A YouGov (yougov.co.uk) study found that two in five children are so badly picked on that it’s affected their grades and left them frightened of putting their hands up in class. Bullying is every child’s – and parent’s – worst nightmare, and can be the cause of serious mental health issues. As 10 million children went back to school in September, a poll suggests that almost half worried about returning to class after the holidays because they felt unsafe.
- “If you’re concerned about a child, it’s important to help them feel they’re safe to talk to you,” explains Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, Priory child and adolescent psychiatrist (priorygroup.com). “With a young child, start with telling them a story of someone being bullied, how it’s wrong and how the victim got help and it all stopped. This can lead on to a parent asking the youngster if anything in the story is similar to events happening to them in school.”
- “With a teenager be more open with them and explain that you’re concerned because there’s a change in their behaviour,” adds Dr van Zwanenberg. “Reiterate to them that if they communicate any issues with you, you’ll check with them what they want you to do about it – so that they know you won’t over-react or do anything that in their eyes, will make the situation worse. This reassurance often helps a young person to open up, but the adult must honour what they’ve said. If trust isn’t established then getting involved in the problem will prove far more tricky.”
- If a primary-aged child is being bullied , ask to meet with the class teacher and the head of pastoral care. It never helps to go in ‘on the attack’, it’s better to approach the situation with questions such as “Do you think my child could be being bullied?”, “Do they have friends they play with at break times?”, “Do you have a bulling policy?”, or “Do you think any part of your policy might help my child?”
- “For a teenager, it’s important for them to be involved in deciding how the situation is addressed,” says Dr van Zwanenberg. “It might be that they’re happy for you to communicate with the school over email but they don’t want you going in. They may prefer to go to a teacher they trust directly to raise the issue. They may ask that they’re kept anonymous in the measures taken. If the bullying continues, and the school doesn’t appear to be taking appropriate action, I’d suggest you consider discussing the matter as a safeguarding issue with the school and using the ‘safeguarding’ term, and, if this isn’t effective, report the bullying to safeguarding within your local social services.”
- “If the nasty behaviour involves harassment or an illegal act, involve the authorities,” advises Dr van Zwanenberg. “On many occasions I’ve heard in my clinic that the police talking to a perpetrator as a warning ends the bullying swiftly.”
- Dr van Zwanenberg urges parents to be alert to changes in their child’s behaviour. “If a young child is being bullied, they ‘live in the moment’, so are likely to show signs of distress as they reach the school environment,” she says. “Older children may lose self-esteem rapidly and isolate themselves more and become irritable at home. They’ll worry about the bullying much of the time. Adolescents often find their sleep is affected as they lie awake worrying about the next day. If you’re concerned about the young person being at risk of harming themselves, explain to them that you want to support them in a way they feel comfortable with. Think about what you can put in place to give them things to look forward to.”
“Bullying is a serious matter and is linked with distinct, adverse effects later on,” says Dr Trudie Rossouw, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory’s North London Hospital. “There’s a significant increase in young people that we see in mental health services who suffered harm mentally as a consequence of bullying. Nowadays, it’s no longer limited to the school playground – it continues online, leaving young people feeling unsafe even when they’re in their own bedrooms. It’s essential that it’s picked up early and addressed in the initial stages, in order to prevent emotional damage taking place.”
Frequently, young people don’t report bullying, as they fear that the school will do nothing or, in the worst case scenario, that they’ll be exposed and targeted even more. The secret to managing bullying is having robust policies in place, creating a culture of safety where people can report it and establishing a safeguarding system for those who have made disclosures. Never leave it up to the victimto deal with their bullies alone.
For more information and advice on this sensitive topic, visit priorygroup.com