Bullying can have a huge impact on a child’s wellbeing, for example causing or magnifying anxiety.
What is Bullying?
Bullying occurs when someone uses the frequent and continuous misuse of power in relationships, with a purposeful intent to cause psychological harm to another. There are four types of bullying a child may experience:
- Verbal: For example name calling, putting someone down, or expressing harmful threats.
- Physical: Physical bullying behaviour may include poking, pushing, tripping, spitting, kicking, punching, making rude faces or hand gestures, or deliberately damaging someone’s belongings,.
- Social: This may be more covert than physical bullying, and the victim may experience lying, being the butt of unkind jokes, having rumours spread about them, being left out on purpose or deliberately embarrassed or shamed in front of others.
- Cyber: This includes the use of technology to cause harm to someone else, for example, sending hurtful messages, pictures and comments, or posting or sharing demeaning videos.
How Common is it for Children to experience Bullying?
According to the research bullying has become more common, particularly in schools.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare conducted a study in 2016 and found that 7 out of 10 children aged 12-13 years experienced 1 bullying-like behaviour within a year.
According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2015, 1 in 5 year 4 students experience bullying on a weekly basis.
Further research identified that cyberbullying has increased by 32% in that last decade, and is still rising. Cyberbullying is also responsible of at least three suicides per week in Australian youth, which is the highest cause of death for Australians aged between 5-17 years old.
What is the Impact of Bullying?
If your child is experiencing bullying it can cause them a lot of pain and be incredibly hurtful. You may notice the following in your child:
- Adapting a negative mindset about themselves;
- Avoiding wanting to go to school;
- Having negative thoughts about hurting themselves;
- Feeling suicidal;
- Losing their appetite;
- Finding it hard to cope;
- Having difficulty sleeping;
- Struggling to concentrate on tasks, eg school work;
- Experiencing tummy aches, headaches and feeling unwell;
- Feeling unsafe, afraid, hopeless, powerless, out of control, sad, angry and confused.
The long-term impact of bullying can include a negative perspective on their self-image, as well problems with anxiety.
How can Bullying Cause Anxiety?
Research describes anxiety as: “The body’s physical response to a threat or perceived threat. It causes a pounding heart, rapid breathing, butterflies in the stomach and burst of energy as well as mental responses such as excessive fears, worries or obsessive thinking”.
When a child has experienced bullying previously, they may become hypervigilant or overly cautious that the situation may happen again or perhaps be even worse.
It can cause their brain to go into flight or fight mode more often, and they may become fearful to possibilities that they may have not experienced. Your child may automatically start to think that they will be embarrassed again and seen negatively by others. They may experience fears that others will judge them, and as a result become extremely concerned about their appearance and how they behave, in an effort to avoid being bullied.
At times, bullying can cause children to avoid social situations. You may notice your child wanting to avoid school, parties, social events, or going to the shops. While it is understandable that a child exhibits avoidance behaviours due to not wanting to feel hurt, judged and embarrassed, ultimately these behaviours soon become unhelpful as your child may adapt the maladaptive belief that bullying will happen to them again because it has happened previously.
If a child has experienced severe bullying, particularly physical bullying, it may negatively impact their wellbeing, causing problems such as anxiety, flashbacks, bad dreams, and becoming socially withdrawn.
How to Help Your Child Cope with Bullying
Helping your child to cope with bullying involves teaching them the following five steps:
- Ignore / Don’t respond to the bully. Sometimes giving a bully attention is like putting fuel on a match. Instead, try putting water on the match by ignoring the bully and not responding.
- Walk Away. If the bullying continues, walk away from the bully and take yourself out of the situation.
- Ask the person to stop. If step one and two haven’t been successful, politely and confidently ask the bully to stop.
- Ask the person to stop in a firm voice. Communicate that you would like the bullying to stop with a firm and confident voice.
- Report to an adult. If the steps above have not worked, let a teacher, parent, or another adult know what has been happening.
For ideas on helping your child to manage their anxiety, please visit my other article Understanding Childhood Anxiety.
Sometimes children may need extra help to cope with bullies, such as seeing a counsellor.
Therapy is a safe, non-judgmental space where children are able to communicate freely and receive support to help them on their journey to becoming their wholesome happy selves. In addition to assistance in developing their self-esteem, self-confidence and ability to regulate their emotions, they canl also learn practical ways to better manage anxiety and cope with bullies.
Author: Larissa Watter, BA Counselling.
Larissa Watter is a Brisbane counsellor, passionate about working with children. She is currently furthering her studies by undertaking a Certificate in Child Centred Play Therapy.
To make an appointment with Larissa Watter try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.