For Parents

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The term ‘bullying’ means physical and/or psychological terror carried out against a child by a classmate or any other child. Those who resort to bullying want to frighten and control their victims. In schools, children often get to experience physical and psychological terror from other children. Both boys and girls experience this. More often than not, it is the younger schoolchildren who become victims of bullying.

We may often hear that it is natural for a child to be aggressive towards another child their age. Even in the adult world, there are those who have power and those who obey. There are always those who have influence over others. Children see this behaviour in adults and copy it. In addition, unlike adults, children express their emotions more sincerely and openly. This may be precisely why those adults who jokingly call an aggressive child a ‘bully’ forget that the child may in fact be causing irreparable damage to the victim’s physical and/or mental health.

What are the medical and social effects of bullying?

Victims of bullying may not be able to heal from their physical traumas and/or feel afraid, anxious, humiliated and uneasy, and have a low self-esteem for a long period of time. Apart from this, a period of physical/psychological terror leads to absenteeism, tardiness and a poor academic performance. Child victims of bullying also tend to avoid taking part in social events or activities and lose their friends at school.

According to scientists, children who initiate bullying continue to demonstrate aggressive behaviour in their adult life and many turn to crime. Those children who are not the direct victims of bullying, but are only witnesses, may also be psychologically traumatised. “This is what happened today to someone at school. Is it possible that this could happen to me tomorrow? This means that school is not somewhere where I can feel safe” – this is the conclusion that children come to after they witness bullying. They are scared that they will be the bully’s next victim. Speaking with their friends and their trusted adults can help them overcome this fear.

How can we tell if a child is a potential victim or a bully?

It must be noted that any child can be a bully or a victim of bullying. It is very difficult to establish which of the two groups a child belongs to. Despite this, psychologists distinguish between the victims’ and the bullies’ typical characteristics and patterns of behaviour.

Child victims try to blend in and go unnoticed by their peers. They are smaller and physically weaker. When faced with a threat, they immediately get scared and start to look unhappy and powerless. Most of their time is spent in the classroom, including breaks. If children are gathered in a large group, child victims tend to stay away. These children may also develop some health problems such as sleep disorders, muscles pains, loss of appetite and bedwetting.

A child victim can be someone who is noticeably different from others, or has a distinct characteristic. For example, they are shorter, taller, bigger, smaller, poorer, richer, calmer, or smarter than others.

Psychological characteristics of child bullies

Child bullies constantly try to look strong and grown up. They are often abrasive to teachers, parents and their siblings. In their interactions with others and during games, they are forceful and ferocious. To resolve conflict, they choose forceful means over any other. Usually, child bullies have a high self-esteem and try to establish their social superiority. From time to time, they may become reserved and less social, but still display unfounded aggression from time to time.

Generally, child bullies:

• are overly energetic,
• are eloquent,
• have a high self-esteem,
• are good at influencing and manipulating other people,
• are popular, but they’re not satisfied by this,
• have a strong desire to be in control/in power,
• are afraid that they themselves could cause their power/control to diminish.

Why are children aggressive towards their peers?

• They want to attract attention.
• They have an overly positive or an overly negative view of self.
• They cannot make friends.
• They do not have empathy or a sense of guilt.
• They are just bored.

The role of adults in stopping bullying

What should you do if a child is a victim of bullying? If you suspect that a child is a victim of bullying, first and foremost you must talk to them openly and work out whether or not your doubts are true. It is possible that the child won’t answer direct questions about bullying in the school or may express shock or fear. In this case, it is important to get information indirectly. Try to find out if there are any bullies around the child you’re concerned about. Work out if the child knows such bullies. Information about how the child behaves during breaks and on the way to and from school is especially useful.

It is also important to know if the child is interacting with their peers during break or if they choose to be alone instead. If you establish that a child is a victim of bullying, your instinct will be to punish the bully. You must stop yourself from doing this because such behaviour does not solve the problem. On the contrary, it is highly likely that such an action could encourage further aggression from the bully towards the victim. Telling the child to get revenge won’t help either because it will end up putting the child at a higher risk of being a victim of a more severe form of bullying in the future. Likewise, telling the child not to pay any attention to the bullying won’t solve the problem.

Advice for parents from psychologists

1. Help your child develop their self-esteem. Encourage them to take part in any form of extra-curricular activities that they like, such as sports, music, drama and so on. It has been proven that confident children are seldom victims of bullying.
2. Teach children to demonstrate their confidence. For example, tell them that if they ever find themselves involved in a conflict, instead of looking at the ground and avoiding eye contact, they should look at the bully straight in the eyes and calmly, but clearly and firmly to say “Stop! I don’t like what you are doing!”. Then, without paying attention to the bully if he starts making fun of them, they should walk away dignified, without saying another word.
3. Encourage friendly behaviour towards other children. It has been proven that children who prefer to be alone often become victims of bullying. You can do this by involving your child in different clubs or groups, or inviting friends over at the house. Friendships heighten our sense of self-worth and make us more confident about ourselves and our actions.
4. Encourage children to take part in trips and days out. There is a low risk of bullying in these types of activities, as the children are constantly under adult supervision.
5. Teach your child about body language. Eye contact, good posture, holding your head high, relaxed hands and a firm tone of voice are all very effective in fighting against bullying. Demonstrate and teach this body language to your child.
6. Discuss the problem of bullying with other parents. There may also be other children who are victims of bullying. If you figure out who they are, you could discuss the problem with their parents.
7. Notify the school of your concerns for your child’s safety. The following measure is considered by psychologists as a last resort, but a very effective one. You could ask for increased adult supervision for your child during break time, in corridors and everywhere else in the school. According to specialists, this significantly decreases the risk of bullying at school.

What should we do if we notice that a child is bullying children their age, or younger children?

We need to address this problem carefully. We mustn’t regard such behaviour as childish play because by failing to address the problem in a timely manner, bullying can turn into a life style. Childhood is precisely the right time to correct aggressive behaviour. Talk openly with your child and try to figure out what provoked their aggressive behaviour towards other children. Sometimes, children who are being abused by their parents, their peers or their siblings, become bullies themselves and direct their anger at other children.

Advice for adults

1. Make sure children understand that you will not tolerate their aggressive behaviour, no matter whom they were being aggressive towards. Establish precise and strict sanctions which will be put in place if the bullying continues.
2. Teach children how to get what they want through specific methods, techniques and tips which they can use to solve a problem through non-violent means. Use your relationship as an example when coming up with these methods.
3. Set a positive example through your own behaviour. By observing your behaviour, children will learn to treat those around them with respect and goodwill. Try to recreate situations similar to the ones in which the child demonstrated aggressive behaviour. Demonstrate alternative ways of solving the problem to get a desired result without using mental (threats, insults) or physical violence.
4. Strengthen your control on the child. Be close to them when they are playing with other children. Encourage their involvement in sports, creative clubs, and other extra-curricular activities. Such activities help children release any pent-up energy in a civilised and socially safe way and significantly decrease their aggression.
5. In difficult cases, contact a psychologist. There are special methods which can be used to help children figure out their aggressive behaviour and teach them ways to control and regulate their problems.


By Public Health Foundation of Georgia (PHF)