Karl Snowden, who has been through the Triple P parenting course, with his children Maihi, 2, and Kerehoma, 5.
Karl Snowden, who has been through the Triple P parenting course, with his children Maihi, 2, and Kerehoma, 5. Natalie Slade

Protective parents may be part of bullied kids' problem

OVERBEARING parents whose children are repeatedly bullied may be part of the problem, with new research showing kids can miss out on crucial social skills when parents are too protective.

New Zealand has the world's second-highest rate of school bullying, something researchers hope to address in a new trial which will coach parents on changing their own behaviour in a bid to help their children.

The trial is based on a successful trial in Australia which found that if parents changed their behaviour, children who had been bullied regularly were bullied less.

"Some of those things we might feel like doing instinctively as parents may not actually help the child because to the other kids it looks like the child can't handle the situation themselves," said Karyn Healy, program co-ordinator at the University of Queensland's Parenting and Family Support Centre.

Results from the new Resilience Triple P program were presented at a forum at the University of Auckland yesterday.

The Australian trial involved 111 families of chronically bullied children aged 6 to 12 years, and included skills training for both parents and children.

Those who received the training saw drastically better results over a nine-month period than a control group of families. They saw a drop in bullying, depression and the children were not so upset.

Children started the program with few friends - typical of kids who are bullied - but after nine months they had as many friends as is normal among the general population.

Ms Healy told yesterday's NZ Triple P Research and Practice Forum that recent research showed school programs were limited when it came to addressing bullying.

Kids who were chronically bullied were often targeted more because they were withdrawn or sensitive and would then lose friends, which removes a key protective factor against bullying.

"The simple reasons why we thought the family would be a viable intervention point is we know that parenting affects children's social confidence. And social confidence is a strong predictive factor of not getting bullied.

"Parenting affects children's ability to regulate emotions. This is a key factor in being able to address difficulties with peers."

Parents were given training in areas such as allowing their child to be independent - an important trait in gaining peers' respect.

"When I was going to high school, there was a boy whose parents used to walk him to the classroom. And we all knew instinctively there was something wrong with that boy," Ms Healy said.

She said that in her experience, parents did not take the message that they were part of the problem personally.

"It is not an affront ... they want very much to get some concrete strategies and ways they can help to alleviate their child's distress."

Finding ways to be an even better dad

New Zealand researchers will conduct an anti-bullying program similar to the one that was so successful in Australia.

Dr Louise Keown, of the University of Auckland's Parenting Research Group, told yesterday's NZ Triple P Research and Practice Forum that a similar trial would be set up soon.

The Triple P Parenting Program was created by New Zealander and psychology professor Matt Sanders in 1978 and is now used in 25 countries.

It has been reintroduced in New Zealand under a two-year pilot program run by the Health Ministry in Counties Manukau, Waitemata and Bay of Plenty.

While the trial in Australia focused on bullying, programs here deal with parenting on a broader level.

Henderson man Karl Snowden, 32, took the program after becoming frustrated with his 5-year-old son.

He was told to write down all of the issues he had with the boy. He had expected to fill the booklet up, but after a week it was empty.

"A lot of the issues I found were my own, being tired ... or frustrated about things at work."

Parents stepping in

*Helensville mother Mellissa Anderson received diversion after she assaulted a teen who allegedly punched and bullied her 13-year-old daughter Summer Anderson in 2011.
*In June, a father ordered his son to punch another boy in the face during an under-9s league game, saying he "lost the plot'' at the sight of his son's bloodied face.
*Carterton mother Sharlee Hume spoke out of the dangers of bullying in April after her son, 11, tried to strangle himself with a skipping rope to end years of torment over a disfiguring affliction.