Bullying: what you need to know

Statistics suggest that 15 percent of primary school children and 12 percent of secondary schoolers have been bullied or are bullying other children. How should you approach the problem?

Your view on bullying – whether your child is being bullied or has been bullying other kids – makes a big difference when it comes to solving the problem. Come at it from the wrong angle and dismiss it as nothing and you risk the incidents escalating. Seeing it for what it is will help you tackle it once and for all.

1. It’s just a disagreement

If your child is being bullied, both you and his teacher need to see it for what it is: ongoing victimisation based on an imbalance of power or strength. If you dismiss it as just another form of arguing you could end up mediating the problem – which gives the bully the idea he hasn’t actually done anything wrong. Be crystal clear on your message: bullying is wrong and it stops now.

2. It’s what kids do

Bullying isn’t just a case of kids being kids. It can have serious consequences for the bullied child, affecting her mental and physical wellbeing and interfering with school work. Children who are bullied tend to have lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression, loneliness and suicidal thoughts. They’re prone to headaches, stomach upsets and sleep problems and play truant more often. There are consequences for the bully too: they’re more likely to fall into a pattern of violent and antisocial behaviour as they reach adulthood.

Twenty percent of children who call ChildLine for advice on bullying say it’s a friend who’s bullying them.

3. If it’s not physical, it’s not bullying

Although a lot of bullying is physical, most of it is verbal, in the form of teasing, name-calling and spreading rumours. It can also take the form of social isolation, with one child being frozen out of the group. This is especially common amongst girls (learn why girls bully differently).

4. It’s not going on at my child’s school

How can you be sure of that? One ChildLine survey suggested that 15 percent of primary school children and 12percent of secondary schoolers had been bullied or were bullying other children. It’s not just inner-city schools either – it even goes on at seemingly peaceful rural schools among children who’ve grown up together. Your child’s school is required by law to have a written anti-bullying policy – if you’re at all concerned that bullying may be going on, mention it to your child’s head teacher or at the next parent-teacher meeting.

5. My child would tell me if he was being bullied

Surveys show that less than half of bullied children report it to an adult. They may be concerned that you or their teacher won’t take them seriously, and may also fear repercussions should the bully find out.

6. It’s easy to spot a bully

No – not all bullies are social misfits or big kids with bad tempers. Some research has indicated that they’re among the most popular kids at school, with lots of friends. Other studies have suggested that particularly assertive children with strong leadership skills are more likely to bully quieter kids.

7. Children need to fight their own battles

Some children simply aren’t confident enough to do that and in any case it goes back to the way you see bullying. Yes, children should be able to work with each other to find a compromise if they disagree – but bullying is abuse and no child should have to cope with it by himself.

8. My child shouldn’t get involved

One of the best deterrent to a bully is seeing that his peers don’t approve of his behaviour. Most children think bullying is wrong, so don’t put your child off defending his quieter, weaker friends or classmates because you’re afraid he’ll become a victim too. It’s less confident children who are usually at risk so if your child is confident enough to step in and help, he’s unlikely to become a victim himself – but he can play a vital role in stopping the bullying once and for all.

Related links

Find out more

• Department for Children, Schools and Families: Log on for advice and info, and an anti-bullying pack to download.

ChildLine: Advice for children and young people in difficult situations (helpline: 0800 1111)

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