Info for Children

Child abuse is when an adult, or even another child, hurts a child on purpose

  • physically (on their body)
  • verbally / emotionally (by saying or doing things that make a child feel sad, bad or uncared for)
  • sexually (by touching the child’s private parts or showing/taking pictures or movies of the child without clothes, or other people without clothes on)

There are different ways that someone can hurt you, and all of them are not okay.

  1. Emotional/ verbal abuse
  2. Neglect
  3. Physical abuse
  4. Sexual abuse
  5. Exploitation

1. Emotional/ verbal abuse
Emotional abuse is when unkind words and actions make your heart sore, for example when someone

  • takes no notice of you
  • tells you nobody wants you or loves you
  • is unkind and doesn’t care about you
  • does not listen to you
  • pushes you away
  • does not keep promises, or lies to you
  • calls you horrible names
  • blames you
  • always interrupts when you speak
  • shames you
  • mocks or teases you
  • frightens you
  • lies to you
  • asks you to do things that are not right

These words and actions can make you feel bad, sad, lonely, frightened, not good enough, left out, ugly or worthless. Sometimes you can get depressed because of emotional and verbal abuse, and you need to get help.  Talk to an adult who cares and will help you, or call Childline 0800055555

2. Neglect
Neglect is if your caregiver does not provide you with the basic things that you need, like

  • food and drink, proper clothing, a clean and safe place to stay
  • enough time to sleep
  • when you are sick ensuring you receive medicine/ dental treatment
  • an education (sending you to school)
  • not showing you how to do things or guiding you in any way

Remember, neglect is when your caregiver CAN provide these things, but WILL NOT.  Sometimes caregivers are not able to provide everything their children need, so they need help. Remember, your caregiver can also call Childline to ask about what help is available – 0800055555

3. Physical abuse
Physical abuse is if anyone (caregiver / teacher or any person) hurts your body on purpose, for example

  • hits you
  • burns you
  • kicks you
  • strangles or chokes you
  • suffocates you
  • ties you up
  • locks you up in a small space

Remember, when a teacher hits you at school it is called corporal punishment, and it is illegal in South Africa. You need to tell your caregiver so that they can report it.

4. Sexual abuse
Your body is yours. Your private parts are the parts that show whether you are a boy (male) or a girl (female) and they belong only to you. Underwear or swimming costumes are worn over these parts to cover them – because they are private.
If someone touches or plays with, or maybe hurts your private parts, this is called sexual abuse. It is not allowed and you have the right to to tell someone. You are special and you have the right to be protected.
Sexual abuse is when an adult or even another child:

  • asks you to show them your private parts
  • touches your private parts
  • shows you their private parts
  • asks you to touch their private parts
  • wants you to kiss their private parts
  • wants to kiss your private parts
  • puts things into your private parts
  • shows you rude pictures or videos
  • spies on you when your private parts are not covered.

Remember, when you are still a young child, your parent or caregiver may need to help you to bath and to keep your private parts clean. If anything hurts on your private parts, your parent or caregiver might have to take you to the doctor.  BUT, there should be NO SECRETS when anyone is helping you, and your parent or caregiver must always be with you when a doctor examines you.

Sexual abuse can make you feel sad, bad, angry, confused, alone and depressed.  It should never be kept secret. Tell an adult who cares and will do something to make sure it stops and you are safe. You can also call Childline 0800055555

5. Exploitation
Exploitation is when anyone (caregiver/older person) uses you to make money, for example

  • uses you to beg
  • makes you do bad things – like stealing
  • lets other people do bad things to you, like sexual abuse
  • uses you to sell things for them
  • makes you to do work that prevents you from going to school or finishing your homework, or work that is harmful to your health (for example, farm work, domestic work, construction work, or using you to hand out pamphlets at traffic lights)

 Remember, when your parent or caregiver gives you chores to do at home, or gives you the opportunity to help them out at work (without interfering with your school work), this is to teach you to be responsible, and to help you learn important life skills.  For example, washing the dishes, making your bed, feeding the pets, or helping with the cooking are ways that each family member contributes to a happy, healthy home.

Watching and helping your parent or caregiver out at work is a great opportunity to learn what it is like to work and earn a living, and can help you figure out what kind of work you want to do some day.

Remember, if your parent or caregiver cannot afford to provide for your needs, they should call Childline 0800055555  to find out how they can get help.

Who abuses children and why?

Children can be abused by adults or children, by people they know, or by strangers. We don’t always understand why someone would abuse a child, but there is no excuse for child abuse. Any kind of abuse, no matter who is doing it, must be reported. Speak to an adult who cares and will help you, or call Childline 0800055555 (click to call)

Is it my fault?

Child abuse is NEVER your fault.

Sometimes children misbehave, sometimes they make mistakes, and sometimes children are not sure if something is right or wrong. Because of this, children sometimes feel like the abuse is their fault, and they feel scared to tell someone about what is happening.  But remember, no one has the right to hurt a child.  If ANYONE is abusing you, you need to tell. Speak to an adult who cares and will help you, or call Childline 0800055555 (click to call)

What can I do?

If ANYONE is abusing you, you need to tell. Think about adults that you know and trust, make a list and include their phone numbers – this is your safety team.

Make sure you have their correct phone numbers, and keep them with you at all times.

Remember, you keep telling until someone believes you and does something about the abuse.

What will happen if I tell?

Many children are scared to tell in case they get into trouble, because they think they have done something wrong, or that the abuse is their fault.

  • If the adult you speak to does get angry and shout at you, you need to tell another adult who will believe you and will help you.

Sometimes children are scared that the person who is abusing them will get into trouble, and because they love that person, they want to protect them.

  • If the person who is abusing you is someone you love or care about, you still need to tell, so that someone can try to help them to change their behaviour.

Sometimes the abuser threatens the child, and says that something bad will happen if they tell.

  • If the person who is abusing you has threatened you or made you scared to tell, you need to explain that to the person you report the abuse to, so that they can make sure you are safe.

Remember, child abuse is never your fault, there is no excuse for abusing a child. You need to tell so that the abuse can be stopped.

What is Anxiety?

Everyone gets anxious sometimes. Anxiety is when you are scared or worried about things.

Some things that might make you feel anxious:

  • when you are around a lot of people you do not know
  • when you must try out something new like a new school
  • when there’s a big noisy thunderstorm

Most children feel anxious about stressful things, but sometimes you can just feel anxious without really knowing why.

Feeling worried and scared is not nice, especially if you don’t even know why you feel that way.

Anxiety can stop you from doing the things that you usually enjoy, or make it difficult to concentrate at school. It can also make you feel cross, or out of control, or stop you from eating and/or sleeping properly.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are when you suddenly feel scared or uncomfortable.  Some of the things you might be feeling (experiencing) in a scary situation.

  • your heart might beat very fast
  • you might feel choked – like you can’t breathe properly
  • you may tremble and shake
  • your legs may feel weak and shaky
  • you may feel hot and sweaty
  • you might have blurry vision – like you can’t see things properly
  • you might feel that things around you suddenly feel strange

Some of the things you might be thinking about during a panic attack:

  • I am going to faint
  • I am short of breath
  • I am going to throw up (vomit)
  • I am going to choke
  • I am about to embarrass myself in front of everybody
  • I need to get away / escape

Understanding panic attacks

Our brains and bodies are very smart and can do some very clever things to protect us.

If you are feeling scared – like you are in some kind of danger (that someone or something is going to hurt you), your brain does an amazing thing – it sends a signal to your body to react to help you get away from the danger. This is called the fight, freeze or flight reaction.

So, imagine a big scary dog runs up to you. You might pick up a stick and get ready to defend yourself from the dog, you might just freeze and stay completely still, or else you might run away as fast as you can. Your brain tells your body which action is the most likely to keep you safe without you even thinking about it.

When you have a panic attack the brain sends a false alarm to the body and the fight, freeze or flight reaction happens when there is no real danger. A panic attack can be very scary, so it’s important to remember that a panic attack is a false alarm that your body is having, and that it will end after a while.

Why do panic attacks and anxiety happen?

Panic and anxiety can be brought on by physical danger such as being afraid someone will hurt you. But it can also be caused by a single thought or fear that something bad is about to happen. Sometimes being anxious and stressed about something, such as exam results, can build up to a point where you begin to panic.

Thinking about events from the past can sometimes make you feel the stress all over again. And that can trigger feelings of panic. It could be a memory of bullying, or abuse. But sometimes the reminder can be something small that doesn’t seem important.

This means that you can think yourself into having a panic attack. But it also means that you can think yourself out of one. With time, you can learn to control panic when you feel it building up.

How to Manage Anxiety or Panic Attacks

If you feel that your worries are interfering with your life, remember, there are people and places that can help. Please phone Childline 08000 55 555 or speak to somebody you trust. You can get help to feel better again.

Some things to do when you experience anxiety or panic

  • identify that you are feeling anxious
  • remind yourself that the feelings of anxiety and panic will end – there is nothing wrong with you
  • ask for help – find someone who you trust who can help you to get through your panic
  • try to find something to do that will distract you – like finding something to look at or to read
  • go to another room, or go outside – find a calm space
  • deep, slow breathing

What are behaviour problems?

All children can be distracted, fidgety, naughty, defiant and impulsive from time to time – this is perfectly normal. However, some children have extremely difficult and challenging behaviours that are outside the norm for their age, and impact negatively on all areas of the child’s life (relationships, development, safety, etc).

Normal vs. abnormal behaviour

It is often hard to know whether a child’s behaviour is normal or abnormal. Usually the difference is a matter of degree or expectation. It may depend on:

  • the child’s level of development, which can vary greatly among children of the same age
  • development can be uneven, too, with a child’s social development lagging behind her/his intellectual growth, or vice versa
  • the context in which the behaviour occurs – the particular situation and time
  • the family’s values and expectations, and cultural and social background

Knowing the expected social, emotional, intellectual and sexual developmental stages for each age group can give us an idea of what to expect, but all children are different, and these are only guidelines.

As a parent, if you have concerns about your child’s behaviour, it is best to seek professional advice. Only a specially trained psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose a behaviour disorder through a comprehensive assessment of the child.

Behaviour problems to watch out for

  • Difficulty managing emotional outbursts
    Although it is normal for pre-schoolers to have occasional temper tantrums, older children should be able to cope with and manage their feelings in a socially appropriate manner. If the child can’t control her/his anger, frustration, or disappointment in an age-appropriate manners s/he could have an underlying emotional problem. In pre-schoolers, occasional temper tantrums are normal but they should be shorter and less intense than when they were toddlers, learning to use words instead of violence.
    Remember, tantrums happen for two main reasons:—the inability to manage their emotions or an attempt to control the situation.
  • Difficulty managing impulses
    Impulse control develops slowly over time. Young children may struggle to resist taking a sweet when no one is looking, for example, but as they get older, they learn to delay gratification, and they learn what is socially acceptable. A child who struggles to follow the rules, or to wait their turn, or who does things without thinking of the consequences for themselves or others may have impulse control difficulties.
  • Behaviour that does not respond to discipline
    It’s normal for kids to repeat their mistakes from time to time to see if a parent or teacher will follow through with discipline. But, it’s not normal for a child to exhibit the same behaviour repeatedly if you’re applying consistent discipline. If the child continues to exhibit the same misbehaviour regardless of the consequences, it could be a problem.
  • Behaviour that interferes with school
    Misbehaviour that interferes with the child’s education may indicate an underlying learning disorder or behaviour disorder. Getting sent out of class, getting into fights during break, and having difficulty staying on task are all potential warning signs.
  • Behaviour that interferes with social interaction
    It’s normal for children to have disagreements or arguments (“fall-outs”) with peers, but if the child’s behaviour prevents her/him from having friends, that’s a problem. Children should be able to develop and maintain healthy relationships with their peers.
  • Self-injury or talk about suicide
    Any child who bangs their head, burns themselves, or cuts themselves should be evaluated by a mental health professional. It’s also important to have a child evaluated by a professional if there is any talk about suicide.
  • Sexualised behaviours that are not developmentally appropriate
    It’s normal for children to be curious about the opposite sex and to want to know where babies come from. But knowledge of and acting out of sexualised behaviour that is beyond what a child should know, is of concern.  In this case, it is essential that you seek professional advice.  Also, sexualised behaviour should never be coercive (using force or power), at any age.

It is essential for caregivers and teachers to understand that ALL children’s behaviour is their way of processing and learning, as well as communicating what’s going on inside them and around them.

Behavioural problems are an indicator that something is not okay in the child’s world, and the best way to address them is to look for the cause of the behaviour, and what need that behaviour is meeting for the child.

What are some common behavioural disorders?

Sometimes abnormal behaviour is a symptom of a behavioural disorder that needs the attention of a medical practitioner.

If your child’s behaviour is interfering in her/his development, quality of relationships, and/or they are a danger to themselves or others, it is essential that you seek professional advice.  Call Childline 0800055555 to find out what resources are available in your area.

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is very common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of children and adults. It is a chronic (long-lasting) condition characterised by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and sometimes impulsivity. ADHD begins in childhood and often lasts into adulthood.

Some figures:

  • about 8-10% of South Africans have ADHD (ADHASA)
  • boys with ADHD outnumber girls diagnosed – 3 to 1

The exact cause of ADHD isn’t fully understood, but most professionals believe that a combination of risk factors is responsible. These risk factors include:

  • genetics (this is the biggest risk factor for ADHD)
  • brain structure and function
  • premature birth (before the 37th week of pregnancy)
  • low birthweight
  • brain trauma either in the womb or in the first few years of life
  • mother drinking alcohol, smoking or misusing drugs while pregnant
  • exposure to high levels of toxic lead at a young age

The symptoms of ADHD:


  • easily distracted, misses details, forgets things, and frequently switches from one activity to another
  • difficulty maintaining focus on one task
  • becomes bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something enjoyable
  • difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
  • has trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things needed to complete tasks or activities
  • seems not to listen when spoken to
  • daydreams, becomes easily confused, and moves slowly
  • has difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • struggles to follow instructions


  • very impatient
  • blurts out inappropriate comments, shows their emotions without restraint, and acts without regard for consequences
  • has difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
  • often interrupts conversations or others’ activities

Over activity / Hyperactivity

  • fidgets and squirms in their seat
  • talks non-stop
  • dashes around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
  • has trouble sitting still during dinner, school, doing homework, and story time
  • constantly in motion
  • has difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities

Note: Hyperactivity symptoms tend to reduce with age and can turn into “inner restlessness” in teens and adults with ADHD.

Other Associated Difficulties

  • poor social skills
  • anger management issues / aggression
  • delays in speech and language as well as motor development & coordination
  • sleeping difficulties
  • poor organisational skills
  • inappropriate sensory modulation and sensory defensiveness
  • learning disabilities
  • other disorders (as well as the ADHD)

Treatment of ADHD

Treatment is more successful when initiated early and taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of the ADHD.

A treatment plan must include:

  • medical treatment (as prescribed by a child psychiatrist; there are a number of options)
  • counselling / play therapy to address any additional problems (such as depression or anxiety) and to help the child understand ADHD better and develop strategies for managing it
  • educational components – close communication between home and school is particularly important
  • family support

ADHD – Helpful Tips for Parents

  • assessment: have the child assessed to determine the most appropriate treatment plan, including medication
  • treatment: be consistent and holistic in your approach; work out a plan with professionals (psychologist and psychiatrist) in conjunction with the family and school, that meets your child’s individual needs.
  • monitoring: regularly monitor the child’s behaviour, performance, and mood; re-assess if necessary
  • communication: between caregivers and educators is essential
  • schedule: stick to a schedule; keep it visible
  • organise everyday items
  • use homework and notebook organizers: use organizers for school material and supplies; stress to your child the importance of writing down assignments and bringing home the necessary books
  • be clear and consistent
  • give praise or rewards when rules are followed: children with ADHD often receive and expect criticism – look for good behaviour, and praise it
  • reasonable accommodation: extra time, subject exclusion, seating arrangements, regular reminders


ADHD – Helpful Tips for Educators

  • To minimise the impact of the distractibility at school or during homework:
    • look at ways to place the child in a less distraction-provoking seat
    • allow for increased movement
    • break long work periods into shorter chunks
    • In the case of interrupting:
  • ensure that the child’s self-esteem is maintained, especially in front of others
  • praise the child for interruption-free conversations
  • use discreet gestures or words you have previously agreed upon to let the child know they are interrupting (so that you don’t humiliate them)
  • In the case Impulsivity:
    • develop behaviour plans
    • apply immediate and positive discipline when they break a rule or disobey
    • give immediate praise for desired behaviour
    • find ways to give children with ADHD a sense of control over their day (co-developed schedules; routines; choices where appropriate/possible
  • In the case of fidgeting and hyperactivity:
    • find creative ways to allow the child to move in appropriate ways at appropriate times – releasing energy this way may make it easier for the child to keep his or her body calmer during work time
    • ask the child to run an errand or do a task for you
    • encourage the child to play a sport, or at least run around before and after school – make sure a child with ADD/ADHD never misses breaks or PE
    • provide a stress ball, small toy, or other object for the child to squeeze or fidget with discreetly at his or her seat
    • limit screen time in favour of time for movement
  • In the case of trouble following directions:
    • try to be extremely brief, specific and direct when giving directions, allowing the child to do one step and then come back to find out what they should do next
    • if the child gets off track, give a calm reminder, redirecting in a calm but firm voice
    • whenever possible, write directions down in a bold marker or in coloured chalk on a blackboard
  • Key points to remember:
    • keep interest by using new and different ways of doing things
    • keep things structure and organised
    • remind of rules and have lots of visual cues
    • keep work self-paced where possible
    • include lots of productive physical movement
    • keep involvement active rather than passive
    • provide creative distractions
    • know your child well enough that you can anticipate when they might struggle, and take preventative steps

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is defined by the DSM-V as a pattern of angry/irritable behaviour, or vindictiveness lasting at least 6 months, and is exhibited during interaction with at least one individual that is not a sibling.

  • this disorder is more common in boys than in girls
  • this behaviour typically starts by age 8, but it may start as early as the preschool years

The exact cause of ODD isn’t fully understood, but most professionals believe that a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors may contribute to the condition. These risk factors include:

  • genetic factors play a part
  • brain imaging studies have suggested that children with ODD may have subtle differences in the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, judgment and impulse control
  • ADHD, learning disorders, depression, or anxiety disorders could also be strong contributors
  • social-cognitive impairments, e.g. immature forms of thinking, failure to use words to regulate his or her behaviour, and cognitive distortions, such as interpreting a neutral event as an intentional hostile act
  • family factors, e.g. inconsistent discipline, family dysfunction, parents with mental illness, substance abuse, insecure parent-child attachments, child abuse and neglect
  • societal factors, e.g. poverty, culture of violence

The symptoms of ODD include:

  • Behavioural symptoms:
  • easily losing one’s temper / throwing repeated temper tantrums
  • arguing
  • fighting
  • refusing to follow rules
  • deliberately acting in a way that will annoy others
  • blaming others
  • blatant hostility towards others
  • being unwilling to compromise or negotiate
  • willingly destroying friendships
  • being spiteful and seeking revenge
  • blatant and repeated disobedience
  • Cognitive symptoms:
  • frequent frustration
  • difficulty concentrating
  • failure to “think before speaking”
  • Psychosocial symptoms:
  • difficulty making friends
  • loss of self-esteem
  • persistent negativity
  • consistent feelings of annoyance about odd children

About children with ODD:

These children have a strong need for control:

  • they will do almost anything to maintain control
  • if limits are set, they feel compelled to break them
  • “You’re not the boss of me” “You can’t make me”
  • refusal, endless debates, verbal abuse

They tend to deny responsibility:

  • they see their behaviour as reasonable
  • they blame others
  • they feel ‘picked on’
  • they have little insight into the impact of their behaviour on others

ODD can cause kids to be extremely annoying, combative, uncooperative and often hostile.

Children with ODD may seem to thrive on conflict and anger from others, will try to engage in negative battles of will.

NB: Unlike children with conduct disorder (CD), children with ODD are not usually physically aggressive towards people or animals, do not usually destroy property, and do not show a pattern of theft or deceit.

As with any disorder, assessment and diagnosis must be made by a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Treatment of ODD

Treatment for ODD primarily involves family-based interventions, but it may include other types of psychotherapy and training for your child — as well as for parents.

It’s important to treat any other problems, such as a learning disorder, because they can create or worsen ODD symptoms if left untreated.

Medications alone generally aren’t used for ODD, unless your child also has another disorder that requires medication. If your child has coexisting disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety or depression, medications may help improve these symptoms.

The main types of interventions are:

  • parent training
  • parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT)
  • individual and family therapy
  • cognitive problem-solving training
  • social skills training

Treatment usually lasts several months or longer.

ODD – Helpful Tips for Parents and Educators

  • have the child assessed to determine the most appropriate treatment plan, including medication
  • be consistent and holistic in your approach; work out a treatment plan with professionals (psychologist and psychiatrist
  • communicate regularly, e.g. with teachers and therapist
  • create clear, reasonable rules and expectations; try to involve the child/ren in making the rules
  • consistently model and reward/praise desired behaviour (remember: specific, subtle & sincere)
  • give positive attention or praise at least three times more frequently than reprimands
  • increase the ‘reinforcement’ quality of the environment (NB: opportunities for success)
  • set clear, reasonable and logical consequences for undesirable behaviour – make it a learning opportunity rather than punitive
  • respond to undesirable behaviour immediately and consistently
  • set up a “cool down area” – anticipate a meltdown, and allow all children to use it if they are angry or upset
  • keep responses calm, brief, and business-like
  • avoid getting into conflict / arguments
  • ask open-ended questions
  • listen actively
  • validate the child’s emotion by acknowledging it
  • emphasize the positive in all requests – (e.g. Instead of, “If you don’t return to your chair, I can’t help you with your assignment,” word requests in positive terms: “I will be over to help you on the assignment just as soon as you return to your chair.”)
  • two-part choice statements (e.g. “You can finish the assignment while your TV programme is on, or you can finish the assignment now and not miss your programme. It is your choice.”)
  • offer opportunities to get it right (e.g. “Is there anything that we can work out together so that you can finish your assignment on time” If the child continues to be non-compliant, however, simply impose the appropriate consequences for that misbehaviour.)
  • proactively interrupt the child’s anger early in the escalation cycle (redirect or remove)
  • for educators – refer when necessary


What makes it worse?

  • losing your temper
  • long lectures
  • interacting in front of other children
  • bribery or persuasion
  • threats
  • adding more consequences
  • embarrassing or shaming the child
  • not following through with consequences – or inconsistent follow through
  • bringing up the past
  • allowing the confrontation to go on for too long
  • crowding the child
  • using negative body language
  • getting annoyed by every little thing he or she does
  • blaming yourself or others
  • making assumptions or labelling the student

What makes it better?

  • keep your voice neutral and calm, no matter what
  • give clear directions
  • use short explanations
  • make eye contact
  • control your facial expressions
  • keep body language neutral
  • talk about what is happening now, not past issues
  • focus on solutions not problems
  • ask questions
  • listen to responses
  • consider what is being said
  • have clear boundaries
  • decide on consequences for behaviour before hand
  • move away if you feel you are about to lose control
  • see the child as a complete person with strengths and weaknesses
  • analyse your part in the interaction – check your own behaviour and responses

Conduct Disorder (CD)

Conduct disorder is defined as “a persistent pattern of behaviour in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate social norms are violated.” Children and adolescents with this disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They are often viewed by other children and adults as “bad” or delinquent, rather than mentally ill.

This disorder is marked by chronic conflict with parents, teachers, and peers and can result in damage to property and physical injury to the child and others.

These patterns of behaviour are consistent over time.

Doctors group the symptoms of conduct disorder into four categories:

  • aggressive behaviour, such as cruelty to animals, fighting and bullying
  • destructive behaviour, such as arson and vandalism
  • deceitful behaviour, such as shoplifting and lying
  • violation of rules, which may include truancy and running away from home

The exact cause of CD isn’t fully understood, but most professionals believe that a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors may contribute to the condition. These risk factors include:

  • genetic vulnerability
  • brain anatomy and function
  • child abuse
  • school failure
  • peer rejection
  • association with deviant peers
  • exposure to violence and traumatic life experiences
  • poverty and neglect

The symptoms of CD include:

  • Behavioural symptoms:
  • stealing
  • skipping school
  • harming animals
  • bullying others
  • destroying the property of others
  • running away from home
  • instigating violent, physical fights
  • persistent lying
  • forcing someone into sexual activity against the person’s will
  • Physical symptoms:
    • marks resulting from injuries from a physical fight (e.g. bruises, scrapes, black eyes, etc)
    • presence of a sexualy transmitted disease/s as a result of beginning unsafe sexual behaviours at an early age
    • burn marks as a result of fire-setting behaviours
  • Cognitive symptoms:
    • difficulty concentrating
    • memory impairment
    • inability to “think things through”
  • Psychosocial symptoms:
    • lack of empathy
    • lack of a sense of guilt
    • lack of remorse
    • false sense of grandiosity
    • low self-esteem

About children with CD:

Children with CD struggle to follow the rules and norms set by family, school and society in general. They participate in extremely negative behavioural patterns in a variety of settings, including home, school, and in social situations. These behaviours also cause significant harm/damage in all aspects of the adolescent’s life, including his or her social life, family life, and academic life.

Children and adolescents with CD tend to:

  • engage in power struggles
  • react badly to direct demands or statements
  • challenge class rules
  • refuse to do work assigned at school
  • fight with, argue, bully or threaten classmates and other students
  • have a poor attendance record or chronic truancy
  • have a history of frequent suspension
  • not show empathy, guilt or remorse
  • use bravado to mask their low self-esteem
  • lie to family, peers or teachers
  • steal from family, peers or the school
  • use a weapon/s in fights
  • engage in the destruction of property
  • hurt animals and people

As with any disorder, assessment and diagnosis must be made by a psychiatrist or psychologist.


Treatment of CD

Treatment is more successful when initiated early and taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease offers a child a better chance for considerable improvement and hope for a more successful future. Research suggests that treating children at home, along with their families, is most effective.

A treatment plan must include:

  • medical treatment
  • mental health intervention
  • educational components
  • family support
  • close communication between home and school is particularly important at younger ages
  • in cases of abuse, the child may need to be removed from the family and placed in a less chaotic home.

Treatment is rarely brief since establishing new attitudes and behaviour patterns takes time.

Conduct Disorder – Helpful Tips for Parents and Educators

  • set clear and consistent rules, as well as fair and logical consequences for breaking them
  • model and reward positive social behaviour
  • act immediately, fairly and consistently when a child breaks the rules
  • keep a record of transgressions
  • if you are a teacher, communicate with parents about your concerns
  • refer for professional assessment if you think the child meets the criteria
  • communicate a positive regard for the child, and give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible
  • remember that children with conduct disorder like to argue, so maintain calm, respect, and detachment; avoid power struggles and don’t argue
  • avoid escalating prompts such as shouting, touching, nagging, or cornering the student
  • consistently teach and model social skills (whether you’re a caregiver or a teacher)

What is bonding?

Bonding is the process by which the parents and the young infant make a special long term attachment and connection with each other.

Bonding is the start of building a deep lasting relationship that will be unique (the only one of its kind) between a baby and his or her caregivers. It is an intense emotional connection which some parents feel immediately. Other parents take time to feel it as they get to know their baby, over time.

This natural (instinctual) bonding relationship draws the baby and caregiver together. The bond motivates the caregiver to pay close attention to baby’s needs – to wake up in the middle of the night to feed, to notice when a nappy needs changing and to understand what the baby’s different cries mean.

This bonding is the basis for the baby to develop his or her sense of self (how he or she sees and experiences him or herself).

What is attachment?

If a baby receives consistent and sensitive care during the first few months of life, a healthy and secure attachment will usually begin. Being sensitive, (interpreting the baby’s signals and responding accurately and appropriately) emotionally warm and available are crucial elements of these healthy interactions.

Attachment is the deep and lasting connection or “tie of affection” established between a child and caregiver most intensely in the first thousand days of the infant’s life. It begins at birth, develops rapidly over the next few years, and continues to grow throughout life at a different and slower pace.

The baby’s developing brain is stimulated when there is a loving interaction between the child and his or her caregivers. The stronger the “affection tie” or attachment, the better chance the child has of future emotional wellbeing. Babies begin to build attachments to familiar caregivers who respond to their day-to-day physical and emotional needs. The separation from a loved attachment figure brings enormous distress.

Reciprocity – a process of “serve” and “return”. A parent and infant are mutually involved in initiating, sustaining and ending interactions. Babies are born to relate to others. They reach out for interactions by gazing at their parent’s face, touching and cooing and by making body movements and facial expressions. When babies don’t receive responses, or are overwhelmed by intrusive responses, they will eventually give up trying to engage.

Good things about attachment and bonding for the baby

The stronger the “affection tie” or attachment, the better chance the child has of future emotional well being. Babies begin to build attachments to familiar caregivers who respond to their day-to-day physical and emotional needs. The separation from a loved attachment figure brings enormous distress.

When babies develop a secure attachment bond, they are usually better able to:

  • develop trusting relationships with others
  • be more balanced emotionally – have a wider range of emotions
  • feel confident and good about themselves
  • enjoy being with others
  • recover more quickly from disappointment and loss
  • share their feelings and seek support
  • explore and learn with greater confidence

Bonding and attachment play an important role in your baby’s development (social, emotional, intellectual and physical):

  • social – able to be with and co-operate with others more easily
  • emotional – able to notice other’s emotions, and able to show your own emotions and bounce back more easily from negative emotions
  • intellectual – able to learn more easily
    • language
    • memory
    • problem-solving
    • attention/concentration
  • physical – stronger and healthier

What is bullying?

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumours, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.” (

Bullying is a form of abuse that has five defining characteristics:

  • it is DELIBERATE or intentional – it is done on purpose, or deliberately (not accidental)
  • it is REPEATED – it happens over and over again
  • it is SYSTEMATIC – it is well thought out and planned
  • it is HURTFUL – it causes emotional and/or physical pain
  • it is POWER IMBALANCED – the bully may seem to have more physical strength/size, and/or social influence over others (can influence people to do things)

In South Africa there is a culture of violence, including the widespread, continued use of corporal punishment in homes and schools, violent crime, and normalised and extensive violence in the media (TV, film and games).  In addition, the abuse of children is also prevalent.  These factors increase the likelihood of bullying behaviour amongst children. In turn, bullying behaviour can act as an indicator of violent, anti-social and risk-taking behaviours, meaning that it is part of the ongoing cycle of violence.Bullying is frequently overlooked or ignored because educators and parents are often unaware that it is happening, or think that it is a normal part of growing up; or, if they are aware of it, they do not know how to deal with it. The situation is worsened by the fact that many victims of bullying are often afraid to report it for fear that things will get worse for them, this leads to the normalization and acceptance of violent behaviour. This, in turn, leads to low levels of reporting – the perception is that this is normal, and nothing can/will be done about it.

The difference between bullying and teasing

The person bullying will often say s/he is only “teasing” but there are some important differences:


  • is being made fun of in a good-humoured way; it’s not serious and can sometimes be laughed about – is about humour, not hurt
  • usually involves laughing together (not laughing at)
  • is done by someone who cares about you – friends, or family members
  • does not cause strong feelings of being hurt
  • is not being picked on – just gentle fun
  • the teaser does not mean to cruel and will stop if s/he realises s/he is causing pain
  • teasing may go both ways – there is no power imbalance

There many ways that children (and adults) can be bullied. Each needs to be taken seriously, because the effects of bullying can be devastating.  You need to take action to protect your child, or the children you work with.

Physical bullying

Physical bullying occurs when physical actions are used by bullies to gain power and control over their targets. It is the most obvious form of bullying. Physical bullies tend to be bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than their peers. Examples of physical bullying include kicking, hitting, punching, slapping, shoving, and other physical attacks. It is not at all subtle and is the easiest to identify.

Verbal bullying

Words, statements, and name-calling to gain power are used to gain control over a target. Insulting comments are carefully used to belittle, demean, and cause pain in another person. Targets are chosen based on the way they look, act, or behave. Children with special needs are often targeted.

Attacks almost always occur when adults aren’t around, making it difficult to identify the person who is bullying. Many adults don’t really understand how much this type of by bullying impacts on a child and often tell the target to ignore it. But verbal bullying and name-calling has serious consequences and can leave deep emotional scars.

Emotional / relational bullying

Emotional bullying is often referred to as relational aggression or relational bullying.  This type of bullying often goes unnoticed by parents and teachers. It is a type of social manipulation and uses sly and sneaky methods to hurt peers, or sabotage (deliberately destroy) their social standing. These bullies spread rumours, tell lies, tease, intimidate, insult, ignore, exclude and break confidences to get their target out of a group. They do this to make their own social power stronger.  Girls tend to use this type of approach more often than boys and it tends to occur in older children.


When the internet, social media, a smartphone, or other technology is used to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person, this is called cyberbullying. (If an adult is involved in the harassment this is called cyber-harassment or cyberstalking). Examples of cyberbullying include, posting hurtful images, making online threats, and sending hurtful emails or texts. Cyber bullies can harass their targets with much less risk of being caught. Technology makes them feel anonymous, insulated, and detached from the situation. Consequently, online bullying is often mean and cruel. The consequences of cyberbullying are serious. Because the target is available anytime and anywhere, she or he feels invaded, as if nowhere is safe, and the onslaught never seems to end.

Sexual bullying

Sexual bullying consists of repeated, harmful, and humiliating actions that target a person sexually. Examples include sexual name-calling, crude comments, vulgar gestures, uninvited touching, sexual propositioning, and pornographic materials. For instance, a bully might make a crude comment about a girl’s appearance, attractiveness, sexual development, or sexual activity. In some cases, sexual bullying opens the door to sexual assault.

Girls are often the targets of sexual bullying both by boys and by other girls. Boys might touch them inappropriately, make crude comments about their bodies, or proposition them. Girls, on the other hand, might call other girls names like “slut” or “tramp,” make insulting comments about their appearance or body, and engage in slut-shaming.

Sexting also can lead to sexual bullying. For instance, a girl may send a photo of herself to a boyfriend. When they break up, he shares that photo with the entire school. In the end, she becomes the target of sexual bullying because people make fun of her body, call her crude names, and make vulgar comments about her. Some boys may even see this as an open invitation to proposition her or sexually assault her.

Prejudicial bullying

Prejudicial bullying is based on prejudices toward people of different races, religions, or sexual orientation. This type of bullying can be a part of, or a motivation for, all the other types of bullying including cyberbullying, verbal bullying, relational bullying, physical bullying, and sometimes even sexual bullying.

When prejudicial bullying occurs, children are targeting others who are different from them and singling them out. This type of bullying is often severe and can open the door to hate crimes. Any time a child is bullied for their sexual orientation, race, nationality or religion, it should be reported.

Possible signs of bullying

Parents, teachers and friends can look out for:

  • unexplained bruises, scratches, and cuts
  • sadness, moodiness or depression
  • withdrawal
  • anxiety
  • nightmares
  • unexplained aches and pains (e.g tummy ache, headache)
  • frequent complaints of illness to avoid attending school
  • loss of confidence/self-esteem
  • appetite changes
  • change in sleep patterns
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • talking about acts of revenge, including murder
  • loss of interest in or refusal to go to school/activities
  • sudden decrease in academic performance
  • few or no friends, or loss of contact with existing friends
  • taking a long or illogical route to school
  • seeming afraid of:
    • going to school,
    • travelling the bus/taxi
    • walking to school
    • taking part in organised
    • activities with peers

Possible signs of cyberbullying

In addition to some of the signs above, take note if a child:

  • is sad, distressed or angry during or after using the internet or phone
  • appears anxious when receiving text or e-mail
  • is very protective or secretive of their online life
  • withdraws from friends and activities
  • avoids school or group gatherings
  • lower marks at school
  • “acting out” in anger at home
  • has changes in mood, behaviour, sleep, or appetite
  • shows signs of depression or anxiety
  • starts to bully others (retaliate)
  • hides their online activity from caregivers

Please remember:

Parents should always monitor their child’s use of technology, but it is important not to threaten to withdraw access or punish a child who has been the victim of cyber bullying. Rather, always reassure your child that you will support and protect them in the case of any type of bullying behaviour (harassment or abuse).

No matter how much pain it causes, the person being cyber bullied often doesn’t want to tell a teacher or parent, because they feel ashamed or embarrassed, or because they are worried that their computer or phone privileges will be removed.

The impact of bullying

Bullying impacts on everyone, from the child who is being bullied, to the child who is bullying others, to the parents and teachers, and to the community.

The hurt inflicted by bullying on all role players is often considerable and long-remembered. Children are still learning how to cope with their feelings. It is difficult for all those involved to cope with their feelings of pain, fear, anger, rejection, loss, hopelessness and loneliness.

Bullying can make the victim, as well as the bystander and the bully, feel lonely, unhappy, frightened, and unsafe, and think that there must be something wrong with them.

Children are especially vulnerable. Bullying should not be part of growing up.

The child being bullied

Bullying can, and often does, have a lasting lifelong effect on the victim

  • it affects the victim’s self -esteem and the damage is even more significant if self-esteem issues are already present
  • it can lead to depression, panic attacks and physical ailments, such as ulcers and headaches
  • children who are bullied often have lower marks because they fear going to school
  • some are so affected by bullying that they do not further their education, in case they face bullying at high school, college or university
  • some are so hurt that they think about suicide, and some actually attempt and succeed in taking their own lives (or even the lives of others)
  • others become obsessed with ideas of revenge, and this can lead to acts of revenge, including harming or taking the lives of others
  • some victims, out of anger and lack of control of their own lives, seek out someone who is weaker than they are and target them – the victim turns into the bully
  • it is common for children who are bullied to be the victim of bullying in their adult lives – their self-esteem is so low that they cannot seem to find the courage to stop being a victim
  • friends often turn their back on the victim because they are afraid of also becoming an outcast or target, thus isolating the victim even more

These are all serious effects that can truly change the victim’s life and outlook on the future.

The child bullying others

Bullying has very negative effects on the bully too. Studies have shown that bullies who do not get help have a higher risk of:

  • developing substance abuse problems
  • developing anxiety or depression
  • dropping out of school before their peers
  • having problems with relationships later in life – they may become abusive towards partners and their own children
  • becoming involved in criminal activities later in life

While there are some bullies who have high self-esteem, many do not. Their actions are a mask for how bad they feel about themselves.

Getting into trouble and being labelled “bad”, “naughty”, “violent”, “unmanageable” and a “bully” can lower the child’s self-esteem and create the belief that they can’t change and that everyone has given up on them. This can lead to increased negative behaviour, such as bullying.

It is important to remember to look at why the bullying behaviour started, and what the needs of the child bullying others are.

Bullying behaviour is learnt. The child needs help to learn new ways of dealing with and expressing negative feelings, and new ways of interacting with others, including empathy*.

This will require time, patience, and professional help.

Remember, the bully is a child too, and every child needs someone to believe in them.

Empathy is being able to put yourself into the shoes of the other person and feel what they are feeling

Teachers (and parents) can help reduce bullying by:

  • Discussing bullying: Give students the opportunity to discuss bullying. Have the class come up with rules against bullying and involve them in determining that bullying behaviour is unacceptable.
  • Provide classroom activities and discussion opportunities related to bullying and violence, including the harm they cause and strategies to reduce their incidence.
  • Teach cooperation by assigning projects that require collaboration. Such cooperation teaches students how to compromise and how to assert without demanding. Take care to vary grouping of participants and to monitor the treatment of and by participants in each group.
  • Develop a classroom action plan to ensure that students know what to do when they observe a bully-victim confrontation.


Bullying doesn’t happen only at school. Community members can use their unique strengths and skills to prevent bullying wherever it occurs. For example, youth sports groups may train coaches to prevent bullying. Local businesses may make t-shirts with bullying prevention slogans for an event. After-care staff may read books about bullying to children and discuss them. Hearing anti-bullying messages from the different adults in their lives can reinforce the message for children that bullying is unacceptable.

Some community strategies ideas

  • Establish a shared vision about bullying in the community, its impact, and how to stop it.
  • Identify audiences to target and tailor messages as appropriate.
  • Describe what each partner will do to help prevent and respond to bullying.
  • Advocate for bullying prevention policies in schools and throughout the community.
  • Raise awareness about your message. Develop and distribute print materials. Encourage local radio, TV, newspapers, and websites to give public service announcements prime space.
  • Introduce bullying prevention to groups that work with children

The role players

Children and adolescents are crucial role players when it comes to bullying.

  • you may be experiencing bullying directly
  • you may be witnessing bullying
  • you may be engaging in bullying behaviour
  • you may even be involved at all levels on different occasions

Think of bullying as a live stage play. There are a lot of players and there is also the audience.

Without the audience the play will fail.

Bullying involves lots of players. The main roles are played by the bully and the victim, and the other role players are the bystanders (the audience, people watching). All of them play important roles in continuing or stopping the cycle of bullying.

Bullying creates a climate of fear, insensitivity; indifference, lack of empathy and disrespect.

Bullying damages the physical, social, and emotional well-being of its victims, but it also hurts the children who bully, and those who watch it happen.

Bully roles

Bullies come from all walks of life, all ages, all genders, all races, and all cultures.  There are many reasons behind the behaviour of bullying. Some notable characteristics of people who bully others:

  • they may have been exposed to violent behaviour at home or in their community
  • they may be in need of attention, and negative attention is better than none at all
  • they may believe that respect means being feared
  • they may have been a victim of bullying themselves
  • they may not have learnt to take responsibility for their behaviour
  • they may avoid responsibility or deny the consequences of their behaviour through denial, blaming others and faking victimhood
  • they may not be willing or able to recognise the harmful effects of their bullying behaviour on others
  • they may not know of or be willing to try better ways to behave
  • the bully may get a lot of positive reinforcement from the encouragement of others
  • getting away with it because bystanders do nothing and seeing a reaction in the victim can make them feel successful
  • the bully may think they are popular, when, in fact, everyone is just trying to avoid being bullied

Remember: People who bully others need help and kindness as much as the victims.

  • Bullies:
    • select and systematically (in a planned way) hurt and abuse their victims
    • thrive and become stronger when they get active encouragement, passive acceptance, or silence from bystanders
    • do not always use physical means
    • seem know who they can pick on easily, where they can do it without being seen, and even how to get peers to assist them
  • Bully assistants:
    • they are children who do not start the bullying, but sometimes assist the bullies
    • sometimes help the bully in order to avoid becoming a victim
    • get to join in and get the benefits of being on the bully’s side, without taking as much responsibility
    • take part without being seen as the ringleader

The bystanders

Bystanders play an important role in promoting or preventing bullying. Often without realising it, they may make a situation worse by providing an audience, maintaining silence, actively encouraging, or joining in.

Adults (teachers and parents) are often bystanders as well. They sometimes ignore bullying or sometimes make bullying normal- saying things like “boys will be boys” or “bullying is part of growing up”. Adults sometimes even encourage bullying saying, “fight back,” or “don’t take nonsense from anybody.”

Bystanders don’t fully understand the process of bullying and don’t have the knowledge or skills to intervene effectively, worrying that they may make matters worse for the victim, or for themselves. It can be scary being a bystander too.

  • Bully encouragers:
    • don’t actively bully the victim like the assistants do, but they are still a part of the action
    • watch what is happening and are engaged in the situation
    • may think what the bully is doing is funny, or they might laugh or shout encouragement because they feel it is what is expected
    • are also harmed by bullying:
    • they start to feel that violence is normal, and can even be fun
    • they become less capable of empathising
    • if they start to see enjoying someone’s pain as normal and acceptable, they may become bullies themselves

Remember: Peer pressure is a powerful thing – so powerful that even “good” kids will behave badly under certain circumstances.

  • Bully avoiders:
    These children are also negatively affected by the bullying they witness. This child often:


    • feels sad for the victim
    • feels angry at the bully
    • strongly dislikes what the bully is doing,
    • wants to do something to help, but feels that they can’t
    • The bully avoider may:
      • be afraid s/he’ll be the next target
      • be worried that others will tease her/ him for trying to help
      • not believe that s/he really can help

The feelings of guilt and helplessness that this type of bystander feels can have a lasting negative effect on their self-esteem.

Some prevention studies show that these children can learn to help victims. Bullies can be stopped when victims and bystanders learn and apply new ways to stand up against bullying. This has to be combined with clearly defined behaviour rules. The children can then learn to tell bullies to stop (indicating that the behaviour is “against the rules they have agreed upon”) and to get help from the teacher, when the bullying does not stop.

The victim

The victim is the person that the bully/bullies choose to hurt or abuse.

The bully may say it’s because of:

  • the way the person looks
  • the way the person acts
  • the person’s religion, culture or language
  • the person’s sexual orientation
  • the person’s financial standing
  • the person’s health

The bully may also make up some or other reason – anything will do!

Remember: Bullying is the choice of the bully – it is never the fault of the victim.

Think about it: people who are tall get bullied, and people who are short get bullied. Kids who do well at school get bullied, and kids who struggle to pass get bullied. Skinny children get bullied, and chubby children get bullied – it’s not about the child being victimised, it is about the bully, and their need for a sense of power over others.

If someone chooses to use or try to increase any power they think they have, at the expense of others, it is they who are responsible for their choices.

The hero

This player is a true hero. He or she will step in and confront the bully and say “Stop it!” He or she sees the injustice of one child picking on another and isn’t willing to ignore it. He or she understands that the victim of bullying needs help, not more abuse, and is willing to give it. This child or adult usually has high levels of confidence and self-esteem. He or she gets along well with others and isn’t afraid to stand up to the bully.

Studies show that in 50 percent of bullying events, if just one witness said, “Stop it! ” it would stop. That means if a single person intervenes on behalf of a child who is being bullied, half of the time it will stop.

That’s an amazing statistic. And probably true.

Think about it: A bully doesn’t want his/her authority challenged or undermined to look stupid or less powerful in front of others, or to get into trouble. A hero shows courage and strength, and is doing the right thing. The hero can also involve other heroes, like adults who will intervene. All this can make the crowd turn against the bully, which is a very powerful deterrent.

Helping your child to be a hero

Tips for parents, caregivers and educators:

  • teach kindness and empathy – the best way is to be a kind and empathetic role model
  • build your child’s self-esteem – make them aware that their voice counts
  • be there when your child has a problem – show them they can rely on you
  • be a role-model – teach them by you example to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves
  • be involved in developing and implementing a no bullying policy at your child’s school do role-plays with your child – how to react if they see bullying happening

What to do if your child is being bullied?

The most important thing to do is to listen to your child without judgment. Provide a safe space for your child to talk to you by listening and communicating unconditional love for your child. Do not blame. Talk openly, this is a time when your child needs your love and support more than ever. Listen with an open mind, and empathy.

Ask the teacher for help – your child’s teacher might not be aware of the details. What the teacher will notice, however, are changes in your child’s behaviour and emotional state. They want to help their students feel safe and happy in school. Ask for help as soon as you suspect a problem.

Problem solve with your child. Children are different. Brainstorm solutions with your child to empower your child to take control. Some children prefer to practice a smart retort, some need to walk away and many prefer use of the “buddy” system if available. They need one available person who they can trust

They need to know where they can go for help so your child identify a safe person at school who can help her or him if the bullying continues.

Bullying can cause long-term emotional harm for children. Whether it’s physical, verbal or emotional doesn’t make a difference. It’s all equally harmful and can lead to anxiety, depression, loneliness, suicidal ideation and even symptoms of PTSD later in life. It is not to be taken lightly.

What is depression?

Life is full of emotional ups and downs and everyone experiences the “blues” from time to time. But when the “down” times are long lasting or interfere with a person’s ability to function at home or at work, that person may be suffering from a common but serious illness – depression. Not only adults become depressed. Children and teenagers can also suffer from depression.

Depression is a “whole-body” illness, involving your body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself and others, and the way you feel and think about everything. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression.

About 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population suffer from depression at any given point in time. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attention, learning, conduct or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Depression also tends to run in families.

The behaviour of depressed children and teenagers may differ from the behaviour of depressed adults. Child and adolescent psychiatrists advise parents to be aware of signs of depression in their youngsters.

Signs and symptoms of depression

  • frequent sadness, tearfulness or crying
  • decreased interest in activities or an inability to enjoy previously enjoyed activities
  • hopelessness
  • persistent boredom
  • low energy levels
  • social isolation
  • poor communication
  • low self-esteem and guilt
  • extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • difficulty with relationships
  • frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomach aches
  • frequent absences from school
  • poor performance in school
  • poor concentration
  • a change in eating patterns
  • a change in sleeping patterns
  • talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behaviour
  • substance abuse in an attempt to feel better
  • rebellious or troublesome behaviour

If one or more of these signs of depression persist, parents should seek help

Treating depression

Depression is a real illness that requires professional help. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for helping depressed children. Comprehensive treatment often includes both individual and family therapy. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) are forms of individual therapy shown to be effective in treating depression. Treatment may also include the use of antidepressant medication. Medication needs to be taken as directed, and can take at least two weeks to work. Medication should also be used in combination with a healthy eating plan and physical activity. For help, parents should ask their health care worker to refer them to a qualified mental health professional who can diagnose and treat depression in children and teenagers.

Remember that there is still a lot of stigma around any mental health problem and this may make you or your child resistant to getting help, or make it hard to get help.

Without treatment, depression can impact on a child’s

  • Sense of self and self-esteem
  • Relationships with family and friends
  • School performance
  • Ability to make decisions
  • Participation in recreational activities
  • Untreated, it impacts on the child’s present and on their future.

What does disability mean?

A disability is a physical (of the body) or mental (of the brain) problem that can make it hard or even impossible for a person to walk, see, hear, speak, learn, or do other important things. Some disabilities are permanent and others only last for a short time.

Disabilities can be:

  • something a person was born with
  • the result of accident or abuse
  • the result of an illness or old age

There are lots of different types of disabilities. These include:

Autism spectrum disorder

A developmental disability that affects communication and social interaction. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a developmental disorder characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.


Having both hearing and visual impairments together. Deaf-blindness is the condition of little or no useful sight and little or no useful hearing. There are different degrees of vision loss and auditory loss within each individual, thus making the deafblind community unique with many types of deaf-blindness involved.


Partial or complete hearing loss. There are four types:auditory processing disorders

  • conductive
  • sensorineural
  • mixed

Hearing impairment

A permanent or fluctuating hearing disability, not included under the definition of “deafness.”

Developmental delay

A delay in one or more of the following areas:physical development

  • cognitive development; communication
  • social or emotional development
  • adaptive [behavioural] development

Emotional disturbance

A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree:an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors

  • an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
  • an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors
  • inappropriate types of behaviour or feelings under normal circumstances
  • a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems

The term includes schizophrenia.

The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.

Intellectual disability

A significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing along with deficits in adaptive behaviour and manifested during the developmental period.

Multiple disabilities

Simultaneous impairments (such as intellectual disability-blindness, intellectual disability-orthopaedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which results in challenges in other areas, e.g. language development. The term does not include deaf-blindness.

Orthopaedic impairment

Severe orthopaedic (bone or muscle) impairment. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital (something one is born with) abnormality, impairments caused by disease (e.g. poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g. cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

Other health impairments

Having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, that is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, haemophilia, lead poisoning, leukaemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anaemia, and Tourette syndrome.

Specific learning disability

A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as:

  • brain injury
  • perceptual disabilities
  • minimal brain dysfunction
  • dyslexia
  • developmental aphasia

The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Speech or language impairment

A communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment.

Traumatic brain injury

An acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behaviour; physical functions; information processing; and speech.

Visual impairment, including blindness

An impairment in vision, including both partial sight and blindness.

Disability – TIPS for Parents

Parents face a couple of situations where disabilities and children are concerned;

  1. Questions from their children regarding other people who experience disability
  2. The experience of disability either on the part of the parent, or on the part of the child

Talking to children about others with disabilities

It is very important to be prepared and to answer your child’s questions about disabilities as openly and honestly as you can.

Many children have someone in their life, or have seen someone with a disability, and they often have questions to ask. Caregivers and teachers need to be prepared to deal with this natural curiosity openly and honestly – always bearing in mind that by nature, children have very open hearts and minds, so the earlier children learn that people with disabilities need to be seen and treated as people first, the better.

The following tips can help you be prepared to talk to your child about people with disabilities when he or she comes to you for answers.

Talking to children of different ages about others living with disabilities

Age 2-4

Most children like you are born with everything they need, but sometimes children are born without the things they need. Sometimes they need crutches or wheelchairs or braces to help them do what you do naturally.

Age 5-8

Children are all different. Some things that are easy for you to do are very difficult for other children to do. They sometimes find it much harder to do things because maybe their body or their brain does not work the way yours does. They need extra help and support to do certain things. Can you imagine how brave children with physical disabilities are to keep trying and working at doing things?  Aren’t they amazing?

Age 9-12

Whenever you see someone with a disability, remember that even though they are having a hard time, they’re still children, and like anybody else, need friends and understanding.

Talking to children of different ages who are living with disabilities

Age 2-4

We don’t know why but sometimes children are born without everything their bodies need, and that’s what happened to you. That means you’re going to have to do things a bit differently and work harder, and we’re going help you be your best all the way.

Age 5-8

It’s really horrible for you when your body can’t do everything you want it to do. It’s not fair that you have to work so hard to make your body do what you want. But everyone has some activities that are easy for them, and some that need more effort. You have this problem, but you have done so amazingly even with this problem, AND you have lots of other talents and things that you do well too. Whenever you feel mad, bad or sad about your disability, come and tell me all about it.

Age 9-12

It’s not nice to be born with a disability that makes things harder. But remember your abilities, too and work to strengthen them. It’s natural sometimes to feel angry but try not to give up. If you ever need to talk about your feelings you can always come to me and I will listen and get extra help if you need it.

At all ages, your attitude as a parent will influence how your child deals with a disability. If you see it as a hopeless situation, so might s/he; but if you are positive and approach it as a challenge to rise to, merely a different path to being one’s best self, this will help your child to deal with their disability with hope and positivity.

Use and make opportunities to share the successes of people with disabilities with your child, to give them inspirational role models to follow.

Spend time with families of children with disabilities, and ensure that your child does not feel like the only child with this disability.

Teaching empathy while explaining disability

Children, especially young ones, are naturally curious, so when they see someone with a disability, their first instinct is to ask about it. If you see your child staring at someone with a disability, take the lead and start a conversation, but avoid a detailed explanation or a lot of emotion when explaining it. A short and matter-of-fact description will answer your child’s questions while showing her that the person has nothing to be ashamed of.

For example, if you see a child in a wheelchair, you can say to your child, “I see you looking at that little girl in the wheelchair, and you might be wondering why she needs it. Some people’s bodies work a little differently, and her wheelchair helps her move around, just like your legs help you.”

Children are wonderful because by nature they have very open hearts and minds. Childhood is perhaps the best time to create an understanding of the fact that people with disabilities need to be perceived and treated as people first. Ask your child how s/he would feel in somebody else’s shoes, and how s/he would want to be treated — and then teach them to treat others the same way

There are some steps that parents can follow to develop an understanding of disability and people who experience it in their children; these steps include:

  • listen to what your child is saying
  • let your child voice any fears they may have, and ask questions
  • view the situations your child presents from their perspective
  • be truthful with your child, keeping your answers to them age-appropriate (see above) – explain disability to them at a level they can understand
  • satisfy their curiosity; let them sit in a wheelchair if they want to, for example (without making fun of anyone living with disability)
  • stress positive factors; for example – use of a wheelchair allows a person to move around
  • keep in mind that children many times take upon themselves unnecessary responsibility for situations
  • stress both family unity and loyalty
  • be sure to spend extra time with your children
  • encourage your children to help in making your home more accessible
  • remind your children that everything changes
  • the importance of taking time to talk with children about disability cannot be overstated; this includes discussions with siblings, who also need to understand the disability experiences of their sister or brother, as well as disability in general

Understanding disabilities can give a child the capability to give disabilities their proper name and an explanation of what it means, avoiding/reducing anxiety, feelings of guilt over having somehow caused it, or fears of somehow, ‘catching’ it.

Reinforce the idea that “ability – disability” is a continuum (a line) along which all of us are sitting. Some of us are at one end, others at the other end, while others site right in the middle, and these apply to all the things that we can and cannot do.  For example, you can say – I am very abled in singing but a little disabled and not so intelligent when it comes to arithmetic.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination refers to the unjust or hurtful treatment of certain individuals or groups, as a result of prejudice (a pre-formed negative attitude or judgement).  Prejudice leads people to view certain individuals or groups as inferior. People are discriminated against based on prejudice about a perceived difference, or identifying characteristic, such as:

  • race
  • sex and/or gender identity
  • age
  • sexual orientation
  • culture
  • religion
  • nationality
  • income
  • ability or health status
  • weight

Both children and adults can be discriminated against. Discrimination can be direct, or indirect, and comes in many forms, including:

  • bullying
  • harassment
  • abuse (verbal, physical, emotional, etc)
  • exclusion (from a group, team, institution, job, or other opportunities)

What is Stigma?

Stigma is the shame and disapproval associated with the negative perception of a particular situation, quality, or characteristic.  It causes someone to devalue or think less of the person (external stigma), or of themselves (internal stigma).

  • external stigma is what causes discrimination – for example, the false belief that overweight people are lazy, leads to mistreatment of overweight people
  • internal stigma is when someone feels shame and self-loathing about a part of themselves, and therefore expects to experience discrimination, and tries to avoid it (by, for example hiding it, lying about it, or avoiding situations in which they expect to be discriminated against).

Tips for talking to children about discrimination and stigma

Talking about discrimination can be hard enough for grown-ups, but talking to children about it can be even harder. However, experts agree that diversity and discrimination are critical issues that need to be discussed with children from an early age.

Children do notice when someone is different from themselves or what they are most familiar with. So, when Thabo asks why Lisa has a different colour skin to him, instead of ignoring him, start the conversation about difference and teach him to appreciate the value of diversity.

Some guidelines

  • accept that you feel uncomfortable – it is not an easy conversation to have
  • acknowledge emotions and feelings – strong emotions, such as anxiety, guilt, defensiveness or anger are often ignored or suppressed when discussing prejudice and discrimination
  • know that talking about differences does not increase prejudice in children
  • make the discussion open and ongoing – it should not just be one talk, but rather a series of conversations
  • make it age-appropriate and expand on the topic as the child gets older
  • encourage and respond to questions and cues from your child as they occur – children are naturally curious about difference, and avoiding talking about it makes children think there is something wrong with it
  • listen carefully to what your child wants to know and what they are feeling
  • talk about how discrimination hurts people
  • broaden their horizons by encouraging exposure to people from diverse backgrounds – this gives children more opportunities to learn about others, discover differences as well as what they have in common, and appreciate the value of diversity
  • look around you – encourage discussions based on what you see
  • plan ahead by developing responses to hurtful discriminatory statements, e.g. “What an unkind thing to say.” “How do you think you’d feel if you were that person?”
  • if you hear children say something discriminatory, use the opportunity as a conversation starter to address their fears, teach empathy and correct their misperceptions
  • children learn what they see, so challenge your own assumptions and behaviour – do you laugh at jokes that poke fun at and degrade people of a certain race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc?
  • demonstrate that you value diversity in the friends you choose and in the people whose services you choose to use
  • talk positively about each child’s physical characteristics and cultural heritage
    • tell stories about people from your ethnic group of whom you are especially proud
    • include people who have stood up against bias and injustice
    • encourage children to explore different kinds of toys, interests and activities that go beyond traditional gender norms
  • recognize that, because we live in a racist and prejudiced society, we must actively foster children’s anti-prejudice development – remember that in such an environment, we are all constantly and repeatedly exposed to messages that subtly reinforce prejudice; if we do nothing to counteract these messages, then we silently support and perpetuate prejudice by virtue of our inaction

Tips for talking to children who might be discriminated against

For children who are more likely to be targeted, talk openly about diversity and prejudice. Help prepare them for possible discrimination to offset possible discrimination-related stress.

Some guidelines

  • speak to them about difference and diversity
  • ensure that you build their self-esteem and focus on their strengths
  • expose them to examples of those who have triumphed in the face of discrimination
  • emphasise that discrimination is unacceptable, and that one should stand up for ones rights and be proud
  • give them the language to respond to instances of discrimination (role plays are helpful and allow children to ‘practice’ their responses)
  • encourage your child to talk about their experiences and allow them to feel what they feel – give them the words for those feelings, and the tools to manage them
  • always be the supportive force behind your child

What to do if your child is being discriminated against

Most importantly, listen to your child, and give them a safe space to feel, and to express their feelings. They may be angry, hurt, confused, sad or ashamed. They may be afraid to address the issue, or to go back to where the discrimination is happening/has happened.

It is then essential that you take action. You may be able to empower your child to be able to stand up for themselves and insist on being treated equally (if this would be safe for them to do), but if not, you need to stand up for them, and show that you are there to protect them.

In situations that require a legal intervention, contact the Human Rights Commission for advice:

You can also call Childline 0800055555 for information and resources in your area.

What are eating problems?

Eating problems can lead to eating disorders. These are illnesses (disorders) that make somebody eat too much or too little or exercise too much every day, for a long period of time. Lots of us might eat a little more one day and a little less the next. That’s perfectly normal. People with eating disorders do this day after day, and they can’t stop even though it’s making them sick. No one knows for sure what causes them but what is known is that people don’t choose to have eating disorders. Eating problems can start because of different reasons, like going through a stressful or traumatic event. They can be serious but most people with eating disorders can get better.

It’s usually very difficult for people with eating disorders to get better on their own, so it’s important that you find professional help and support as soon as possible. The sooner someone is treated for an eating disorder, the better their chance of making a full recovery. Eating disorders can be very dangerous – but remember that Childline will provide the support you need to get better.

Treating eating disorders

The most common eating disorders are Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge eating. Some people may suffer from both Anorexia and Bulimia together.  It is important to seek treatment early for eating disorders. Complete recovery is possible. Treatment is available at both in and out-patient facilities.

Treatment plans for eating disorders include

  • pharmacological therapy (medications like SSRI’s and antipsychotics)
  • psychotherapy
  • dialectical behaviour therapy
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • family therapy

A combination of these approaches is sometimes better. Typical treatment goals include restoring adequate nutrition, bringing weight to a healthy level, reducing excessive exercise, and stopping binge-purge and binge-eating behaviours. It is very important for the person receiving treatment to have family support during and after treatment.


People with Anorexia (an illness which makes people stop eating food) have a fear of weight gain and they see their body as very much bigger than it really is. As a result, they eat very little and can become very thin. Many teens with anorexia limit their food by dieting, fasting, or excessive exercise. Sometimes they hardly eat at all and worry all the time that what they do eat is going to make them fat. Other people with anorexia eat food and then try to get rid of it by making themselves vomit, take laxatives to make their stomachs run, take diet pills, or else they exercise over the limit of what is healthy.

Anorexia could help you feel in control of things, especially if other parts of your life are getting stressful. Like if you’re experiencing bullying or having a bad time at home or in relationships. Anorexia can also get out of control and start to feel like it’s taking over your life.

Anorexia can be very dangerous. Eventually people can die if they don’t eat. It’s very important for you to get help if you’re eating less and losing a lot of weight. Proper nutrition is important for growth, having strong bones and general health. It also gives you energy to think, study, work and do physical things.

Things to remember:

  • Anorexia affects both boys and girls
  • you can recover from Anorexia
  • talking to someone you trust can really help
  • a health care professional can support you
  • Childline will help you find ways to cope

Signs of anorexia

  • refusal to eat
  • saying you are not hungry even when you are starving
  • difficulty concentrating
  • obsession with body size and shape
  • skipping meals
  • making excuses for not eating
  • eating only a few foods, usually those low in fat and calories
  • cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing
  • weighing food
  • cooking big meals for others but refusing to eat
  • excessive exercise
  • bad mood, or lack of emotion
  • weighing yourself very often
  • checking in the mirror for things that don’t look nice
  • wearing clothes that are too big

Harmful effects of Anorexia

  • hair dryness and hair loss
  • dry skin and wrinkles
  • headaches
  • bad breath
  • heart problems
  • constipation or vomiting
  • teeth rot and fall out
  • puberty can be delayed
  • growth can be slowed
  • periods can stop (girls)
  • concentration problems
  • excess hair growth on face, arms and other parts of the body
  • weak bones (osteoporosis)
  • weakened immune system (getting sick often)
  • blue skin from too little oxygen
  • dizziness, fainting, fatigue, low blood pressure, low body temperature
  • too little vitamins, minerals and iron in the blood
  • anxiety and nervousness
  • brittle nails
  • bruising easily
  • depression
  • eventual death


Bulimia is an eating disorder that makes people want to eat a lot of food at once and then try to get rid of the food from their body, by vomiting, using laxatives, enemas or doing lots of exercise.  Over time this can be dangerous for their health and can lead to behaviours that are hard to stop

Bulimia is a mental health disorder which often makes people feel like they don’t have control over eating. The disorder is characterized by binging and purging. And often the more people with bulimia binge eat, the more they want to purge. It can be a cycle. Many people who have bulimia have low self-esteem or don’t think they’re good enough. Some people think they need to be thinner to fit in. If life is full of pressure and stress, bulimia can feel like a way of coping.

Bulimia could start because of a mixture of different problems, for example:

  • pressure to be thin
  • worrying about how you look
  • a sudden change to your surroundings, for example if you change school
  • a difficult time at school or at home
  • bullying about your weight
  • bodily changes, such as puberty
  • abuse
  • stress at school
  • someone close to you dying
  • feeling alone

Bulimia can feel like too much to deal with. But you can get better. And we can help you, call Childline for support.

Signs of Bulimia:

  • a cycle of bingeing and purging (eating a lot then making yourself sick)
  • leave the room to go to the bathroom straight after eating
  • want to be thinner
  • are self-harming
  • are obsessed with exercise
  • feel the need to eat a lot, even if you’re not hungry
  • have a list of foods you try and avoid
  • buying lots of food and hiding it
  • feel depressed or anxious (especially at meal times)
  • feel guilty or ashamed
  • have put on a lot of weight or have lost a lot of weight quickly

Harmful effects of Bulimia:

  • dehydration – your body loses water in the cells
  • tired all the time
  • anxiety
  • feelings of guilt
  • mood swings
  • constipation (not going to the toilet)
  • painful, raw and inflamed throat
  • develop bad breath and rotten teeth
  • girls may stop having periods
  • depression
  • poor self-esteem
  • heart and kidney failure which can lead to death

It is important to talk to someone if you have Bulimia. Trying to cover up what’s going on could make you feel alone. Talking can make recovering from bulimia feel a little easier.

Binge Eating

Binge eating also known as compulsive overeating is an eating disorder which makes people feel that they must eat a LOT of food in one go. Binge eating can start to happen because of feelings that are difficult to cope with, but you can get better and Childline can help you.

Signs of Binge Eating:

  • eat huge amounts of food in a short period of time (say one or two hours)
  • thinking your eating is out of control
  • buy large amounts of food
  • hoard food
  • avoid eating around other people
  • stay away from people (social withdrawal)
  • feel self-hatred about the way you eat
  • eat even when you are not hungry
  • eat very quickly during your binge periods
  • have mood swings

Binge eating can cause:

  • weight gain
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • stomach ache and other stomach problems
  • tiredness and difficulty in sleeping
  • skin problems
  • feelings of shame
  • anxiety
  • feelings of being out of control
  • depression
  • guilt
  • mood swings
  • obesity (being dangerously fat)
  • high blood pressure
  • fat in the blood (high cholesterol)
  • type 2 diabetes (sugar)
  • heart disease
  • problems with falling pregnant
  • Back pain and joint pain

Tips for managing eating disorders

  • remember that you’re stronger than the eating disorder, you can beat it
  • write down your feelings- especially your feelings about food, this can help you make sense of what’s going on and help you start to recover
  • it’s much harder to recover on your own, tell someone about what’s going on and let someone know if you relapse or are finding it hard to recover
  • find distractions- think of activities to do to help you avoid negative eating behaviours
  • plan ahead- think about what you want to say to yourself when you have eating challenges. you could write it down and carry it with you
  • be positive- write down a list of things you like about yourself
  • stay away from blogs and websites that promote eating problems instead, try reading things that make you feel good about yourself
  • set yourself small goals and celebrate your achievements.
  • try something new it doesn’t matter if it’s small – doing something new can help you believe in yourself
  • it can help to ask yourself what made the eating problem start if there’s something stressful or upsetting in your life (like family relationships or pressure at school) then it might be a good idea to get some support. you could do this by asking an adult you trust for help or talking to a childline counsellor.
  • each situation is different, but if you visit a doctor, they could help you make a food plan or talk about you possibly going to a therapy group
  • keep a food diary every time you eat, this can help you see if there are certain times when you struggle with eating
  • plan the meals and snacks you should have during the day to help you adopt regular eating habits

Helping someone with an Eating Disorder

It can feel challenging to help someone with an Eating Problem as they sometimes get secretive they might shut you out but you can still help them.

  • be supportive and don’t judge your child, knowing you’re there to help could mean a lot
  • help them take their mind off things by doing something together that you enjoy
  • think of activities you can do together after meal times this can distract them to avoid purging
  • try to be complimentary on their personality rather than their appearance
  • compliment them on their personality rather than their physical appearance or weight
  • try not to make comments about other people’s weight when he or she is around
  • ask how they feel and let them know you’re there if they want to talk
  • meal times can be really difficult, try not to pressurize your child to eat a lot of food they wouldn’t normally eat
  • get help from a professional
  • act immediately- the quicker you act, the better your child’s chance of recovery
  • your unconditional support and love is very important, and can help your child to recover
  • use the right approach “I” statements and specifics, such as, “I found a lot of sweet papers in your room today and I’m worried.”
  • set a good example – eat healthy too
  • educate yourself – if you understand that problem eating often represents a loss of control over emotions you will be able to help your child find out what the triggers are that set the child off on a eating episode


  • blame your child
  • avoid the issue
  • pretend that the family culture doesn’t encourage eating problems if it does
  • think the problem will resolve quickly- recovery is a slow process
  • think you can do it on your own- people with eating problems often have other emotional or psychological disorders and different qualified people are needed to work on the medical, nutritional, psychological and behavioural needs

Gangsterism in South African Schools

Violence in or around schools is one of the most important issues facing young people in South Africa today.  Its importance goes beyond the immediate physical harm that can result for the learner, or the psychological harm attached to either direct or indirect victimisation. Research shows that the effects of school violence have a very serious long term impact (Burton. & Leoschut, 2013). Violence has gradually shifted from bullying, to much more serious forms of violence. There have been several incidents at schools, where students have been killed with swords, axes, knives, guns, scissors as well as reports of assault and rape.

Results of direct and indirect violence at schools:

  • learners do not attend school because they are scared or they are trying to avoid the violence
  • victims struggle to concentrate on their school work and their grades drop
  • they sometimes drop out of school (both victims and perpetrators)
  • non-attendance or dropping out ultimately results in poor employability potential, i.e. leads to increased levels of unemployment and poverty

Schools that have a presence of gangs have a higher violent victimization rate than those that do not have a gang presence, and teenagers who are gang members are far more likely to commit serious and violent crimes than other teenagers (Huizinga 1997: 1).

There are three main types of gangs:

  • scavenger gangs’ members are often low achievers or school dropouts
  • territorial gangs are well-organized, and gang members have initiation rites and means of identification (such as tattoos, or certain types/colours of clothing) which separate them from non-members. New members often have to prove their loyalty to the group by fighting
  • corporate gangs are highly structured criminal conspiracies that are organized to sell drugs – teenagers as young as fourteen could become members. All gangs have names and recognizable symbols

Where do gangs come from?

Socio-economic conditions such as unemployment, low-income employment and poor living conditions lead to poverty and deprivation, creating unhappiness and loneliness. These circumstances often lead to the development of gangs because being part of gang makes the members feel important almost like part of a “family” that are just like them. These children are often poor learners, underachievers, or have language difficulties (The Portfolio Committee on Education 2002).

External influences

  • living in poverty can make people feel like they have no control or power. The frustration can lead them to use violence, rape and other forceful acts to show power and make them feel like they are in control
  • violent games and TV shows can make violence look like it is a normal way to behave
  • being exposed (directly or indirectly) to violence at home or in the community can also increase violence at schools

Internal Influences 

  • the use of inappropriate, ineffective and illegal forms of discipline, such as corporal punishment, sets bad examples for both learners and educators
  • some educators believe that because they are in a position of power they are entitled to abuse learners or to expect sexual favours from learners in exchange for good grades
  • prejudice and discrimination based on disability, gender, race and sexual orientation can often be factors that lead to violent behaviour
  • early childhood deprivation may lead to emotional problems which children hope to remediate by joining a gang where they feel a sense of belonging

In all cases, it is important to remember that school violence in South Africa today must be understood with reference to the country’s legacy of political struggle, as well as the associated economic disadvantage and social inequality. Pahad & Graham, Department of Psychology, Wits (Chapter17)

Tips for Parents and Schools

As a parent, responsibility for a child begins at home. A stable, loving environment that is based on mutual love, respect, and trust is the best foundation for a child.

Children are motivated to join a gang for a variety of reasons including:

  • to feel a sense of belonging
  • for status / to feel important or powerful
  • to protect themselves / to feel safe
  • to make money
  • giving in to peer pressure
  • because other family members are in gangs

Parents must stay vigilant to keep their children away from gangs.

Risks and signs that your child may be involved in a gang

Children who are at risk of gang involvement:

  • often grow up in an area with heavy gang activity
  • have a family member in a gang
  • suffer from low self-esteem
  • have too much unstructured or unsupervised free time
  • are exposed to violence and abuse within the home and/or community
  • have poor emotional attachments to parents from an early stage of development

Parents should engage with their child and seek help if they see them:

  • displaying specific symbols on personal items or tattoos that are known to represent a particular gang
  • having unexplained money or goods
  • carrying a weapon
  • withdrawing from family
  • getting in trouble with the police
  • coming home with unexplained physical injuries

How to help prevent your child becoming a gang member  LINK to below

Spend quality time with your child. If the family is the source of love, guidance, belonging and protection that youth seek, they are not forced to search for these basic needs from a gang.

  • stay in touch with your child’s world and let him or her know that you care
  • give him or her affection
  • build a trusting relationship by being consistent, dependable, and truthful
  • try to really listen to your child, offer praise when appropriate, and take an interest in their hobbies
  • be a good observer of their behaviour and what influences them
  • give your child things to do at home – having reasonable chores and appropriate responsibilities has been linked to success in adulthood
  • make them feel important as part of the family
  • give your child a sense of purpose which will build their self-esteem (making it less likely for them to seek gang activities to reinforce their self-esteem)
  • challenge your child to expand her/his or interests
  • teach your children to share, compromise and take turns

Be a positive role model

  • set the right example
  • take a firm stand against illegal activity
  • never accept money or gifts that may have been obtained illegally
  • report all crimes
  • do not use drugs
  • discuss the issue of gangs with your child – find real-life examples that show how damaging a life of gangsterism is
  • discuss choices and responsibility
  • do not allow your children to wear, write, or gesture any gang-associated graffiti, markings, signs, or symbols

Take action in your neighbourhood, such as creating a neighbourhood alliance or removing graffiti.

  • graffiti removal reduces the chance that crimes will be committed
  • since gangs use graffiti to mark their turf, advertise themselves, and claim credit for a crime, quick removal is essential

Be engaged in your child’s world

  • get involved in his or her school activities
  • know your child’s friends and their families
  • closely monitor where your child is and what they are doing

Get your child involved in extracurricular activities. Youth involved in such activities are less likely to seek membership in a gang.

Afterschool programs with positive messages and adult supervision help build a sense of self-worth and self-respect in young people.

  • sports
  • art
  • dancing, singing, music
  • community organisations
  • religious groups
  • animal welfare

Praise your child when she or he demonstrates responsibility.  Positive reinforcement of any actions your child takes to show responsibility will encourage them to continue the behaviour. Never underestimate the power of a compliment. Children need to know that you notice when they do something right, and not just when they make a poor choice.

Establish and maintain boundaries.  Provide your children clear and firm rules and expectations, so that they are aware of the consequences of their actions. This only works if you are consistent, and don’t give in or give up just because your child makes a fuss or promises to behave. You must see the consequence through to see the behaviour change.

Encourage educational success. Young people who successfully participate in and complete their education have greater opportunities to develop into successful adults, through:

  • a strong education
  • good study habits
  • workforce training

These are directly related to a young person’s positive development.

Teach your child positive life-skills. You can learn together about handling peer pressure, resolving conflict, and solving problems – your child is less likely to become gang members, be bullied, or become a victim with these skills.

Explain the consequences of gang involvement. Make sure your child knows you don’t want to see him or her hurt or in juvenile detention.  Explain to your child that he or she:

  • will live in fear of getting caught, killed or going to jail
  • will be forced to choose the gang over his or her friends and family, to hurt innocent people, and to engage in criminal activity that can ruin his or her future
  • will be exposed to violence, drugs, and inappropriate  or even violent sexual behaviour
  • will be exposed to HIV* and other STIs*
  • will be vulnerable. Gangs demand loyalty. Members talk about being part of a family, but they can turn their backs on each other in a second
  • will earn very little regardless of how big a role they took in getting the money. Gang leaders take the largest cut of all profits
  • will probably end up with a criminal record. This mean they will always have difficulty getting a job, leaving the country, or voting
  • will never feel good about her or himself

If your child is already in a gang get professional help to get your child out of the gang. Generally, young people won’t do it for their parents or because it’s the right thing. They must want to get out of the gang themselves. To have that internal motivation, they must see hope in their future.

TIPS for schools

A well-ordered school is also a less violent school. Basic levels of good management, school effectiveness and teacher professionalism in South African schools need to be increased. To combat Gangsterism and violence, parents, schools and teachers, communities police, counsellors, NGOs and the Department of Social Development need to get together and work diligently with young people, giving them the tools necessary to become non-violent individuals. Schools that experience problems of violence need an active safety and security committee that monitors violence; recommends violence prevention measures; and oversees its implementation.

When stakeholders work together they will provide a safe and a conducive for environment in which learners can be nurtured to become responsible citizens, through the following:

  • schools should provide comprehensive awareness programmes and promote peaceful and cooperative engagement
  • schools should educate learners, educators and parents about the forms of violence prevalent in schools and alternatives to violent behaviour
  • schools could conduct awareness seminars and workshops on school violence
  • learners should be taught to tolerate others through teamwork during lessons
  • If boys or girls have been found to be perpetrators of school violence, young learners or victims should be encouraged to report offenders to the school authorities
  • any learner found bullying other learners should be disciplined by the school. The school should make the parents aware of their child’s bullying* before the child is suspended from classes
  • to protect schools against gangs and vandalism, personnel should be employed to monitor entrances to schools
  • any teachers found using corporal punishment* on learners should undergo a disciplinary process since corporal punishment is banned in South African schools
  • entrance and exit access points to a school need to be minimised to reduce the chances of strangers entering the school grounds freely

Adapted from:

The nature, causes and effects of school violence in South African high schools

South African Journal of Education

Gangsterism as a Cause of Violence in South African Schools: The Case of Six Provinces. Vusi Mncube & Nomanesi Madikizela-Madiya

What are harmful religious practices?

These can be certain religious (and cultural) practices, or behaviours/rituals carried out by children (in the school context) in the name of religion, which cause harm to others (children and adults, as well as animals).

Certain religious (and cultural) practices

These are religious (and cultural) practices that harm children and/or are contrary to the law. These practices impact negatively on a child’s development, physical and emotional wellbeing, their learning and school attendance.

Some examples are:

  • Preventing a child from receiving medical care because of religious belief (e.g. no blood transfusions/surgery for certain religions, often resulting in death; either physical and/or mental illness not being understood as such, and therefore not treated – instead, for example, being labelled as ‘possession’ etc.)
  • Child/forced marriages (including ukuthwala – the abduction, by an individual or group, of a girl, with the intent to force her into a marriage to which she and her family would not otherwise consent)
    • Physical harm done to a child as part of a ceremony
    • Not abiding by the Children’s Act for rites/practices, such as circumcision and virginity testing
    • Breast “ironing”
    • Female genital mutilation

What to do.
In cases such as this, it is important to balance working in a non-judgemental and inclusive manner with the family of the child, where possible, and protecting the child against further harm. The law says we must make sure that the best interests of the child guide all decision-making, and that the rights of the child are to be protected.

  • Behaviours/rituals carried out by children (in the school context) in the name of religion, which impact negatively on the child’s own wellbeing or the rights of others.
    For example:


    • Mutilation / sacrifice / murder of humans or animals
    • High-risk behaviours, including self-harm

Factors contributing to children becoming involved in these practices include dysfunctional and/or broken families, abuse, neglect, poverty; unmet needs for a sense of belonging and agency/power/control, as well as for recognition; and undiagnosed or treated psychological or psychiatric disorders. This behaviour is frequently accompanied by substance use and abuse. Furthermore, children involved in these practices often use religion or the ‘spirit world’ as a reason or justification for their behaviour, showing that they can’t or won’t take responsibility for their actions.

In cases where a child is engaging in harmful religious practices, a thorough assessment of the child’s background, family relationships and psychological health needs to be conducted, and a multidisciplinary and holistic intervention made. Should a crime have been committed, the child should be taken through the criminal justice system in accordance with the Child Justice Act

What is Positive Discipline?

Becoming a parent is a challenge for anyone and although mostly rewarding, parenting can be difficult and demanding. Even though you may shower your child with love and affection, you may still feel unsure of yourself and question your parenting skills.

There really is no one “best way” to bring up children, however, everyone loves to be praised and loved so if we give our children encouragement and love and we define and reinforce clear boundaries in respect of acceptable behaviour, they will grow up healthy and happy.

It is designed to teach young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities. Positive Discipline teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults.

 Five criteria for positive discipline

  • Is Kind and Firm at the same time (respectful and encouraging)
  • Helps children feel a sense of Belonging and Significance (connection)
  • Is Effective Long-Term (punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results)
  • Teaches valuable Social and Life Skills for good character (respect, concern for others, problem-solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation)
  • Invites children to discover how capable they are and to use their personal power in constructive ways

How children learn best.

For all children, learning is an important part of growing up. In many cases, adults are learning just as much from their children as their children are from them.  Parenting is never going to be easy, but it can be helped along by following some guidelines (as listed below).

Communication with children.

It is very important that parents communicate positively with their children. Sometimes as parents, we talk to our children in negative ways because we are tired, stressed, have our own problems or do not know what to do.

  •  Always talk to your children with respect. Try not to shout at them.
  • Give your children choices. As your children get older help them to make their own decisions.
  • Parents have the right and responsibility to give advice and to teach children right from wrong. Older children may feel that their parents do not trust them to make decisions. It is important to give advice in a way that makes your child feel that they can make decisions and involve your children as they become older in setting the rules for acceptable behaviour and the consequences for not sticking to them.
  • Encourage your children to express their feelings in a safe way. You cannot tell your children what to think and feel.
  • Discuss with your children what you expect from them. Explain how you feel.
  • Be consistent. Do not make different rules every day. Introduce new rules when they become necessary.
  • Tell them things without yelling or screaming. When you are screaming, your child may become anxious and unable to listen – the message is lost on them. They will understand you better if you speak clearly and normally.
  • Do not deal with issues when you are angry.
  • Hold family meetings and encourage everyone to talk and listen.

Helpful and Unhelpful Messages

Talking is the best way of teaching. We can encourage good behaviour by simply explaining things to children. Children need to know that the lines of communication are always open. Helpful messages can make children feel loved, wanted, worthwhile and safe whilst unhelpful messages can make them feel angry, confused and worthless.


Sometimes listening is difficult. We often have our own problems and do not give children all our attention when they talk to us. Sometimes we interrupt, assuming we know what they want to say, before children finish talking. Sometimes we only hear what we want to hear.

Tips for listening better:

  • Try to find out more about the issue. Ask questions.
  • Listen with all your attention. Try not to do other things when your children are telling you something.
  • Be patient as children may not know how to say what they think or feel, and may take longer than adults.
  • Watch the child’s face. Watch their bodies. The behaviour and expression of children can sometimes tell you more about how they feel than their words.
  • Repeat back to a child what you think they have told you. This will help you to check if you heard them correctly.
  • Acknowledge and accept your child’s different feelings and encourage children to express their feelings in a safe way. Children need to express all their feelings including excitement, disappointment and anger. However sometimes children may feel overwhelmed by their feelings and need guidance for safe expression.

Set Clear Rules and Stick to Them

Children need to know what is and isn’t acceptable. Make sure children know why rules are needed and that if they are broken, there will be consequences. As children get older, encourage them to discuss the rules, the reasons behind them and help determine appropriate consequences.

Praise & Reward Good Behaviour

Children, like anyone, feel good when they are praised, and will repeat the good behaviour. Tell children how much you like the good things they do and, if possible, ignore bad behaviour. The bad behaviour may disappear because the child will receive more attention if they behave positively.

Rewards work better than punishment. Whilst many parents reward their children with new toys or sweets, the best rewards are hugs, smiles, or showing an interest in them. This helps children associate good behaviour with emotional rewards and approval rather than material objects.

Criticise the Behaviour, Not the Child

Remember that shouting, name-calling and threatening can damage the child psychologically just as much as hitting can. So criticize the behaviour, not the child. For example, you can say; “I know you are busy but can you please tidy your room”, rather than “You’re such an untidy child.”

Let the Children Help in Some Decisions

Let the children help decide simple things like; “Would you like to eat breakfast or get dressed first?”  However, don’t give them a choice when none exists.

Behaviour You Don’t Like or Want

As long as it’s not hurting anyone, try not to take any notice of behaviour you don’t like or want. Many parents try to control every situation and then are constantly saying “NO!”  If you really don’t like what the child is doing, give them something different to do and if possible participate in the new activity with them for a while – attention reinforces behaviour.

Take Away Something the Child Enjoys or Use “Time Out”

If a child has behaved badly and they need to be disciplined, take of one of their treats or privileges away, for example, riding their bike or watching a favourite TV programme.  Never deny the child a meal, or any other basic needs.

When other techniques have not worked, put the child in a safe place where nothing is happening. Two or three minutes is long enough to give everyone time to cool down. The child’s bedroom is sometimes chosen for time out, but it is better not to use this for time out, as it is better for a child to regard their bedroom as a private, safe space. It is better to use somewhere like a hall or laundry (with detergents out of reach).

Keep your Sense of Humour

When all else fails, try and see the funny side – it may help!

Remember, NEVER:

  • hit a child
  • shake a child (it can cause brain damage)
  • ram bottles or spoons into a child’s mouth
  • push a child
  • put a child in a hot bath

Difficult children or children with special needs.

Sometimes we have a child whose behaviour is particularly difficult. From the beginning this child seems to try our patience and wear us down. They seem “different” and because of this, we treat them with less affection. The child soon senses this, and starts to feel bad about themselves.

Sometimes these are children who may have a particular problem such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. Sometimes these children need special assistance with diet and/or medication or even different methods of behaviour management than one might use with children without these difficulties. Children who have very difficult behaviour, or are unusually difficult to manage, or who do not seem to be able to concentrate may require assessment at a children’s clinic.

Children with these kinds of problems may be very difficult and frustrating to parent. When you feel at a loss as to how to manage a child’s behaviour, or if your child has special needs, it may be helpful to call Childline and chat to a counsellor, or to join a support group for parents of special needs children if one exists in your area.

Raising boys and girls.

Parents often treat girls and boys differently. Parents teach girls to be gentle and obedient, and to consider other people’s feelings. Boys are taught to be assertive, strong and to hide their feelings.

Children need to know that both boys and girls can show how they feel, be strong and assertive, and solve problems without violence.

Also, society has evolved to be a more equal one. This means that many jobs and roles between the sexes are now seen as being equal. By raising boys and girls differently, stereotypes are reinforced causing children not to live up to their true potential.

Guidelines for raising boys and girls equally

  • Make sure that both boys and girls help at home. This includes helping with all tasks eg washing dishes.
  • Let boys and girls play outside, and encourage both genders to play sport.
  • Encourage both girls and boys to give their opinions.
  • Encourage boys and girls to show and talk about all their feelings, even if they want to cry.
  • Teach both genders safe ways of expressing difficult feelings such as anger and frustration.
  • Do not tell your children, “Girls do this and boys do that”.
  • Give girls the same praise as boys.
  • Apply the same discipline to boys and girls.
  • Do not excuse your children’s behaviour by saying, “That’s what boys or girls do”.
  • Teach boys and girls that they have the right to say no.
  • Teach boys and girls to respect each other, and that being of one gender does not give rights to manipulate or control others of a different gender.
  • Remember that the parent/caretaker of a child is a role-model of their gender and of adult behaviour.

Behaviour that is harmful to children.

Most families are not ‘picture perfect’, where everyone talks to each other in a civilized manner, respects each other and are emotionally connected. Some families behave in a way that is harmful to the child. This also applies to families going through difficult times. Although the behaviour of some parents and caregivers is understandable it is never acceptable to harm children.

Behaviour that is harmful to children includes:

Constantly screaming at children.

Children are emotionally harmed by being yelled at. They may grow up to believe that shouting is the only way to communicate or to solve problems. Children may also then withdraw and never communicate with their parents and caregivers about issues that matter to them or about things that are worrying them.

Swearing, threatening and belittling children.

Apart from being another unacceptable form of communication, swearing in front of or at children may make them feel insecure and threatened. This leads to them growing up to be unhappy adults. Emotional or verbal abuse (such as threatening them or calling them names) can be just as devastating as physical abuse, and the effects just as long-lasting.

Sometimes parents caught in a cycle of family violence need help to look at what they can do to break the cycle, otherwise ‘violence will beget violence’.

Fighting or arguing in front of children.

Fighting or arguing in front of a child “even if you think they’re asleep or can’t hear” is harmful to that child.  When a child sees or hears their parents fighting it is very real and frightening for them. They don’t know how it will stop or what will happen. They may even become scared of their parent.

The whole family benefits when parents stop arguing, yelling, or swearing in front of the children, and stop using ‘put downs’ (insults). The family home becomes happier and more peaceful. Parents feel more in control, and the child is calmer, has more confidence, more respect for them, and responds better when asked to do things. Most importantly, children learn to resolve problems without arguing.

Remember that the behaviour you show a child is likely to be picked up by them and repeated – with their friends at school, and when they grow up, with their own children.

Effects of Harmful Behaviour on Children

Children may feel:

  • fear, including fear for others
  • worth very little, and criticize themselves constantly
  • self-blame (guilt and shame, feeling responsible for self or others receiving poor treatment)
  • like taking feelings like anger, frustration, powerlessness and fear out on other people (bullying others, being violent or anti-social)
  • anxiety, depression, withdrawal
  • a need to act like a parent, caring for other children or parenting the parent

Of these, the longest lasting and the hardest to heal may be the damage to a child’s sense of being valued (self-worth).

Learning with our children.

There is no such thing as the perfect parent. Everyone learns something new about being a parent every day. There are often times when a parent says or does something they wished they hadn’t. The action or word can’t be taken back and sometimes it causes much hurt. It takes a great parent or caregiver to admit when they have done something wrong or behaved out of turn. Apologising does help the situation a little but should also include a statement on what will be done the next time conflict occurs. For example: “I’m sorry for yelling, swearing, calling you names. Next time I feel like that I’ll say how I feel in a calm voice. And I’ll go and let off steam before I talk about what I don’t like. I will alk about the action and not pick on you”.

If a parent or caregiver is constantly apologizing and not changing their behaviour, the child will soon recognize that the apology means nothing.  Conflict in the family is normal. Everyone has disagreements and it is naïve to think that everyone will agree with each other and there will be no conflict. Dealing with it constructively is what is important.

For example, if conflict in the family is ongoing, perhaps holding a family meeting to discuss the problems will be helpful. Not only will the child feel involved, but it will open the lines of communication between parent/caregiver and the child. Who knows, the parent/caregiver may learn a thing or two from the child!

Parents/Caregivers also need ‘time out’.

Being a parent can be a very tough job. All parents need help sometimes – and it’s okay to ask for help from family, friends and neighbours. Sometimes hurtful things get said or done in the heat of the moment. This can happen more often when we are stressed or lack support.

If parents and caregivers don’t talk about their feelings with their partners or friends, they may start to take their feelings out on the children. Good parenting takes up a lot of time and energy, so it’s important to be healthy, confident and relaxed.

Staying healthy, confident and relaxed

We all need to have some time to ourselves occasionally, and to do something different. Try these suggestions:

  • get a babysitter and go to the movies or walk, exchange babysitting services
  • meet someone for a cup of coffee and talk
  • take up a hobby or do some different work
  • talk to someone if you are feeling overwhelmed
  • spend ‘alone-time’ with your partner – if your relationship is under strain, your parenting will also be
  • “families that play together, stay together” – do something fun with your children regularly
  • take time out from your routine – it may give you something else to focus on

Danger signs for parents and caregivers

It’s normal to have bad feelings sometimes, but it doesn’t do children any good to let these feelings build up. All have warning signs that tell one it’s time to slow down or take a break. Here are some of the danger signs:

  • If a parent has more bad feelings than good, and these feelings seem to be lasting longer and getting stronger.
  • If a parent can’t face getting out of bed in the mornings – a real dread of coping with the new day.
  • If one cries more than usual, and feels confused about this.
  • If one has feelings of anger, panic or despair when the baby cries, and one feels like one might lose control and hit the child or try to hurt him or her.
  • If one can’t think of any fun things to do with the child and feels too depressed and exhausted.
  • If one feels utterly trapped and alone and can’t talk to anyone because no one understands.
  • If a parent thinks the child would be better off without her/him.
  • If one feel anxious and then angry when the baby cries.
  • If partners are arguing a lot, or fighting.
  • If one’s partner leaves one alone to cope when there are problems with the children.
  • If one feels angry when the child dirties a nappy.
  • If one feels one of the children is especially bad.
  • If a parent is afraid to be alone with her/his child.
  • If one feels there are times when one can’t cope, and there is no-one to turn to.
  • If a parent feels the children demand too much when s/he gets home from work.
  • If one often leaves the house when the children are arguing or crying.
  • If one would rather go to the pub than go home and face the kids.
  • If one feels it’s not one’s job to help a partner change nappies or do the housework.
  • If one feels it’s a partner’s job to look after the children.
  • If one is hitting or hurting one’s partner or children or finding it hard to control anger.
  • If one feels one has no power over one’s life.

Childline is there for Parents too!

If you are feeling as though you cannot cope as a parent ask for help – phone Childline on 0800055555 and talk to a counsellor. Ask if there is a parent support group in your area

What is poverty?

There are different definitions of poverty:

Absolute poverty is when a family or a person does not have enough of an income to pay for basic living costs

Relative poverty is when individuals are poor compared to the average living standard around them.

Poverty results in having no choices and opportunities. It is a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities Poverty makes people and communities vulnerable to other social problems, such as violence and crime.

Talking to children about poverty and homelessness

One of the best qualities children have is their ability to become immediately inspired to help others less fortunate.  Helping your child identify and connect to a cause they care about is a good way for them to learn more about how they can make a difference in their community.

  • answer questions honestly and with empathy
  • initiate the conversation if your children don’t ask you
  • encourage your children to come up with a plan to help
  • don’t avoid questions and be mindful of your body language
  • let your children know about the actions you yourself take to help those who are less fortunate

To explain the complex subject to children between the ages of 2 and 6:

Your discussions with them need to be simple and to the point:

  • Start the conversation:
    If you encounter a homeless person or a beggar, your child may have questions, and this is a good opportunity to start talking about people who have less than them and who are struggling
  • Express empathy and sadness for the person:
    By emphasising how you feel sad that some people don’t have a place to live, you provide an opportunity for children to understand the importance of recognizing others’ hardships while modelling empathy
  • Provide a simple explanation to their question:
    You can say: “Some people don’t have enough money to pay for a house”
  • Talk about providing opportunities for your children to give through family activities like hosting a donation drive, or collecting donations instead of birthday or Christmas presents.
  • Young children may have feelings of sadness or worry after hearing that some children don’t have a place to live – tell them about organisations who help homeless people find places to live, and reassure them of their own safety and security.

To explain the complex subject to children between the ages of 7 and 12

School-aged children are becoming more interested in the world around them and have the capacity for a deeper understanding about homelessness and poverty. They are likely to have more questions and want to really get involved.

  • Try to gauge what your child understands by asking them to explain what ‘homeless’ and ‘poor’ mean to them – this provides an opportunity for an interactive discussion, rather than a lecture, and will keep them engaged.
  • Prepare messages you can convey to your child on the spot, such as appropriate responses to interacting with people who are homeless, and ways your family can be involved with helping those in need.
  • Be aware that your physical cues are as important as your verbal ones:
    A child will pick up on any negative feelings you convey each time you encounter a homeless or mentally-ill person on the street, and will subconsciously learn to emit those feelings without understanding why.
  • Encourage empathy by talking about your own feelings and what a homeless person might be feeling: With older children, you can begin talking about some bigger issues that can relate to homelessness and poverty such as mental illness and addictions.
  • Don’t avoid questions:
    Use their curiosity as an opportunity to create a conversation around homelessness and poverty. Watching the news or reading the newspaper together may spark conversations and questions, as may walking around in urban areas where you are likely to see homeless people. It is important to address any questions your child may have to emphasise that it is a significant topic that should be discussed.
  • Address your child’s concerns by becoming more proactive:
    One of the best qualities children have is their ability to become immediately inspired to help others less fortunate.  Helping your child identify and connect to a cause they care about is a good way for them to learn more about how they can make a difference in their community
  • Encourage your child to act on their concerns:
    Once your child has identified a cause they care about, there are numerous ways for them to act, from volunteering, to donating new or no longer-used toys, to saving a portion of their allowance to donate to their organisation of choice. Volunteering as a family is another excellent way to continue the conversation and develop a lifelong habit of giving back.

It is painful to see vulnerable children on the street, thin, hungry and without decent or warm clothing. Most of these children have had to endure unimaginable hardships; they do not choose to be there. Often, the first reaction is, “Poor child, let me give him or her some money,” but ultimately more harm is done by doing this than good. It is important to remember that these children have the potential to make it in life much like any other child. There are far better ways to help street children achieve a greater chance of a positive change. Some appropriate responses to interacting with people who are homeless, and ways your family can be involved with helping those in need:

The following are some guidelines:

  • Talk to the child. Start a conversation – genuine concern is something money cannot communicate
  • Suggest a shelter, or offer to help them find one (see list below). By accessing the available shelters, these children have a better chance of care, getting their health seen to, better nutrition and a chance to develop skills towards a more promising future.
  • Give the child food that they can eat on the spot, or clothing they can wear personally (remember food and clothing are sometimes sold for drugs).
  • Do not give them money. Often this money goes to their beggar master, or to their caregivers who spend the money on various substances, or to buy drugs (see substance abuse). Money prevents these children from accessing what is available for them. Giving money to begging children increases the rate of crime and increase the number of drug users.  It exposes children’s vulnerability to commercial sexual exploitation and child labour, and they miss the opportunity to be rehabilitated.
  • Rather make a donation to one of the deserving institutions, programmes and initiatives that are helping address the problem of children on the streets – soup kitchens, day programmes, shelters and education training opportunities need the money for proper services that help keep children off the street and out of harm’s way.
  • Search the internet and find out how you can help out.
  • Volunteer at any of the places on the list below.
  • The SAPS are obliged to take a child to a place of safety (they have a mandate to make sure that they are protected).

Remember, reintegrating children back to their communities so that they may take their rightful place in society – with support for the family, is the main goal of most organisations working with children living on the streets.

Even though there aren’t any clear-cut answers, recognizing that poverty is a global issue and that children all over the world deserve a future is the first step in the right direction.

What you can do about street children

It is painful to see vulnerable children on the street, thin, hungry and without decent or warm clothing. Most of these children have had to endure unimaginable hardships; they do not choose to be there. Often, the first reaction is, “Poor child, let me give him or her some money,” but ultimately more harm is done by doing this than good. It is important to remember that these children have the potential to make it in life much like any other child. There are far better ways to help street children achieve a greater chance of a positive change. Some appropriate responses to interacting with people who are homeless, and ways your family can be involved with helping those in need:

The following are some guidelines:

  • Talk to the child. Start a conversation – genuine concern is something money cannot communicate
  • Suggest a shelter, or offer to help them find one (see list below). By accessing the available shelters, these children have a better chance of care, getting their health seen to, better nutrition and a chance to develop skills towards a more promising future.
  • Give the child food that they can eat on the spot, or clothing they can wear personally (remember food and clothing are sometimes sold for drugs).
  • Do not give them money. Often this money goes to their beggar master, or to their caregivers who spend the money on various substances, or to buy drugs (see substance abuse). Money prevents these children from accessing what is available for them. Giving money to begging children increases the rate of crime and increase the number of drug users.  It exposes children’s vulnerability to commercial sexual exploitation and child labour, and they miss the opportunity to be rehabilitated.
  • Rather make a donation to one of the deserving institutions, programmes and initiatives that are helping address the problem of children on the streets – soup kitchens, day programmes, shelters and education training opportunities need the money for proper services that help keep children off the street and out of harm’s way.
  • Search the internet and find out how you can help out.
  • Volunteer at any of the places on the list below.
  • The SAPS are obliged to take a child to a place of safety (they have a mandate to make sure that they are protected).

Remember, reintegrating children back to their communities so that they may take their rightful place in society – with support for the family, is the main goal of most organisations working with children living on the streets.

Even though there aren’t any clear-cut answers, recognizing that poverty is a global issue and that children all over the world deserve a future is the first step in the right direction.

Education is probably the best chance a child has to rise above the disadvantages they might have grown up with. Therefore, it is of great concern when a child does not attend school. All South African children must attend school from the first school day in their seventh year until the last school day in their fifteenth year, or on completion of Grade 9, whichever comes first. Parents should ensure that children attend school, and should inform the school in advance if their child will be absent. If a learner fails to attend a school and there is no such communication with the school, the Head of Department may investigate and take appropriate measures. It is essential to ascertain the reason/s for the child not attending school, in order to respond appropriately

  1. What is School Refusal?

School refusal is when a child does not want to go to school, this can be for various reasons and can be very distressing for both the parents and the child.

Why do children refuse to go to school?

It can happen at any age but is more common during times of change such as starting school or starting high school, or when changes are happening in the family (such as the family breaking up), or when parents are unwell.

Children who don’t want to go to school usually:

  • want to stay at home with parents
  • get upset about going to school and may have stomach aches or headaches, or may not feel well without a physical cause
  • don’t have any other serious behaviour problems
  • don’t try to hide their wish not to go to school from their parents

Reasons include:

  • separation anxiety
  • fear of losing a parent/caregiver (for example because the parent is/has been ill, or if there are marital problems, separation or divorce)
  • fear that a parent might leave while the child is at school
  • moving house and/or changing school
  • jealousy if there is a younger brother or sister at home
  • untreated symptoms of trauma, abuse, or psychological health problems
  • problems at school (e.g. bullying, not having friends, learning problems, poor relationship with educator/s, has not done homework, and/or is performing poorly, or has fallen behind due to, e.g. long illness, and feels they can’t cope, etc.)
  • parents being unreliable about when they pick up after school
  • parents’ worries
  • lack of basic necessities such as school uniform, stationery and books, sanitary wear or even transport money to get to school
  • absent parents/ child-headed households: many parents travel long distances to work, or work in a different town or city from where they live
  • child-headed households- these situations often result in children missing school
  • teenage pregnancy

Most of these problems are a consequence of poverty, and a holistic intervention is required in order to support the child and their family in such a way as to ensure that the child is able to attend school.

What are the consequences of refusing to go school?  The short-term problems are missing out on school work as well as social interaction with peers.  In the long term – if the problem is handled well, these children usually do well. They get back to school and don’t have any ongoing behavioural or emotional problems.

  1. Child truanting school

Truancy is when children leave for school or go to school but then slip off, often to meet with friends or do something that may involve breaking rules (also known as bunking, playing hooky, malingering or skiving). Truancy involves intentional deception. Children who truant usually have different problems from those who don’t want to go to school and share this feeling with their parents, and they usually present with other behavioural problems.

In many instances, the child who truants:

  • comes from an unhappy or dysfunctional home
  • has too much freedom, or not enough encouragement to learn
  • is depressed and/or anxious
  • struggles to learn and pass subjects, resulting in poor self-esteem and negative feelings about teachers and school
  • lacks a sense of fitting in (for example because parents cannot afford to buy uniform, or those things that help a child feel included)
  • has difficulty socialising, and doesn’t feel emotionally connected with peers or teachers; lacks a sense of belonging in the community
  • is at a dysfunctional school (poor facilities, poor teaching, overcrowding and bullying)

Given these risk factors, it is clear that a holistic approach to the problem is necessary, involving the child, the parents and the school, and focussing on addressing each of the underlying issues which may be contributing to the truancy.

  1. Parents refusing school attendance

It is a parent’s legal responsibility to ensure that their child attends school, at least until the end of Grade 9, or when the child turns 16, whichever comes first. There are incidences where children are kept out of school by their parents, without permission, and in contravention of the law.

Reasons why this may happen:

  • the child may be kept out of school to assist with domestic work, farm work, or any other form of work to supplement the family’s income
  • the parents may be too ill to fulfil their obligations as parents, and the oldest child may be kept out of school to take care of them and/or younger siblings
  • the child may be kept out of school because they are disabled, either because the parents are not aware of schooling options available for children with disability, or because of isolation as a result of shame, stigma, ignorance and/or neglect
  • at times parents keep their children out of school to participate in traditional ceremonies (in cases where cultural/religious practices infringe upon the child’s rights in terms of the constitution and the children’s act, please refer to harmful religious practices)
  • parents with undiagnosed/untreated psychiatric disorders, substance abuse disorders, or abusive parents may not actively ensure that their children are able to attend school (for example, arranging transport)
  • undocumented foreign nationals may keep their children out of school as a result of fear of being deported

Poverty plays a significant role, as does parental involvement and commitment to their children’s academic development. As with other forms of absenteeism, the school is required to investigate the circumstances, and take the necessary measures to address the problem.

  1. Lack of money for fees

As mentioned above, poverty plays a significant role in the rate of absenteeism at schools. Many parents who cannot afford to pay school fees are either under the impression that they cannot enrol their child in a school. In other instances schools have, in contravention of the law, turned children away at enrolment, or prevented them from attending school on the basis of not having received fees.

According to the Schools Act 84 of 1996, Section 5, Admission to public schools, subsection 3:

(3) No learner may be refused admission to a public school on the grounds that his or her parent—

(a) is unable to pay or has not paid the school fees determined by the governing body under section 39;

In addition, the Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools states that, “A learner is admitted to the total school programme and may not be suspended from classes, denied access to cultural, sporting or social activities of the school, denied a school report or transfer certificates, or otherwise victimised on the grounds that his or her parent – (a) is unable to pay or has not paid the required school fees…”

In such instances, the parent/child need to be educated and informed as to their rights, and referred to the relevant department of the GDE for assistance.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is generally defined as deliberate injury to oneself, typically as a manifestation of a psychological or psychiatric disorder. There are many reasons why people harm themselves but most often it’s a way of coping with difficult emotions, often associated with depression. Everyone needs to learn to manage and regulate difficult feelings and emotions but some people can find it particularly hard, and their emotions – feelings like guilt, sadness and self-hatred, can feel completely overwhelming. It might seem like self-harm can help to manage these emotions in the short term, but it can be very dangerous and have a negative impact in the long term.

Types of self-harming behaviour

Parents should be aware of the different ways young people can harm themselves and take the necessary steps to get them help.

There are lots of different ways someone could self-harm. These include:

  • cutting or scratching
  • biting themselves
  • causing bruises
  • banging their head against a wall
  • punching a wall
  • pulling out their hair
  • burning themselves with fire or chemicals
  • poisoning themselves
  • starving or overeating
  • falling over on purpose
  • breaking a bone on purpose.

Why people self-harm

Those who self-harm often view it as an outlet to release negative emotions. They may have low self-esteem, feel depressed or anxious, feel ashamed or guilty about something in their lives, experience loneliness or lack of control, or even feel numb.

Reasons young people have given for hurting themselves include:

  • to try and express complicated or hidden feelings
  • to communicate that they need some support
  • to prove to themselves that they’re not invisible
  • to feel in control
  • to get an immediate sense of relief (this has to do with how the brain responds to physical pain).

It’s important to remember that self-harm isn’t just ‘attention seeking’, although some people might do it as a way of letting others know they aren’t coping. This might be because they don’t know any other way of telling people, or because they’re worried that others won’t take how they’re feeling seriously.

A person doesn’t usually self-harm because they want to die or they have suicidal thoughts, but some types of self-harm can be very dangerous. It could put someone’s life at risk, even if they’re not suicidal.

Research does show however, that those who engage in self-harm may be at greater risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviours. So, it is important to tackle self-harm and its possible causes as soon as possible.

It can be hard to change self-harming behaviours and learn better coping skills. If the person self-harms and wants to stop, they need to make a conscious decision to break that cycle. There are professional treatments available that can help manage self-harm. A referral to a mental health care professional is needed to better understand the root of the self-harming behaviour.

Tips for parents if their child is self-harming

It can be very distressing to discover that your child is self-harming, but you can address it in many ways while supporting your child.

  • Stay calm and avoid judging your child, even if you are upset.
  • Understand that your child is not self-harming to get attention but rather to manage and express her emotions.
  • Talk to your child and try to understand what is prompting his/her behaviour
  • Try to remove the temptation of self-harm, if possible, by encouraging your child to avoid situations in which he/she could harm them self
  • Help your child think about why he/she is harming him/herself by asking if she can do anything about the cause or if something else needs to change
  • Make a list of people your child can talk to such as you or your partner, other relatives, a teacher, or friends of the family
  • Depending on your child’s age, encourage journaling, creative activities, breathing exercises, or physical activity to relieve stress and anxiety
  • If your child’s behaviour is not changing or if you suspect she might be depressed, ask your doctor for advice. Depression and anxiety can be treated in many ways.

What is suicide?

Suicide is when someone causes their own death. Suicide is a tragic event that has strong emotional repercussions for the families of its victims.

Most suicide related deaths in South Africa are because of depression. While some suicides may occur without any outward warning, most do not. The most effective way to prevent suicide is to learn to recognise the signs of someone at risk, take these signs seriously, and know how to respond to them.

Risk factors for suicide among the young include:

Some people are at greater risk of suicide than others, but it’s important to know that risk factors don’t cause suicide. Some people have lots of risk factors and never feel suicidal, and some suicidal people have only a couple of risk factors.

  • previous suicide attempts
  • talking about death or suicide
  • the presence of mental illness especially depression
  • experience of abuse
  • conduct disorder
  • alcohol and/ or drug abuse
  • the availability of weapons in the home
  • feeling very sad or in great emotional pain and having lost hope that anything can change
  • feeling isolated and alone
  • death seems like the only way to escape the pain
  • feeling worthless and undeserving and see oneself as a burden on those around them
  • desperately wanting help but feeling too scared to talk to anyone
  • history of non-suicidal self-harm (e.g. superficial cutting)
  • bullying or exclusion by peers
  • low self-esteem
  • grief (e.g., loss of a family member or close friend)
  • exposure to suicide by others, or family history of suicide
  • groups of people who experience exclusion e.g. LGBTIQ
  • the period after initiating anti-depressants is a high risk period as anti-depressants reduce demotivation and low energy which may have been the only thing stopping one from going through with the suicide

Many parents/ caregivers find it difficult to know how to support their child.  Equipping yourself with information about suicide is the first step to helping your child. It is also important to let your child know that they can trust you with their suicidal feelings.

Many young people struggle to access help when they feel suicidal due to the following barriers:

  • stigma – they don’t want to be judged – so they just don’t talk about it
  • fear they will not be believed
  • fear of being called an ‘attention seeker’
  • feeling worthless – not worth being helped
  • concern for others -not wanting to tell in case the caregiver feels burdened

Young people do show caregivers that they want help, but often in ways that are not easy to notice or understand.  These warning signs might just seem like typical teenage behaviour. A young person might seem suicidal one day and fine the next, so it’s important to take all warning signs seriously. Warning signs come in many forms – conversations, feelings, physical changes and changes in behaviour.

 Common warning signs of suicide

  • hints about wanting to die such as “I’d like to go to sleep and never wake up”
  • talking about death a lot (even in a joking way)
  • withdrawing from others – not seeing friends, staying in their room all the time
  • not doing things they used to enjoy
  • talking about feeling alone, things being hopeless, or having no reason to live
  • talking about feeling worthless or being a burden on others
  • giving away possessions or saying goodbye
  • increased drug or alcohol use
  • dramatic changes in mood
  • self-harming such as cutting
  • risk-taking or recklessness that suggests no fear of death
  • having the means of suicide such as medication or weapons
  • talking about suicide
  • being depressed for a long time and suddenly seeming happy could indicate that the person has made a decision to end their life

Tips for caregivers

  • Take any warning signs seriously- do not ignore them

If you’re at all concerned, trust your instincts and don’t just hope things will get better on their own. It’s essential that you take your child’s concerns seriously, even if their problems seem small and unimportant to you.

  • Ask if they’re okay and show that you care

Sometimes parents are scared that talking about suicide will put ideas in their child’s head. This is a myth. In fact, the best way to find out if someone is thinking about suicide is to ask them. Asking your child if they’re okay and telling them you’re concerned about them can be the first step on the road to recovery. Just showing that you care and telling them they’re not alone can make a huge difference.

It’s okay to ask direct questions about suicidal thoughts. For example, you can ask “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” If the answer is yes, ask about their immediate safety. Do they have a specific suicide plan? Have they attempted suicide in the past?

  • Address any immediate risk of harm

If your child has a plan and is in possession of the means to end their life, it’s important to take action straight away.

  • call Childline
  • remove any dangerous objects like medication or knives
  • in an emergency, contact and ambulance or the saps or take them to a hospital emergency room
  • don’t leave your child alone until help has arrived or you’re sure they are safe
  • Continue the conversation

If your child has been thinking about suicide, but is not in immediate danger, you should continue the conversation and support them to get professional help. There is no perfect way to start a conversation, but it’s crucial that you do. Just be real and supportive and let them know you are listening.

Always listen without making judgements or assumptions, don’t pressure your child to share personal details before they’re ready, and take all their concerns seriously. Be aware that suicidal thoughts aren’t logical or rational, and advice can be interpreted as criticism, so avoid telling them what they should do.

  • Help your child get professional support

Serious suicidal thoughts and behaviours are too much for family and friends to handle alone. Professional counselling and psychological support do help, but young people are often scared about talking to someone and may need you to guide and encourage them. You can help by taking them to a trusted doctor or health care who can refer you to a psychologist. Childline counselors are also a good place to start.

  • Be patient and continue to show how much you care

People who are thinking about suicide often feel alone, view themselves as worthless, and believe they are a burden on others, who would be better off without them. One of the most important things you can do is show them that this is not true.

Suicidal thoughts don’t go away in a couple of weeks. Your child may need support and treatment for a long time. Keep checking in with them and support them to continue professional treatment for as long as necessary.

  • Look after yourself

Learning that your child has been thinking about suicide is distressing. Don’t attempt to do everything on your own and don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself, both for your own sake and so you can be the best support for your child.

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