School Bullying Q&A

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Julie Floyd at 15/4/2019

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Are some kids more at risk than others of being bullied?
What warning signs of bullying should I look out for?
Why don’t kids like asking adults for help?
What do I do if my child says they’ve been bullied at school?
What are some anti-bullying strategies my child can use at school?

Is your child being bullied at school or do you think they might be at risk? We’ve answered some of parents’ and carers’ most-asked questions about bullying, the signs to look out for and ways in which you can help.

On the face of it, the playground looks like a happy, if crazy-noisy, place. But like an iceberg there’s a lot going on beneath the surface that adults can’t see; it’s like a secret underbelly of school life with its own secret codes of behaviour. Teachers don’t always detect the undercurrents of cliques, hierarchies, power dynamics and bullying that are going on around them. Bullying can take many forms, including name-calling, deliberate exclusion, extortion, mocking, hitting, rumour-mongering… How ever bullying rears its ugly head, it is never acceptable. Take a look at these tips to help prevent or act on school bullying situations.

Are some kids more at risk than others of being bullied?

Generally speaking, kids who tick one or more of these factors are more likely to be bullied.

  • Those who are perceived by their peers as being different in some way, have a distinguishing physical feature, or due to socio-economic issues such as being unable to afford an item that’s cool.
  • Kids who have few or no friends are often, sadly, soft targets.
  • Those who are depressed, anxious or have little confidence and low self-esteem.
  • Kids who have difficulty getting along with others, are seen as annoying and antagonise others to get attention.

What warning signs of bullying should I look out for?

If any of these signs are present, have a talk with your child and try to get to the bottom of it. Also ask any carers, nannies or babysitters to be on the lookout if you suspect something’s up. It’s also important to persevere with your questioning as children are often reluctant to spill the beans.

  • Regular headaches or tummy aches, saying they feel ill to avoid going to school; frequent attempts to chuck sickies.
  • Lost or damaged clothing or books, or missing items such as tech, jewellery or toys.
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Often being hungry after school as they are having their food or money stolen.
  • Sudden cease in talking about friends, loss of friendships and avoiding social situations.
  • A decrease in confidence and self-esteem.
  • Self-destructive behaviours, such as cutting or head banging.

Why don’t kids like asking adults for help?

There are many reasons – here are some of the main ones:

  • In the primary school playground’s “thou shalt not dob” is high on the unspoken kiddy commandments. When kids report bullying to a teacher or carer, they often fear retribution from the those who bullied them, or worry that they will be called “dobber” or “snitch”.
  • They may be ashamed for adults to know why they were bullied.
  • They may worry that their parents will be react angrily or take matters into their own hands.
  • They may feel like no-one will understand, or nothing will be done anyway.

What do I do if my child says they’ve been bullied at school?

Firstly, praise your child for telling you. Reassure them that it is not their fault and that you are going to do all you can to help.

  • Help restore their confidence by informing them that they are not alone and most people have been bullied at some point in their lives.
  • Do not contact the bully's family directly, even if they are friends or you’re on good terms. This usually only meets with defensiveness and denial.
  • Do not approach or threaten the child who has bullied yours (tempting as it may be).
  • Even though you naturally feel angry and distressed, stay calm and rational in front of your child to set a good example for them.
  • Make an appointment to speak with your child’s teacher; it’s not a good idea to just turn up and make demands.
  • Ask about the school’s anti-bullying policies and ensure they are being adhered to.
  • Inform the school in writing of ongoing bullying incidents and the dates they occurred so you both have a written record.

What are some anti-bullying strategies my child can use at school?

  • Avoid the child who is causing problems, such as using a different toilet if they are nearby. Where possible, buddy up with a friend in the playground, on the bus, or wherever the child who is bullying may be, so you are never alone.
  • Don’t react. Explain to your child that it's natural to get upset or cry but that’s giving the bully the response they want. Have your child repeat in their head like a mantra: “Give them nothing...” Learning not to react is a great skill for keeping off of a bully's radar.
  • Don’t retaliate. If you lash out the chances are you’ll get in trouble too. Sometimes kids find it useful to practice calming strategies such as counting backward from 30, deep breathing or running their hands under cool water.
  • Ignore the bully. Firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop, then walk away. By ignoring the bully, you're showing that you don't care. Eventually, the bully will give up bothering you.

For more information, go to Kids Helpline.

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