Clearly every bullying scenario is different, as is every child involved, but experts do see common themes of how those on the receiving end can be affected.
According to Jeremy Todd, Chief Executive of the charity Bullying UK, there's no legal definition of bullying but he adds: "It's usually repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone, either emotionally or physically. It can take many forms including physical assault, teasing, making threats, name calling or cyber bullying."
There are various reasons one child might be targeted but not another – from race or religion, appearance or disability, to plain old jealousy and envy.
Since we can't always rely on our kids to talk to us about what's going on – perhaps because they're too embarrassed or fear repercussions from accusations of 'grassing up' the perpetrators – it's useful for parents to know the signs to look out for. Additionally, recognising how exactly bullying might be affecting your child will help when it comes to discussing matters with teachers.
Common problems at school resulting from bullying include a decline in academic performance and changes in behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn or getting into trouble more. They might also return home with damaged or missing belongings or no longer want to participate in an extra-curricular activity they previously enjoyed.
Sometimes, as happened to Kate's eleven-year-old son, children develop a reluctance to go to school at all. "He'd always liked school but he became extremely negative about it and didn't want to go in in the mornings. Some days he was trying to fake illnesses and he had never done this before.
"I knew that things were not normal and he did open up about what was going on very quickly. I was then able to go in to speak to his class teacher and discuss the situation and start to manage it better."
What goes on at school doesn't always stay at school - back home, a relatively harmonious family life can be upset by moodiness or withdrawal that wasn't there before and a bullied child might also develop problems with sleeping, eating or general anxiety.
Siblings could find their bullied brother or sister takes their feelings out on them - this was what happened to Emilia with her then nine-year-old and 12-year-old daughters. She says: "The older one is quite a self-contained child and not always the most open about her feelings. I knew she had not seen eye to eye with one of the girls in her class but when she became moody and started lashing out verbally – and physically once or twice - at her sister I was concerned as it was totally out of character.
"We didn't put two and two together straight away and I assumed she was tired or it was hormones kicking in. When she did tell us what had been happening, it was difficult to handle as on the one hand, we felt sorry for her and that we couldn't be too harsh as she was clearly upset, but on the other hand, it wasn't fair on her sister to take the brunt of it."
As well as some of the short term effects mentioned here, Jeremy explains how the impact of being bullied can stretch far beyond childhood: "Research from Kings College London involving over 7,000 individuals shows those who were bullied as children were more likely to have poorer physical and psychological health and cognitive functioning at age 50.
"Those who were frequently bullied were at an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts."
Employment prospects, social relationships and general wellbeing were also affected.
That's quite sobering and worrying to read if you're a parent whose child is on the receiving end – it can leave you panicking that that they will never get over it. However, the key point here is to try and take action as soon as you can once you do find out what's been occurring.
There is a wealth of advice and information, online, via charities such as Bullying UK and in schools (there should be a member of staff trained in dealing with such issues).
Here is a list of bullying warning signs.
Some of these could well have other causes but if you spot one or several, it's worth having a chat with your son or daughter to explore whether something untoward is going on in their life.
- broken or missing possessions
- becoming withdrawn – not talking, or spending more time alone
- changes in eating habits
- changes in behaviour – becoming aggressive at home
- sleeping badly
- complaining of headaches or stomach aches
- wetting the bed
- worrying about going to school
- suddenly doing less well at school
For more information consult the Beat Bullying guide 'What to do if your child is being bullied'
More on Parentdish: My child is being bullied. What can I do?
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