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Bullying: An Essential Read for Parents

At Incorporate Psychology we work extensively with young people and adults who have been victims of bullying. Whilst there has been a lot of public awareness campaigns around bullying and its devastating effects of late, we felt it would be valuable to put together an easy to read guide for parents and carers who want to provide appropriate support to their children, colleagues or friends. Bullying is an aggressive behaviour that is intentional and it involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often it is repeated over time and can take many forms. We have built this tip sheet to help understand what victims of bullying need, what probably won’t help and skills that might come in handy to help work through this challenging time together. It’s important to understand that people or children who are the victim of bullying are unlikely to talk easily about it. They may feel ashamed or weak they couldn't stop the bullying. They may fear retaliation or retribution or that it won’t make a difference; that it isn't macho or it’s telling tales. But it’s extremely important to encourage dialogue about the issue and how it is making them feel. Here are some key things that do and don’t help: People who are bullied need

  • Permission and support to tell what has happened to them and to talk about their feelings

  • Protection from continued bullying through adult supervision, consequences for the young people who bully, and adults’ taking reports of bullying seriously

  • Strong, positive relationships with adults and peers

  • Assistance from peers in feeling that they belong

  • Assistance in not blaming themselves for the bullying; and

  • Support with post-traumatic stress symptoms, in some cases, even after the bullying has been stopped.

What probably won’t help

  • Encouraging children who have been bullied to “work things out” with the young person who has bullied them (especially alone or with the support of peer mediators) may make things worse. Mediation-based approaches tend to imply that both parties are partly to blame. Young people who bully are unlikely to listen to the youth they have chosen as their target. Such discussions can risk further victimization or control of the target.

  • Avoid advice that will not work or that children and youth have already found ineffective. When we ask young people to “Tell me how you feel,” “Just walk away, ”Don’t let it bother you,” or “Just make a joke of it, “we may risk them feeling that they have failed when these strategies don’t work. If they have already tried these strategies unsuccessfully before talking with us, we diminish their regard for us as resources.

It is our role as parents, mental health professionals and care-givers to help encourage young people to talk about the bullying and avoid self-blame. We need to assure them:

  • The victim did not cause the problem and will not be asked to solve the problem alone.

  • The victim has the right to tell, to be protected from retaliation for telling, and to have advocacy and protection. The person causing the abuse will be held fully responsible for his or her behaviour.

  • The victim may have been hurt in stages—by the abuse, by the inaction of others who should have helped, by unearned self-blame, and by social isolation. Each of these issues should be addressed.

How else can we effectively intervene to help?

  • Work with parents, school administrators, counsellors and teachers to help the young person be less isolated and more connected with his or her peers.

  • Look to connect the person with peers who have shared interests.

  • Explore unearned self-blame and help the young person see that the child who bullied him or her is responsible for the bullying.

  • Explore and commend the steps the young person used to try to stop the bullying. Help him or her find effective ways to be safe. Identify advocates and resources in the environment.

  • Remember that a young person who is bullied also may bully others, though most do not. Be aware of any aggression toward others and engage the help of a professional if you need the support.

  • Consult with administrators at the bullied child’s school about effective prevention strategies that will help to reduce bullying among students and improve the climate of the school.

When is it bullying? Most parents and care givers understand the difference between childhood behaviour / 'kids acting out', and damaging bullying. However, some young people cry, yell or can react strongly to small incidents. We need to listen to the person’s concerns and assure them their complaints and allegations will be taken seriously. However at the same time, it is important we are not overprotective over reactive should the situation not be bullying or damaging. An essential tool in a child’s tool kit is resilience. Mental health professionals are trained to assess incidents and also equip young people with the ability to moderate their reactions. If at any time you are unsure of whether or not a situation warrants more serious action do not hesitate to call a Psychologist, school counsellor or teacher. They may be able to provide more insights into the situation. If you are supporting a victim of bullying and would like more assistance or counsel in this area, please contact us and make an appointment (07) 3161 1950. Matt Dale is a qualified and registered Psychologist, experienced in dealing with bullying at school, home and in the workplace. References and Resources US Department of Health & Human Service Davis, S. (2005). Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying Champaign, IL, USA, Research Press. Juvonen, J., Graham, S., Schuster, M. (2003). Bullying among young adolescents: The strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics, 112: 1231-1237. McCoy, E. (1997). What to Do...When Kids Are Mean to Your Child. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest. Mynard, H., Joseph, S., & Alexander, J. (2000). Peer victimization and post-traumatic stress in adolescence. Personality and Individual Differences, 29, 815-821. National Association of School Psychologists. (2002) Bullying prevention: what schools and parents can do. Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Rigby, K. (2000). Effects of peer victimization in schools and perceived social support on adolescent well-being. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 57-68. Voors, W. (2003). Bullying–both sides of the fence, ParadigmWinter 2003, 8(1) & 6(4), 16.

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