope with it, your task is:
  • to work out with your child how the aggression can be counteracted (how he or she should reply to the aggressor(s), how to act, whom to inform at school, etc);
  • to help your child practice dealing with the difficult situations (e.g. mime the scenes with him or her answering back to the bullies);
  • to give support (give assurances that your child is able to cope with the problem, that you trust him or her, that nobody has the right to harm others, and remind them of how they managed to successfully deal with the trouble);
  • to assure your child that you are ready to help in case he or she cannot cope alone.
In many cases children at primary and secondary schools cannot cope on their own with repeated acts of aggression.
In this instance your intervention is essential.

How to intervene on behalf of your child?  

  If you decide to act to defend your child you must see it through to the end. Remember:
"The Republic of Poland guarantees the protection of children's rights. Everybody has the right to child protection against violence, cruelty, exploitation and demoralisation from the authorities. /.../"
(Constitution of the Republic of Poland 2nd April 1997r; Clause.72.).

You yourself must not use violence against the aggressors (some desperate parents act in this way), and it is also not useful to act aggressively towards the school staff.

You can undertake the following actions:  

  • note all the cases and circumstances of violence your child has told you of;
  • report the case to the police if your child has been beaten or robbed;
  • see the tutor of the class, report the case, ask what he or she plans to do about it, declare your willingness to help;
  • note all the actions taken by the tutor;
  • be in touch with the tutor (via telephone or mail), ask what has been done in your child's case if you know that the violence had not stopped;
  • ask for an appointment with the head teacher (if the tutor's actions appear to be insufficient), explain the problem and demonstrate the lack of satisfactory solutions. Ask what the head teacher plans to do and declare your willingness to co-operate;
  • note all the arrangements and actions undertaken by the head teacher;
  • try to find experts (pedagogues, psychologists, members of non-governmental organisations) in the neighbourhood who can supply the staff with consultations and give support;
  • apply to the school supervising committees asking for the case of your child to be heard and assess the school's efficiency in resolving its violence problem (if the school still hasn't undertaken efficient action towards stopping the violence);
  • apply to the Children's Rights Counsellor (in particularly complicated cases).
    The office's address is: Warsaw, ul. Śniadeckich 10,
    tel. (22) 695-55-50;
    opening hours 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., Thursdays 2 p.m. - 6 p.m.

You may also want to:  

  • find a psychologist (school, advisory council, educational centre), who can help your child manage the situation;
  • check if there are any other parents who have struggled with the same problem, try to start communication amongst yourselves and work together.

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