Q&A with Australian Health Experts
What is bullying?
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A Guide for Parents to Help Their Child
As parents we understand how nerve racking it can be to send our children off to school for the first time. We have spent years nurturing them and keeping them safe, trying to equip them with skills that will serve them well when they venture out into the big wide world. So what happens when our children come home and say they no longer want to go to school, that they don’t feel safe and we start to see them withdrawing socially? How do we as parents manage a situation where our children are being bullied and what is the fallout for our children after having experienced it?
What is Bullying
Bullying has been best defined by Tattum and Tattum (1992) who proposed that “Bullying is the wilful, conscious desire to hurt another and put him/her under stress”.
Bullying is often conducted by individuals or groups who perceive themselves as more powerful than the persons they bully. The bullies know what they are doing, have intent to cause harm or distress to another individual and receive enjoyment from seeing their targets distressed. This behaviour is typically repeated and can go on for years if not addressed by the individual or their support networks such as parents and schools.
Bullying can take the form of psychological, verbal, physical, emotional, social and cyber abuse.
Some examples of bullying behaviour are;
Being physically assaulted (punched, kicked, pushed over)
Verbally abused (name calling, teasing, harassment)
Being excluded from friendship groups and social events such as birthday parties.
Being given the “silent treatment”
Gossip and malicious rumours
Damage to property such as clothes and bags.
Cyber abuse (being sent threatening emails, having rumours spread via social network pages such as facebook, having photos posted, name calling and abuse in live chat forums to name a few)
Where does it occur?
Bullying can occur anywhere. In school, Kindergarten, travel to and from school (whether by public transport, cycling, or walking), in shopping malls, cinemas, workplaces and at home via the internet.
Cyberbullying is when a child or teenager is threatened, humiliated, harassed, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child or teenager using the Internet, mobile phones, social networking tools such as My space and Facebook, chat rooms and Instant messaging.
This form of bullying is growing rapidly as the bully can remain anonymous. Often the school is unaware of the bullying behaviour as it is off campus and after schooling hours.
Cyberbullying can increase the trauma of schoolyard bullying as the victim cannot escape the abuse.
Who is more likely to be bullied?
All children can be victims of bullying and bullying can begin at any age.
Some of the most common personality traits of victims may include;
Individuals, who are highly emotional, sensitive, and easy to pick on, may be shy or lack social skills, possibly insecure or lacking self-esteem.
Alternatively, individuals who are quick tempered or prone to fight back, of a restless nature, who irritate others, and are immature.
Other reasons bullying may occur are due to race, religion, family dynamics, sexual preference, the way you dress or look, athletic ability and or intellectual abilities (i.e being in the top or the bottom classes).
It has been reported that boys are bullied physically more often than girls. Girls are generally more often involved in indirect forms of aggression, such as excluding others, rumour spreading and unpleasant manipulating of situations to hurt those they do not like (Rigby 2003).
What harm can bullying do?
Even small amounts of bullying can cause problems in children such as;
Decrease in self esteem
Problematic behaviours at home
Refusing to go to school
School work suffering
More severe cases of bullying can result in;
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What should I do if my child is being bullied?
Contact the school immediately. Most Schools have a zero tolerance policy and they have a responsibility to protect all of their students.
Ask to see the school policy on bullying and convene with both your child’s teacher and principal to discuss how this might be implemented in your Childs case.
Listen to what the teacher has to say about the situation, they may have seen some of the bullying activity in the classroom or playground.
Draw up a management plan that is mutually agreed upon.
Diarise all further incidents and ensure the school has a copy.
If the bullying has not stopped recontact the school.
What happens if the school does not effectively deal with the bullying?
Contact the Department of Education to make a formal complaint.
Seek legal advice or contact your local consumer advocate to assist if you feel the situation has not been resolved.
If the bullying involves physical or sexual abuse, damage to or stolen property or threatened sexual or physical abuse call the Police.
Listen to your child. If their anxiety is so high and they are experiencing fear going to school do not hesitate in keeping your child at home until the situation is resolved or removing your child from the school and sending them elsewhere.
How to support your child
Seeking counselling for your child can assist them in understanding what has or is happening to them, and can provide them and the family with the skills to effectively deal with bullying.
Let your child know you on their side, that you believe what they are saying and reassure them that it is not their fault. Saying things to your child like “stand up for yourself” or “just ignore them and they will go away” can cause further distress and can reinforce to the child that you do not know what this experience is like for them. These comments can be perceived as dismissive.
Help your child to find ways they can stay safe at school such as keeping with friends, talking to a teacher about what is going on and perhaps having a signal or catch phrase they can use to alert the teacher to what is going on.
Escort your child to and from school and teach them to avoid risky situations (such as standing at a bus stop they know the bully frequently uses).
Keep the lines of communication open, let your child know they can talk to you at any time and be available to listen and hear what is being said. Do not ever think the child is exaggerating their feelings because even if the incidents they discuss do not sound so bad to you, your child’s experience may be very different.
Field, E.M (2007) Bully Blocking, six secrets to help children deal with teasing and bullying: Finch Publishing
Rigby, K (2003) Consequences of Bullying in schools. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 48, pp 583- 590
Rigby, K (2002) New perspectives on bullying. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Tattum, D and Tattum, E. (1992) Social Education and Personal Development. London,: David Fulton.