Bullying Behaviour in Schools

Bullying is the intentional and repetitive negative behaviour towards others. It generally involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying can have long-term effects on the bullied and bully. Educational Psychologist, Claire Maher, discusses the different types of bullying and signs parents can look out for to ascertain whether their child is being bullied, or a bully themselves. She also looks at important strategies to help remedy these behaviours and difficulties.

While the classic movie style ‘pushing a child up against the locker and asking for their lunch money’ type of bullying still happens, it is not the only, or most apparent type of bullying taking place nowadays.  Bullying can take on different shapes and forms depending on the age of a person, and the type of relationship. Bullying has been known to be undertaken by spouses, parents, siblings, peers, teachers or employers and employees, among others.

There are 4 main types of bullying: Physical, Verbal, Social and Cyber Bullying. These types of bullying can either be overt, in that they’re very noticeable, or covert, in that they’re harder to pick up, and are often done behind somebody’s back.

Physical Punching, hitting, shoving, damage to a person’s property or belongings
Verbal Name calling, teasing, intimidation or threats, prejudicial remarks – particularly around gender, race or sexual preference
Social Lying, spreading rumours, socially excluding, pranking or making nasty jokes. Often covert in nature.
Cyber Spreading rumours online, hurtful texts, status updates or images, ‘Cat-fishing’ (imitating somebody else online). Can be covert or overt in nature.

How do I know my child is being bullied?

Often times children are reluctant to talk about the fact they’re being bullied for fear of not being taken seriously, or of being bullied further because they’re ‘telling on.’ In instances such as these, there are some important warning signs to look out for to determine whether your child is being bullied. While these signs could be indicative of something other than bullying, they are a useful starting point:

  • Your child becomes more withdrawn.
  • Their appetite changes.
  • They express reluctance to attend school or certain social interactions.
  • Their belongings regularly go missing or come home broken.
  • They have unexplainable physical marks or bruises.
  • They cry easily or appear more sensitive than usual.
  • They are reported by teachers to get into fights arguments with their peers.
  • Homework is not done, or their schoolwork begins to suffer.
  • They experience difficulty sleeping, or there is a change in sleep behaviours.
  • They experience frequent headaches or stomach aches, as well as faking illnesses.
  • They display self-destructive behaviours such as running away from home, self-injury, or talking about suicide.

Signs your child may be bullying others

It is always difficult for parents to believe or admit that their child may be a bully at school.  The bully needs just as much assistance as the bullied, because there are a number of reasons behind their behaviour. With this in mind, it is important for parents to know which signs to look out for to ascertain if their child is bullying others. Even if unrelated to bullying, if your child exhibits the following behaviours they may be in need of intervention and assistance in some form:

  • He/she seems to get into regular fights – as reported by them, their teachers or other parents.
  • They seem to have items or money in their bags that don’t belong to them.
  • They become increasingly aggressive at home.
  • They blame others and struggle to take responsibility for their actions
  • Are regularly in detention.
  • They often test limits or break rules at home.
  • They show little sympathy toward others who are being bullied.
  • They express positive views about violence or inflicting physical harm.
  • They are impulsive, easily frustrated or angered.
  • They are obsessed with being popular.

Cyber bullying

While today’s technology can make our lives so much easier in many respects, it can have disastrous effects on the lives of our children, and seems to take place more often than other types of bullying behaviour.  Cyber bullying can take the form of inappropriate comments or pictures posted on social media, text, ’direct’ or ‘inbox’ messages with threatening or unkind comments, as well as impersonating other people online in order to communicate deceivingly with others. It is important that parents are aware of the social media interactions that their children are involved with. Careful monitoring of app downloads, messages and time spent online is imperative. If you suspect your child is a bully, or being bullied, a violation of their online privacy may be required – sometimes parents have a right to know what their child is getting up to.

Why doesn’t my child ask for help?

As mentioned, children who are bullied may fail to speak out about their experiences. They may fear that they will not be believed, or will be judged by others. Speaking out may also bring with it a fear of further bullying and backlash which they try to avoid at all costs. Children who are bullied will invariably have a low self-esteem. This is either true ‘pre-bullying’ (because bullies often know how to ‘prey’ on the underdogs) or as a result of bullying. In either event children do not want to talk about being bullied because they fear it will confirm what they already think about themselves – that they’re weak or only worthy of being treated in such a way. Children fear that they will be socially isolated further if they speak out about bullying.

If you feel that your child may be a victim of bullying, there are some ways that you can support them or encourage them to speak about what is going on.  Talk to them and listen to what they tell you about their day. Listen to how they describe events or interactions with others. Ask questions about their friends and whether there were any good or bad parts of the day. When children are comfortable talking to their parents they can feel comfortable telling them when anything untoward takes place.  Communicate with your child’s teachers – let them know if you have any concerns. Be a good example for your children at home – don’t bully your spouse, other children or employees.  Be aware of what bullying means – sometimes your behaviour may be ‘innocent’ but perceived as bullying by others.

Strategies for schools and classrooms

Most of the time bullying behaviour takes place at school.  It is therefore important that schools and teachers have some strategies in place to handle bullying.  Parents can try to encourage their child’s teachers or school to incorporate some of the following into the school in order to prevent or remedy bullying:

  • Anti-Bullying Policies for the classrooms and whole school.
  • Consequences for bullying behaviour.
  • Educating of teachers and support staff on what to look out for, and how to intervene
  • Supervision in the morning, break times and after schools on the playground where behaviour cannot be monitored as stringently as it is in the classroom.
  • Provide a ‘Bully Box’ or other avenues to report bullying (so learners don’t feel ashamed to have to report incidents)
  • Prohibition of cellphones during school hours.
  • Education for learners in Life Orientation lessons or talks.
  • Ongoing communication with parents.
  • Make therapy available for individuals.
  • Group therapy for larger groups or peer groups.
  • Provide buddies or mentors to younger learners – somebody they can be accountable to.

Helpful resources

Sometimes books or movies can be helpful ways to address different types of bullying with children – some are more appropriate for certain age groups, so be sure to do a bit of research:

Books about Bullying

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio

The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Movies or Series about Bullying

Chicken Little

The Ant Bully

Bridge to Terabithia

Harry Potter

Billy Elliot


Written for Mamas and Papas Magazine


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