Bullying – Why? and what to do about it

Children being targeted by other children has always been a part of growing up! It is a significant problem in most schools, and it can be detrimental to a child’s confidence and in some instances their long term emotional or social adjustment. As you may have experienced first-hand, it is very painful to see your child being ignored or victimised by others, and just as painful when your child is labelled as a ‘bully’. This is a brief introduction to recognising when your child might be being bullied, when you child be ‘that child’ that bullies others, and tips on how to help.

What is Bullying?

  • Bullying is intimidating or a child assuming a sense of power over another child who is perceived as being weaker.
  • It is a way of a child getting what they want through force or coercion
  • It is a way for one child to establish a sense of power or superiority over another child.
  • It can be physical, verbal or involve shunning another child.

Different kinds of bullying?

  • Hurting someone physically
  • Constant physical irritation
  • Verbal or emotional bullying
  • Ostracising or belittling
  • Online bullying
  • Bullying over messages

Possible signs of child being bullied?

  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Reluctance or seeming upset about going to school
  • Demonstrating signs of anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling tearful or having low mood
  • Deterioration in academic performance
  • Seeming fearful
  • Increased aggression towards others, especially within the family
  • Noticeable decline in child’s self-confidence or marked negative their perception of themself.
  • Signs of physical altercations – although bullying seldom leaves physical marks

Identifying a possible bully

  • Many children who bully others are expressing difficult feelings or reacting to difficult life circumstances.
  • Sometimes a child is attempting to have a sense of belonging by targeting children who appear ‘different’.
  • Sometimes the child may view violence or aggression as a means to getting their needs met or as a means to solving a problem.
  • A child who tends to show aggression towards others, adults or children.
  • A child who demonstrates a need to dominate others and control situations
  • Children who appear easily frustrated
  • Children who demonstrate a lack of empathy for others who appear more vulnerable or who are bullied themselves
  • Sometimes children have unidentified special educational needs which cause them to be perceived as bullies when this is not in fact the case.
  • Children experiencing emotional difficulties may try to feel in control by taking their feelings of vulnerability and helplessness out on children perceived as more vulnerable.

How to help

  • Both children who are bullied and those doing the bullying may need extra support.
  • Listen and show empathy for your child’s feelings
  • For children being bullied, make sure that your child knows that you are ‘on their side’.
  • Some children are more sensitive than others and may feel bullied in situations where the other child is not deliberately targeting them. Try and explore this as the way that this is handled will be slightly different.
  • Let them know that it is not their fault and that bullying is rarely personal although it always feels that way.
  • Encourage the school to get involved where appropriate. A lot of bullying can be well managed through mediation and increased awareness by school staff.
  • Encourage the child to seek help from a teacher or trusted adult – they need to know that someone will listen and try and help.
  • Help the child to develop social skills including assertiveness so that they feel that they know what to do when they are targeted.
  • Help your child develop strategies to cope through social stories and imaginative approaches such as ‘shrinking the bully’.
  • It can be helpful to role play the scenarios that your child describes are happening. This can help them to have a script when they are feeling vulnerable to empower them to feel that they know what to say or do.
  • Help your child to develop strategies for managing their anxiety and role play different approaches to dealing with difficult situations.
  • Help your child to understand that if they manage to not show a reaction and that they are upset, the bully will likely lose interest and move on to targeting someone else. This is not about ignoring but ‘targeted ignoring’.
  • In the case of ‘bullying’ by a child with special needs, it would be useful to educate your child about how some children are not able to control their behaviour, and help them to recognise that it is not a personal attack on them.

Some of the above signs are not necessarily unique to being bullied or bullying others and may indicate a different kind of issue. Most of the above do however indicate that a child may be in distress and require increased support from parents or teachers and in some instances a suitably qualified child psychologist. For more information on bullying and free resources available, visit www.kidscape.org.uk or www.childline.org.uk and search for ‘bullying’.

If you want some practical advice that addresses many of the issues above and more – click here to have a look at our 8 session online POWER course, which has a whole extended session on social skills and practical strategies to help children who are being targeted by others.