Family Therapy UK

Bullying at School


Bullying at School

Bullying happens in all schools. Some schools seem reluctant to admit this, but if your child complains of bullying do take it seriously.  Unfortunately, many children do not share the fact they are being bullied.  Children who are bullied are often frightened or feel ashamed. If you find you child is reluctant to attend school or their work begins to deteriorate, always consider that they may be bullied.  Other signs are upset tummy's before school, headaches and an increase in minor illness.  Younger children can become clingy and have difficulty sleeping at night whilst older children can become withdrawn and reduce their socialising.  If you notice a marked difference in your child's behaviour between term and non-term time it is worth investigating how they are coping at school.  In serious cases, children can become depressed, very anxious or suicidal.  Bullying needs to be taken very seriously.

Surveys have shown that bullying is very common.  It is surprisingly more common at primary level where one in four children is bullied.  At secondary level about one in ten children are bullied.  Children who are different or stand out for some reason are more likely to be bullied. For instance, very sensitive children, children with a different ethnic background, overweight children, children who have a disfigurement, children who are very small or socially isolated are more likely to be bullied.  Children with learning disabilities, those whose parents have divorced or died often get bullied too.  Bullying can last for a short time or can follow a child throughout their school career.  Children can be very cruel towards each other.

Bullying takes several forms.  It can include threats, exclusion from groups or activities, "dirty looks", racist remarks, name calling, thumping and kicking, being pushed or bumped into, being called names the child is particularly sensitive about - like, "fat bitch", "spotty", "gay", "freak" , "thicko" etc.  Boys often resort to physical bullying, whilst girls can be more psychologically targeted.  Children who are bullied, often bully other children.  They may bully younger or smaller school children or their siblings.  Some children become very disruptive at home because they hold their feelings in all day at school and release their anger at home where they feel safer.  Children who experience aggression and violence in the home sometimes become bullies.

Internet and Mobile Phone Bullying

The internet has offered new opportunities for bullying. Children can be targeted through chat programmes such as MSN or Yahoo Messenger. It is becoming common for children to be bullied through text messages on mobile phones and in some instances, web-sites are set-up to embarrass and humiliate bullied children. If your child is being bullied, ask them about internet and phone bullying.

School policy

All schools should have an anti-bullying policy.  Some pay more attention to them than others.  If you suspect your child is being bullied, ask the school about their anti-bullying policy.  Some school have very well developed programmes that include other children mentoring and looking after fellow-pupils who are bullied.  It is a good idea to have an identified member of staff who will take an interest in the needs of your child and who the child can comfortably approach should they need to.  This person should not just make themselves available, but should actively check with the child from time to time that they are not still being bullied.  Sometimes getting the child or children who do the bullying together with their victims can help, but work like this needs to be followed up. One-off meetings will probably not be effective in themselves.  Getting parents involved is important too.  Class discussion highlights the problem for pupils generally, and can act to reduce the incidence of bullying in school.

During any programme a school may set up to deal with the bullying of your child, keep in contact with them and keep talking to your child.  Try not to overdo the contact with the school or the questioning of your child, as this can raise anxieties in your child and sour relationships with the school.  This is a delicate matter of balance.

In serious and persistent cases of bullying, expect the school to act to protect your child by excluding the bullies.  If bullying continues outside school, contact the police.

If your child is being bullied and you do not find the school helpful, ask to speak to the form teacher or year head.  You can also speak to a special needs teacher called a SENCO (special educational needs co-ordinator) or pastoral support staff.  You can speak to the school nurse or doctor, ask to speak to the schools education welfare officer or educational psychologist or report the matter to the education department.  Sometimes, children who are bullied are not very popular with teachers either, and teachers may overlook or "not see" behaviour directed to that child.  Generally you should receive a sympathetic and helpful response from most schools, particularly as awareness has grown over the emotional consequences of being bullied.  In some areas there are groups who will mediate between a school and parents if relationships become soured.  These are often called "parent partnership" schemes.  Your local education authority will inform about these if you ask them. Children over the age of 13 in the UK will have access to a Connexions Service worker who may be able to arrange counselling and help for your child. Every UK secondary school has a Connexions Officer.

How to help you child

Take what they say seriously.  Many children keep quiet because they believe that if they tell anyone the bullying may get worse.  Do not underestimate the fear of being known as a "snitch" or "grass".  Try to remain calm with your child and make sure they know that you intend to deal with the matter in a supportive and sensible way.  Let them know what you are going to do and who you are going to speak to.  When you speak to teaching staff, make sure they are aware of your child's fears and feelings.  In serious cases of bullying, you will have to act to protect your child, even if they do not want you to.  Whatever happens, keep calm, try not to get angry with your own child and don't react in a way that escalates the problem.

Try to maintain your child in school and allow the teaching staff some short time to tackle the problem.  In some circumstances, approaching the parents of the child who is bullying will help - it depends on how controlled you are and how receptive the other parents are.  Schools may arrange meeting between parents.

Get a clear picture of who is doing the bullying, where  and when it happens, what your child was doing before it happened and how they responded during and after the bullying. Try to get a clear picture of what happens during the bullying - what names are being used, what your child is teased about, whether they were physically  assaulted or threatened in any way.  Find out if your child has made someone angry or fallen out  with a friend or has taken up an interest that has made them unpopular or stand out. This will give you clues as to how to help your child manage and avoid situations in which they are bullied.  Getting your child to think about their behaviour and responses can be very useful. This is not to excuse bullying, or place undue responsibility on the child who is bullied, but practical strategies can often help children avoid being bullied. Some bullying takes the form of extortion - stealing school dinner money for instance - check this out with your child and ask if other children are being bullied or threatened too.

Be very clear with your child that the bullying is not their fault.  Be careful when you discuss strategies with them that they don't end up feeling blamed.  With a distressed child, this can be difficult.  Be careful not to make your child feel ashamed because they have not been able to deal with the bullying themselves.  The common belief that bullies will stop bullying if they are confronted by the ones they are bullying is too simplistic.  Bullies often pick on children who are very sensitive or do not like fighting.  If your child feels criticised by you for not fighting back, they will stop talking to you and are then more likely to develop psychological complications.  You may not like the fact your child is very sensitive and cannot defend themselves, but they need to be supported by your strength and wisdom.

Additional help

Children who have been traumatised by bullies and develop difficulties and fears about going back to school can be helped by a number of professionals.  Teachers, Connexions workers and education welfare officers can design packages of help to reintegrate children back into school.  Educational psychologists may play a role in this too.  A school should draw up a pastoral care programme that identifies your child's difficulties and offers support and advice to you and your child. Where the psychological problems are severe, your doctor can refer you to a child mental health service.

There are a number of support groups for helping children and parents deal with bullying and the consequences of bullying such as web-sites listed below.  Check out the Getting Extra Help article to find out how to get additional information.

Web Pages:

Bullying Online (Advice for parents and children)

Kidscape (Advice for parents and children)

Dennis Neill

Family Therapist

Family Therapy UK

1st May 2008

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