Dr Andy Raffles
Bullied or Bully?
Bullying at school
As we all start to re-engage with a more normal life, and our children return to school they will re-establish friendship groups and peer groups. Inevitably there will be social pressures on our children and young people and as they share their experiences of the last 12 or so months inevitably challenging behaviours will emerge, some of which may have resulted from the relative isolation they have experienced in this time. Amongst these will be bullying. Both the victim of bullying and the bully will need to be understood.
In recent weeks significant concerns in respect of sexual harassment in schools have emerged and as a result this is a very topical and timely issue.
How you as a parent or carer approach the school about a bullying situation can make a big difference. Stay calm and remember the goal is for the bullying behaviour to stop.
All schools have a legal duty to keep your child safe from harm. This includes having ways of dealing with all types of bullying: physical, verbal, social, emotional, harassment of any sort and online. Different parts of the UK have different procedures to manage the challenges.
Signs your child is being bullied
From not wanting to go to school to unexplained marks on their bodies, bullying can present itself in a number of ways. How will I know if my child is being bullied at school?
Does your child seem reluctant to go to school? Every child and young person has the right to have an off day, and they’re not always too enthusiastic about the idea of going to school. The problem arises when these days start happening with a higher frequency and they begin to go to extreme measures to avoid school.
Illness is a frequent result of bullying, and in particular headache. The effect of headache on schooling was more pronounced for adolescents than for primary age children. Compared to children aged 6-11 years, teens 15-17 were more likely to have poor attendance at school as a result of head pain. School-age children and adolescents who have frequent or severe headaches appear to be more likely to experience school-related problems and absenteeism. Compared to children and adolescents without headache, those whose parents reported the condition are more likely to have poor school attendance, missing at least 11 days of school in the previous 12 months. Young people with headaches were also more likely to have school-reported problems, meaning parents were called by school officials to discuss issues with their child.
Although it is acknowledged that some children may experience difficulty coping with pain, and as a result lose time off school, many of these young people have migraine, a disorder that not only causes headache attacks, but increases sensitivity to light and noise, can produce nausea or vomiting, and may distort their ability to see, speak, move, or think normally, all of which can affect school performance and attendance.
However despite the frequency of migraine as a cause – whether diagnosed or not, headache as a result of bullying is a very frequent occurrence.
We all know children can play roughly, if your child starts showing a more than average number of bruises (and they’re making a particular effort to conceal them), it may be time to sit down and have a chat.
Have you noticed a change in behaviour? Ongoing bullying can cause lasting changes in a child’s behaviour. If you notice any signs that your child is depressed, acting up with family or friends, has difficulty eating, sleeping and being social, bullying could potentially be the cause.
Are they ‘losing’ their possessions? If a bully envies another child’s possession, they could just take it. Other times, where jealousy is not a factor, items like schoolbooks or uniforms are destroyed in order to embarrass a victim. If your child appears to be losing things more than usual or their prized possessions appear damaged, it could be a sign of bullying.
Ongoing bullying has its roots in communication with children. More often than not, children will not seek out an adult because they fear this will make their situation more difficult. Others feel ashamed for being unable to tackle the problem alone. A watchful eye and open lines of communication can help you spot the initial signs that your child is being bullied. Then you can take the appropriate steps to resolve the issue. Let them know you support them and there is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Signs your child is a bully
No parent wants to think of their child as a bully, partly because of widespread ideas about the home a bully must come from. Most assume that a bully comes from an aggressive, negligent or less than loving household, but this is not always the case. Unfortunately, sometimes strong character traits simply go unchecked and can cause children to become destructive and blind to the pain of others. There’s always an opportunity to steer a child back onto a kinder path if you recognise the signs.
Their actions express a need to always be dominant and in control. Does your child always have to be the leader of the pack? If your child uses anger or intimidation to retain this control and becomes aggressive if they don’t get their way, this could be a sign that your child is a bully.
They become aggressive and lash out when angry or embarrassed. When people (not just children) can’t control strong emotions, they tend to lash out and spread the misery around. In places like school, where they may target a weaker individual than themselves, this can make them a bully.
They may show an inability to take responsibility for their actions. Bullies typically blame their actions and the resulting consequences on others. Even when they’re confronted with their bullying behaviour many lay blame with the victim for the resulting punishment, condemning them for ‘telling’ rather than seeing fault with their own actions.
They show a lack of empathy when others are in pain. While some children are definitely more sensitive than others, if your child shows a repetitive unwillingness to show compassion for the pain of others, it could be a sign that they have the potential to be a bully.
Bullies tend to hang out with other bullies. We’re not quite as blinded by the actions of other children as we are our own. If you get the impression that their friends are the type to bully other children, then chances are your child will join the party in favour of being their next victim.
Read this next article for guidance on what to do next if any of the above rings alarm bells for you with your child. Bullied or Bully (Part 2)