Tackling bullying

The power of bullying is often in creating shame and secrecy. Breaking the silence is the most important step in overcoming it.

Bullying is very often experienced as traumatic. This is not just to do with the speed and efficacy of the intervention, which is crucial. It also depends on the nature of the child and the child’s history. If there has been previous trauma, or bullying in the past, for example, the child may be more vulnerable and prone to trauma. Sensitive children may also be more likely to be targets of bullying precisely because it will likely affect them more.

Where there is trauma, seeking professional help may be life-changing, and this may be in the form of a counsellor, or therapist. Many services are overwhelmed, particularly post-Covid, and it may be worth finding out if there is a charity in your area offering therapy for children in need of support. Some mental health charities employ volunteers and trainees to make this possible.

In general, however, if we can spot the signs, and if schools, or communities, take timely and effective action, trauma shouldn’t have to be the outcome. This is where whole-community education around bullying is important. Signs that a child may be experiencing bullying may be avoidance of school, new anxiety, or distress, withdrawal, struggling to eat, or sleep, unexplained injuries, belongings getting “lost”, or damaged, changes in their appearance, underperforming at school, or changes in their behaviour. It is important to understand the difference between bullying and a simple falling out with friends. Bullying is repetitive and persistent, where a fall-out is a one-off incident.

Increasingly, a whole school approach is becoming the norm. Education increases awareness and helps us to spot the signs early on. Building strong relationships between parents, staff and pupils is also key, paving the way for easy communication channels if things become challenging and tense. Engaging the students themselves in the prevention of bullying means that they are less likely to join in, or become bystanders, and more likely to take action and speak out against it. Knowing which adults in the school, or community, they can talk to safely about what they have witnessed – or experienced – is, again, crucial. Involving the whole community in these ways may prevent crises and change lives.

The Department of Education recommends that all schools have an Anti-Bullying Policy in place. Some schools may also have a “Buddy Scheme”, or “Mentoring Programme”, in which older pupils are trained in listening skills and are able to act as support for those who need it. It is important, too, to remember that there is no shame in being bullied – although bullying often works by creating shame. Many people are bullied, and most of us are vulnerable to it. It is not the victim’s fault and talking about it – however frightening – can make all the difference. The power of bullying is often in creating shame and secrecy. Breaking the silence is the most important step in overcoming it.

In the words of one young person,

“You are worth so much more than you think. Being bullied is scary, painful and really hard, but you don’t have to suffer in silence. Speak to someone you trust to let them know what is happening and together, you can work to make it better.” (Anonymous, from the charity Young Minds)

If you are a parent with a child who is, or may be, being bullied, talk to your child’s school. For schools wanting to take further action against bullying, the Anti-Bullying Alliance run a whole-school programme, United Against Bullying, helping you to tackle bullying as a whole community.

By Sarah Nabarro