What to do about bullies

Survival of the nastiest should not be the law of the schoolyard. Child health expert Erin Erceg has this advice on beating school bullying.

Bullies have made great fodder for stories, from the vile Flashman in the 1857 novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays to the testosterone-laden sports jocks in Revenge Of The Nerds. In fiction, the bullies get their just desserts and the bullied ultimately get the girls. But in real life the effects of school bullying can be much more serious.

In May 2007 the NSW Supreme Court awarded $1million damages to 18-year-old Ben Cox, when it judged he’d been made an anxious, depressed recluse with no friends and no chance of ever being employed as a result of the unchecked violent bullying he endured at age six in primary school.

Bullying is defined as “any offensive or aggressive behaviour directed at another person, repeated over time”. It can be anything from name-calling to insulting mobile phone texts and Internet posts (called cyberbullying) to physical violence.

In Australia, around one in six school students report being bullied at least once a week and one in 20 say they have bullied others. It happens more in primary school, and more to boys than girls.

“Although the rates of bullying have not changed significantly over time, it’s only relatively recently that the extent and the impact of bullying have been recognised and appreciated,” says Erin Erceg, the co-director of the Child Health Promotion Research Centre at Edith Cowan University.

“Bullying by peers is now recognised as a major social problem which can have serious longer term consequences on a victim’s mental, social, physical and emotional health.”

In light of this, schools across Australia are developing programs to help stamp out bullying. But what can parents do if their child is bullied or is the playground bully?

  • Not wanting to go to school and complaining of headaches or stomach aches.

  • Often “losing” things such as clothing or school work and asking for extra lunch or pocket money.

  • Having bruises or cuts they won’t tell you how they got.

  • Being generally unhappy and irritable and having sleeping difficulties.

  • Having no friends to share free time with and being rarely invited to parties or other social activities.

  • Lower school performance.

  • Ask if there’s anything you can do to help make the situation better, and remind your child it’s not their fault this has happened.

  • Make sure they know how to get help and support at school, then talk with their teachers to find out exactly what will be done.

  • At home, help your child work out a plan to improve the situation, so it gives them some sense of control.

  • Keep a record yourself of what happens each day and keep in contact with the school to make sure any changes are still working.

  • Talk with your child about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, for example, you should not tease people because they look or talk differently.

  • Work with your family to set simple rules about how to treat each other.

  • Help your child make friends by getting them socialising with other kids in the neighbourhood and inviting friends over for visits.

  • Improve their self esteem by encouraging them to have a go at new activities and thinking about their abilities in a realistic way.

  • Ask a teacher for help.

  • Tell the person bullying others that what they’re doing is bullying.

  • Refuse to join in with the bully and walk away.

  • Support the person being bullied.

People who are alone are more likely to be bullied, so tell your kids to be aware of other pupils who are left out or on their own in the playground.

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