Children who are bullied
In Australia one in six children are bullied at school each week.Bullying involves one or more individuals threatening or causing harm to another individual’s psychological or physical health and safety. These threats or acts of harm are ongoing, either intermittently or frequently. Bullying usually involves an unfair balance of power with often, unpredictable attacks, which leave the bullied child feeling vulnerable and isolated. Despite increased action by schools to prevent bullying over the past decade, school based anti-bullying interventions have had limited success.
More than 90% of school children report witnessing others being bullying at school. Teachers rarely witness acts of bullying, and are often not informed of what has happened. High rates of bullying are likely to continue unless schools adopt a culture of no-tolerance for both bullying and bystander behaviour. It can be argued that this requires strong school leadership and a school community that demonstrates empathy, respect and tolerance for others. Unfortunately, aggression, intolerance, and harassment are seen as ‘acceptable’ behaviour in some families as a means to influence or isolate others and/or to resolve conflict. Bullying can include both direct and indirect behaviours.
Direct bullying behaviours
Direct bullying can include the following.
- Physical contact such as hitting, kicking, pushing or taking a child’s property
- Verbal remarks such as teasing, name calling, insults
- ‘Secret clubs’ led by the bully who exerts power and influence over others in the ‘club’. The leader may have previously bullied some group members. The bully leader usually does not abide by the rules other members are required to follow.
Indirect bullying behaviours
Boys are more likely to use direct forms of bullying, while girls will often engage in indirect bullying.
- Spreading rumours, mimicking, telling lies, encouraging others to exclude the child socially, or playing tricks to humiliate or harm the child’s social reputation
- Cyber-bullying - where bullies use digital forms of communication such as SMS, email, chat rooms and social networking sites to repeatedly and intentionally humiliate and cause distress - can be particularly harmful. The 24/7 nature of web based communication tools and mobile phones may lead children to feel there is no place they can ever feel safe. See the Australian Government’s cyber safety program, http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/
Who is more likely to be bullied?
Appearance and other attributes such as weight, race, and social economic status are not always predictive of being bullied. Other children, who don’t fit the common stereotype of the weak, sensitive, or anxious child who tends to get bullied, can be at risk. Some children who display a talent, who are slightly ‘different’ or popular with others can also be targets of bullying. Anxious children are frequently less liked by peers, and can be rejected, bullied and teased.
Effects of bullying on children
Children who are bullied are often anxious, insecure and unhappy. They may also be:
- less likely to take risks
- lacking in self confidence
- lacking in age-appropriate social skills and may have few friends
- more likely to have parents whom others consider overprotective
- perceived as ‘different’ or physically weaker than their peers
- more likely to have special or additional education provision.
Bullied children are up to three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than their peers. They also have higher rates of worry, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, poor physical health, impaired academic performance and greater school non-attendance. For some children, anxiety and depression will resolve itself when the bullying stops. For others, residual worry, anxiety or depression can persist. For these children, intervention by teachers and other professionals is needed to help reduce the harm and feelings of isolation, distress and anger that can result from being bullied.
In extreme cases, children who have been bullied may contemplate suicide or plan retaliation.
Children who are bullied typically do not feel supported or protected by the school and it is not uncommon for some families to have little faith in a school’s actual or likely response to bullying. In some cases, fear of retaliation from the bully or the bully’s family can mean that parents of a bullied child will go outside the school to seek counselling for their child, attempt to deal with the bully’s parents themselves, shift schools, and/or don’t report the bullying to the school.
What is bullying and what is not bullying
Single acts of hostility or aggression should not be defined as bullying, and neither should mutual conflict where there is no imbalance of power. The key component of bullying is psychological or physical threats or harm that occur repeatedly over time, creating an ongoing pattern of abuse. This difference needs to be clearly explained to the school community. However, all instances of hostility or aggression need to be followed up, ensuring that these unacceptable behaviours are not tolerated and/or do not escalate into bullying.
The school’s intolerance of bullying should be communicated through policies and procedures matched with clear actions to minimise and stop bullying. Ineffectual school interventions and serious cases of bullying can lead to police involvement and legal action. Policies should strongly recommend that parents of a bullied child refrain from approaching the child who is believed to be the bully or their family.
Unfortunately, bullying has been prevalent in schools for many generations. It is important to recognise that some parents may have been bullied at school, or subjected to violence and could feel fragile about their experiences, leading to strong emotional reactions when told their child has been bullied.
Strategies to assist the child who is being bullied
Whole school strategies
- Ensure your school firmly implements a no-tolerance bullying policy, which is matched with the processes used to deal with bullying. It is important also to include a no-tolerance to witnessing bullying rule. That is, those who witness bullying but do not report it will receive a consequence. If you do not believe your school policy is effective, raise it with relevant senior staff privately or at a staff meeting. Ensure that no-tolerance bullying policies are clearly communicated to children, teachers, parents and other members of the school community through newsletters, websites, school assemblies, staff meetings, and in the classroom. The National Safe Schools Framework can help guide policy implementation or modification. The framework consists of nationally agreed principles and appropriate responses to bullying to create a safe and supportive school environment. Further tips on school policy can be found at http://www.kenrigby.net/ and www.friendlyschools.com.au.
- Promote values of tolerance and acceptance. Classroom values such as a love of learning, along with respect, harmony, honesty and responsibility help instill in children a clear set of guiding principles. It can be helpful to explicitly incorporate classroom activities around these values to embed the meaning of these concepts. For Australian schools, values based curriculum ideas, lesson plans, and interactive web-based programs can be accessed at http://www.curriculum.edu.au/values.
- Implement pro-social strategies, from the school principal to beginning students that promote positive social interactions, and foster responsibility and power sharing. For example:
- Be a positive role model to all children. Ensure the school leadership and all teachers provide positive role models by using their power in a fair and balanced way during interactions with students, each other, parents and other school personnel. Work hard to foster an environment of shared respect— respect for the teacher and respect for the child.
- Use school-wide policies in child friendly language such as ‘It is not swell to yell’ to promote a sense of calm and safety at school. It is important for all school staff to abide by these policies and for teachers to model and manage their own reactions.
- Take all reports of bullying seriously. Ensure all cases of bullying are brought to the attention of the school principal and other relevant staff members. Parents of both the bully and the bullied child should also be informed.
- Ensure staff supervision in the playground and in known bullying areas is appropriate. Survey students to identify key areas in the school where bullying may occur, or distribute a map of the school and have students colour in areas or ‘hot spots’ where they may feel unsafe or uncomfortable or where bullying may occur. Additional teacher supervision of hot spots and ‘blind’ spots behind buildings may help reduce the incidence of bullying. There are a number of bullying surveys available, see www.bullyingnoway.com.au
- Use methods other than punishment. In the majority of cases, punitive measures do not reduce bullying but, rather, lead the bully to use methods that are harder to detect and typically more harmful. Children who break school rules or hurt another child should be given appropriate consequences but other measures should also be put in place. Effective methods are discussed below.
Download the full version of this ebooklet below to access more strategies including recommendations for how to help with:
- Whole school strategies (continued)
- Involve all parents
- Whole class strategies
- Individual strategies
- Inform the parent of the bully
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