Parenting, Teen Mental Health, Child mental health

12 July, 2018

Warning signs of bullying and what to do

Bullying can take different forms, with each type of bullying having a real impact on the person being bullied. We explore the signs of bullying and how to seek support.

Bullying is an experience that children might face at different times and in different ways. Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but would appear to be having more serious effects on young people in recent years.

Some children experience being bullied when the alleged perpetrator may have little or no knowledge of the effects of their behaviour. A perpetrator therefore becomes a true bully when they persist with the taunts, exclusion or physical attacks, despite being informed of the effect on the other person.

What types of bullying are there?

What types of bullying are there?

Bullying can occur anywhere, to anyone at any age and perhaps considering it as a childhood issue is a mistake. There are a lot of connotations to the words "being bullied" that many victims find uncomfortable and strenuously deny, but the reality is that any action that is deliberate and intended to cause discomfort and upset to another individual should qualify as bullying behaviour.

Types of bullying include physical bullying, psychological or emotional bullying and, more recently, cyberbullying. It is a mistake to assume one form is more severe than another as all of these experiences can have serious effects on the victim.

Bullying is distinct from banter when the victim is being negatively affected by the interaction. 

There is a form of bullying known as "exclusion". This is harder to tackle and can have serious impact on many young people. In many school environments, peer groups can form and this group mentality can create dynamics that involve a form of collective bullying, where young people are deliberately left out of activities or removed from groups or cliques, without any obvious reason. This form of bullying can cause young people to feel isolated, left out and inadequate. This is a common occurrence, mostly seen in girls. Due to the social climbing nature of many school environments, it can trigger many serious mental health problems.

There is also the issue of cyberbullying, which involves the use of technology such as mobile phones, smartphones and social media to bully or taunt young people. This is also problematic, due to the potential impact of the action and the accessibility of the bully to intrude on the young person 24 hours a day. Cyberbullying is one of the serious downsides to our recent technological advances and one that is very difficult to detect, regulate or stop. The terms "bullycide" and "cyberbullying" are now features of our everyday discourse and, therefore, perhaps the potential impact of bullying in today’s society is greater than before.

As a parent, being alert and vigilant is critical since many victims are often reluctant to share the fact that they are being bullied.

Why might children not report being bullied?

Why might children not report being bullied?

As a parent, being alert and vigilant is critical, since many victims of bullying are often reluctant to share the fact that they are being bullied.

Some reasons why children may not report bullying include that they:

  • are embarrassed, feel intimidated or are fearful of disclosing this fact
  • fear being accused of being a tell tale
  • feel there is nothing that adults can do
  • fear reporting it will make it worse.

What are the warning signs of bullying?

What are the warning signs of bullying?

If you think or are concerned that your child may be being bullied, some signs to look out for include:

  • Torn clothes, damaged property or repeated loss of property on return from school
  • Cuts or bruises with unusual explanations
  • A reluctance to go to school and multiple headaches, tummy aches or other ailments
  • Illogical routes to commute to school
  • Nightmares or sleep problems
  • Loss of interest in school work or a deterioration in grades
  • Irritability, mood shifts or temper outbursts
  • Unusual requests for money
  • Social isolation or a lack of invites to events or activities with others
  • Refusal to attend events or activities with peers (often, the act of shunning others may be a defence against the fear of being shunned by peers).

What should you do if your child is being bullied?

What should you do if your child is being bullied?

How to deal with bullying

If you think your child is being bullied, firstly, ask your child about it. If they deny they are being bullied, ask the teachers in their school.

If there is bullying going on, remember that a careful, thoughtful management of these situations has a better outcome then a rash haphazard one. It is good to:

  • Remember to control your emotions when discussing it with your child or the school
  • Try to stick to the facts
  • Avoid concentrating on the punishment of the perpetrators
  • Contact the school and devise a plan of action
  • Inform the child of who you will be talking to and what you intend to say
  • Increase the formality of your contact with the school the longer the problem persists
  • Keep an accurate log of incidents.

How to talk your child when they are being bullied

  • Listen carefully and empathise with their experiences.
  • Do not overreact or underreact; neither is helpful.
  • Don’t lay blame on the victim or interrogate what they have done to ‘bring this on themselves’.
  • Expect behavioural changes at home and manage these mindfully.
  • Encourage open communication with you regarding ongoing experiences.

How to teach your child to be safe

  • Remember that hitting back often only results in the victim getting in trouble, despite the obvious desire to promote this.
  • Encourage the child to walk away and seek adult help.
  • Explore any provocative victim behaviours that may be fuelling the difficulties.
  • Help your child to practice managing their reactions to being bullied, as it is often the reaction that is the desired outcome of the bullying.
  • Provide the child with a ‘buddy’ or nominated support in school.

What are the effects of bullying?

What are the effects of bullying?

The impact of bullying can include:

  • Loss of confidence
  • Damaged self-esteem
  • Reduced self-worth
  • Mood problems and depression
  • Academic deterioration
  • Sleep and appetite problems
  • Irritability
  • Body image issues
  • Isolation and developmental disruption.

If your child is being bullied, some ways to help protect their self-esteem include:

  • Educating your child about bullying 
  • Reminding them that bullying is more about the bullies then the person being bullied
  • Encourage them not to take the taunts personally
  • Role model body language that demonstrates confidence
  • Pay attention to any deficits in social skills 
  • Identify and encourage the child’s talents and positive attributes
  • Encourage other networks like local clubs, and so on.

What should you do if your child is the bully?

What should you do if your child is the bully?

Some signs that your child has a potential to bully include that they:

  • Display a strong need to dominate
  • Impose themselves on others
  • Show a need to be popular or seen as cool
  • Intimidate smaller children or siblings
  • Brag about actual or imagined superiority
  • Are hot-tempered or easily angered 
  • Have low frustration tolerance
  • Tend to cheat in games and hate losing
  • Are oppositional toward adults
  • Show premature anti-social behaviour.

If your child is identified as a bully:

  • Take the issue seriously
  • Avoid excuses
  • Listen carefully to the facts
  • Avoid being manipulated by one-sided accounts
  • Try to determine a pattern for the behaviour and identify possible triggers
  • Explore explanations for the behaviour
  • Be mindful of your behaviour and possible negative role-modelling
  • Encourage empathy with regard to the consequences of the child’s behaviour.