What is bullying?

Bullying – repetitive aggressive behaviour aimed at harming someone – is one of the most stressful experiences for a child or young person. Bullying usually involves verbal, physical or online behaviours that are intimidating and upsetting.

A bully will focus on a physical feature such as racial background, disability, gender identity or behaviours. Usually this is because the bully is very insecure or jealous themselves and tries to boost their social status by putting someone else down.

Bullying can include:

  • physical: pushing or hitting
  • verbal: name calling, or making fun of someone
  • indirect emotional bullying: wearing away at someone’s self-esteem and social confidence by starting rumours, excluding or mocking. 

In the worst-case scenario kids can feel very trapped and, in rare cases, can even feel like life is not worth living. So bullying needs to be taken seriously.

Online bullying

In recent years online bullying or cyber bullying has become more and more a part of life for many kids.  One in five will experience it to some extent. It’s hard for parents to be aware when the bullying is hidden away online.

What are the signs to look out for?

Signs can include:

  • not wanting to go to school
  • withdrawing from friends
  • not sleeping well
  • excessive worrying about school
  • angry outbursts
  • tearfulness
  • not doing so well at school.

What can you do?

  1. Listen carefully, tell your child or young person that it's not their fault, that you’re taking their situation seriously, they’re not alone and are entitled to feel safe.
  2. Develop some strategies to manage the bullying. You can try to ignore the bullying behaviour entirely, which is not easy, but it takes away the power from the bully when they get no response. Usually it’s better not to get into a direct fight with the bully but it is worth asking the bully directly to stop the behaviour.
  3. If the bullying continues, write down what is happening and get in touch with a trusted teacher or the school principal. Keep a record of bullying behaviour, including who, when and what exactly happened.
  4. If the bullying is online, take screenshots. Try blocking the bully. If you have to, close your social media accounts and reopen them with a new name.

If you need more support

There are some excellent resources for managing bullying. The Australian government has the e-safety initiative, including the opportunity to register complaints. Headspace and Kidshelpline also have excellent resources to support you.

For schools

There are also steps that schools can take to build a culture that doesn’t tolerate bullying, including clear ramifications for bullying behaviour. Discussing bullying openly in the classroom and encouraging bystanders to speak out (be ‘upstanders’) and call out bullying helps builds a safe school culture that has zero tolerance for bullying. 

You can follow Dr Blashki on Twitter.

Related reading: How to support your teenager experiencing a mental health condition

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