Bullying In Primary Schools

Bullying in primary school is a painful and sensitive issue that affects thousands of children and families.  There is an air of secrecy about bullying that often means that the victim is reluctant to tell others and so the bullying continues unchecked.  For the child being bullied, there is a sense of fear, frustration, social exclusion or isolation, humiliation – all of which contribute to a loss of self confidence and self esteem and many other problems.  These problems can range from stress, poor school work, physical illness, moodiness, depression and more.  There are many types of bullying including:

  • Verbal bullying – where the bully verbally abuses the victim by directing negative comments about their physical appearance, their family, race, religion, abilities and more.  Sometimes verbal bullying can manifest itself as the bully spreading vicious rumours about the victim.
  • Physical Bullying – a bully can often physically hurt their victims. It may be disguised as horse play but it results in injury to the victim or damage to their belongings.
  • Gesture Bullying – a child can be a victim of bullying that takes the form of gestures or body language.  Threatening gestures such as shaking a fist are a form of bullying.  Similarly, mimicking the victims walk, speech, appearance etc., is also a form of bullying.
  • Bullying by exclusion – this is a very hurtful and socially damaging form of bullying.  A bully may organise activities and social groups and exclude the victim.  This may often not be recognised as bullying but it clearly causes the victim to feel isolated from their peer group and is very damaging to their self confidence.
  • Cyber bullying – in this modern age of texting, sending emails, facebook and so on, bullying can also be carried out without the bully or victim being in close proximity.  Bullying in this manner is very intrusive as it can occur even when the victim is in the safety of his/her own home.
  •  Other – some bullying takes the form of extorting money or lunch from the victim.  The bully may force the victim to give up his/her lunch or lunch money, to give up their homework so that the bully can copy this, to give away their stationary or books and so on.  The victim feels threatened by the bully and the possible consequences of not ‘giving in’ to the bully and then feels angry and frustrated with themselves when they do ‘give in’ to the bully.

So who is the typical bully?  Contrary to popular belief, the bully is not necessarily the biggest or strongest boy or girl in the class.  The bully may often seem to be very demure and gentle and it can come as a shock to the teachers and/or parents to find that this child is bullying someone.  Often children that engage in bullying are seeking attention due to a lack of love, support and/or attention from their parents.   Perhaps their own parents or siblings may bully them – the bully then believes that bullying is an effective and acceptable way to get people to do what you want.  Bullying can result from the bully being jealous or resentful of the victim – perhaps they have attentive parents and the bully does not, perhaps the victim is a high achiever at school and the bully feels inadequate in their own school work, the reasons can be many.  The fact of the matter is however, that the bully must be stopped and if necessary, supported in identifying why they are engaging in being a bully and how to stop this.

Who is the typical victim of bullying?  Again, we perhaps envisage the fat child, the child who wears big glasses, the ‘geek’ and so on but this is incorrect.  The truth is that there is no ‘typical’ victim.  A bully has no justification in his/her actions and so nothing sets the bullied child apart as being typical or deserving of the bullying.  Bullying is completely unjust and the victim, while they often blame themselves, is in no way to blame for the bully’s behaviour.

What can our primary schools do to help to stamp out bullying and react effectively when a bully is victimising one or many of their students?  Most schools have an anti-bullying policy.  In fact, every school should have this.  The anti-bullying policy should outline clearly the procedures that are in place for dealing with complaints of bullying.  This will also outline how and when the teacher or school staff will intervene and how they will deal with bullying should it be brought to their attention.  Many schools operate a system where they encourage other children to report bullying anonymously whether they themselves are the victim or they feel that someone else is.  If you suspect that your child is being bullied at school, consult the school and follow their procedure for reporting and dealing with bullying.  It is not advisable to approach the bully directly – this should only be done through the school itself and the bullying procedures that they have in place.  Schools too can play their part in reducing the opportunity for bullying.  Research has found that most bullying takes place when there is insufficient adult supervision of children.  In primary schools, research by Trinity college showed that over 70% of children who reported bullying said it took place in the playground.  Schools can help by keeping a vigilant watch on playground activity and situations which could indicate bullying.

As parents, we can do a lot for our children.  Children with good self esteem and good confidence are better able to deal with bullies. As parents, we can help our children to be confident by encouraging and praising our children as often as possible.  We can also build a very strong connection with our children by spending time with them, taking an interest in their activities, being affectionate and caring and most importantly, chatting and listening to our children.  If we have a strong connection with our children, then they are more likely to feel that they can talk to us should they find themselves in a difficult situation such as being bullied.  The skills that they have learnt from us in problem solving and identifying options available to them will help them to look at how they can deal with a bully and possible actions they can take.

How do you recognise if your child may be suffering from being bullied?  What signs should you watch out for?  The following may be some indicators that you should be aware of:

  • Unexplained bruising, scratches or physical injuries
  • Becoming moody or withdrawn
  • Loss or damage to clothing, books, stationary and other belongings
  • Being anxious or appearing stressed especially around school
  • An increase in illnesses (e.g. tummy pains)
  • Bedwetting, nightmares or unable to sleep
  • A decrease in performance at school work
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Loss of confidence or self esteem
  • Becoming aggressive or displaying aggressive behaviour in imaginative role play (e.g. dolls, action characters)
  • Drawing pictures that show hurt or anger
  • Loss of appetite

If you find that your child is being bullied:

  • Remain calm.  If you get upset your child may become distressed and not wish to tell you anymore for fear of upsetting you further
  • Listen to your child – not just what he/she says but body language, tone and expressions
  • Don’t rush in with solutions – work with your child to discuss the possible solutions and what you both feel would work best
  • Explain to your child that bullying is wrong and it should not continue
  • Reassure the child that it is not their fault
  • If the bullying was of a very serious nature consider seeking professional help
  • Make sure to keep chatting to and listening to your child to support them
  • Spend as much time as possible with your child to give them plenty of opportunity to chat about the situation

The key message for parents is to build a strong connection with your child.  Use every opportunity you can to tune into their world, chat about school, have fun together, give them encouragement and praise and show them affection and love.  These parenting skills will help your child to be more confident and most importantly help them to feel able to openly discuss problems with you.

HELP – My Child Is The Bully! 

Our worst nightmare?  My lovely little child is a bully – where have I gone wrong?  If we discover that our child is in fact the bully it can be quite a shock and very upsetting.  We have to deal with this but what should we do?  Consider the following:

  • Don’t ignore the situation.  You have to deal with it and help your child to understand that this behaviour is not acceptable and help them to change
  • Don’t panic or get upset.  This may make your child ‘close down’ because they feel that they have made you angry, upset, disappointed or dislike them.
  • Don’t use words like bullying or being a ‘bully’.  This will label your child and may make them feel ashamed.  This may cause them to withdraw or tell lies about what happened so that they don’t have to feel ashamed.  Your role is to support them in talking about what happened and solve the problem.
  • Talk about specific details of the bullying. For example, “when you called her names, what did you mean to do?”.  Your child may say that they were only playing or having fun – this may be an excuse or your child may not have intended to hurt the other child.  Either way, you have to explain to your child how that behaviour is hurtful to the other child and that it has to stop.
  • Encourage your child to be empathic.  When chatting about the behaviour, ask them to imagine how the victim may have felt.  For example, “how do you think you would feel if someone hit you like that?”
  • Think about your own home.  Is there bullying going on there?  Is you child copying behaviour that they see in their own lives?
  • Try to find out if there are other children involved in the bullying.  If you child is part of a ‘group’ where they are expected to bully, then this has to be addressed with the school.
  • Give your child plenty of encouragement and praise.  Spend plenty of one to one time with them, chat to them and use every opportunity to connect with them.  This will help your child to be open with you and also give you plenty of opportunity to check in with how they are getting on with stopping the bullying.  Encourage and praise them in their efforts to stop the bullying behaviour.