Answers to your biggest questions about bullying

1 November 2018

We have to cope with many challenges in our lives. But bullying shouldn’t be one of them.    

According to Kids Helpline, one in four children will be bullied at some stage.

But bullying doesn’t just happen inside the schoolyard. From the boardroom to the dinner table, bullying also plagues workplaces and homes.

And the impact of bullying goes beyond the victim. It can have devastating effects on bystanders and entire communities – as well as the bullies themselves.

At Positive Psychology, we get asked about bullying every day. So we thought we’d share our answers to the most common questions we hear to give you a little helping hand.

  1. Is it really ‘bullying’?

Bullying is more than a one-off insult, fight or disagreement.

It’s when someone displays repeated behaviour that misuses power to cause harm. This behaviour can be verbal, physical and/or social.

Bullying can be:

  • Face to face: kicking, hitting, shoving, name-calling, insulting and threatening
  • Covert: whispering, gossiping, excluding, blackmailing and stealing friends
  • Online: using social media and other online platforms to harass others

It can happen to anyone, anywhere – and at any time. But whatever form it takes, bullying is always aggressive and ongoing.

So if you notice someone being repeatedly cruel to a less powerful person, you’re dealing with a bully.

  1. Why do people bully others?

There are different reasons people bully. But the behaviour is never okay.

Someone might bully because they:

  • Have low self-esteem
  • Feel lonely, jealous or angry
  • Like to be in control or have power over others
  • Have been bullied themselves
  • Want others to like them
  • Have problems at home
  • Want to fit in with their friends
  • Don’t realise that their actions are wrong

Some kids bully because they see it as a simple solution to their social problems. An easy way out.

But of course, bullying doesn’t actually address the issues. It only creates more.

That’s why it’s important to teach children about respect from a young age – and healthy ways to cope with their problems.

Keep in mind, it’s common for children to take on different roles during this developmental stage. For example, someone who is bullied in one situation may become the bully in another.

So be sure to stay calm – and show empathy and support where possible.

  1. What effect can bullying have?

The victim, the bully and the bystanders. These are the people who suffer from the actions of a bully.

In the short-term, the victim can suffer from:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Social isolation
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Higher risk of illness
  • Poor school attendance and performance
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression

Over time, this can lead to chronic mental health disorders, self-destructive behaviour and challenges in developing trusting relationships.

And for the bully? The short-term impact could be:

  • An increased risk of substance abuse
  • Poor school performance
  • Increased absence from school
  • Difficulty maintaining social relationships

Without proper treatment, bullying can fester into adulthood – with bullies facing higher chances of substance abuse, antisocial behaviour, unemployment and spousal or child abuse.

  1. How do we respond to a bully?

There’s nothing more devastating than learning that your child or someone you love is being bullied. But you’re not helpless. There are things you can do.

First, be sure you fully understand the situation. How frequent is the bullying? And how long has it been going on?

Then, encourage social skills like assertiveness and how to ask for help. Above all, make sure you listen to and support the victim without shaming or blaming them.

You can also brainstorm different ways to deal with the problem together.

If it’s your child, then notify the school. They are obliged to help resolve and monitor the issue. And be sure to keep talking with the school until your child feels safe.

  1. What if your loved one IS the bully?

We all feel for a bullied victim. But the bully needs just as much support.

If someone you know or care about is bullying others, there are steps you can take to help them.

Start with empathic responses, which encourage the bully to think about their behaviour from the victim’s perspective.

For example:

  • How would you feel if someone did/said that to you?
  • Would you like it if this was happening to your younger sister?
  • What you’re doing is hurting someone, but I understand you’re struggling too.

You can also respond in a way that makes the bully question their behaviour. This can be as simple as asking the bully why they’re acting this way, or if they realise their behaviour is unkind.

Remember: People bully others because they are hurting themselves. So it’s crucial that you show the bully kindness and compassion.

  1. When is it time for professional help?

Bullying should be dealt with straight away. Otherwise, it can have long-term mental and physical consequences for the victim and bully.

But when should you seek the support of a professional?

For the victim, it’s time to get professional help when:

  • They’re experiencing intense stress, anxiety or depression
  • They’re constantly worrying about the person who is bullying them
  • The bullying is impacting their sleep
  • No one has been able to help

The bully should also seek professional support when you or others have tried to help them without success.

A mental health professional or psychologist can deliver tailored treatments that target depression and anxiety, as well as anger management for the bully.

They can also help the victim improve their resilience, communication and coping skills.

If you or someone you care about is being bullied – or bullying others – our team of psychologists can help. Call us on 1300 995 636 to learn more.