How does bullying affect a child’s mental health.

A bully is habitually cruel or threatening to others who seem weaker or more vulnerable. They repeatedly abuse, hurt, or aggressively dominate the other person. In addition to being repetitive, it is also characterized  by an imbalance of physical or social status and intent to hurt.  Children who bully are likely to come from a position of perceived power, like being bigger physically, coming from a higher socioeconomic status, being a favourite with teachers, being popular in school and so on.

Knowing your child is being bullied at school, on the playground, or online (cyberbullying) can be heartbreaking. This is when some parents say ‘if Bayo hits you, hit him back’ because you only get in trouble for starting a fight not for finishing one, right? Wrong. Worse still, it is difficult to accept that your child is the perpetrator of such harmful behaviour so you ‘defend them outside and tell them off at home, right?’ Wrong.

WHY DO CHILDREN BULLY?

A common reason is to seek the attention they lack at home. It can also be to give them a sense of security, if they have been bullied, they simply do to others what they have experienced. Also, if there is an adult role model in their lives such as a parent, teacher, older sibling, who is a bully, they misinterpret the behaviour as normal and carry it on.

It can also be because they are jealous of the other person and dominating them sends a false sense of security to keep them form being bullied themselves.

WHAT DOES THE BULLY FEEL?

The bully feels a sense of power from making other children feel helpless. It is not always about the power play though, sometimes it is their ‘normal self’ because they do not know how else to socialize or communicate with others, so they act inappropriately.

The bully wants to be liked and hailed by other children, especially those that they perceive as equals or superiors, so they make a show of being mean to more vulnerable children. More often, they just do not know how their actions make others feel, likely because they have not learnt compassion and respect.

Children who bully are more likely to be abusive towards their loved ones, engage in criminal behaviour, or drop out of school due to increased truancy.

THE BULLIED CHILD

Bullying can leave deep and long-lasting emotional scars that can still influence the child’s life several years down the line.The bullied child is more likely to experience the following:

Negative emotions such as increasing feelings of sadness, loneliness, disrupted eating and sleeping patterns.
Mental health issues; Low self esteem, depression, self- destructive behaviour.
Increased physical health complaints (psychosomatic symptoms).
Decreased academic performance and school participation.
Social withdrawal, shame
Difficulty forming healthy, trusting relationships.
Bedwetting

Children who witness repeated bullying feel powerless to stop it and may find themselves constantly living in fear and guilt.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Listen calmly without being judgemental: no matter how much you want to jump into your car and drive to the bully’s house to give them a piece of your mind, please refrain from doing so. Admitting to being bullied is the same as admitting to being the more vulnerable person in the encounter and that can be embarrassing. They would worry that you will be disappointed, upset, or ashamed of them so your reaction as they talk about their encounter is crucial.
Offer comfort and support: remind them that it is not their fault and they have done nothing to deserve being bullied. No one deserves to be bullied, it is the bully who has done something wrong by taking advantage of them not them.
Show that you believe them: sometimes children are scared their parents will not believe them, offer reassurance. It will help them develop trust knowing that they can come back to talk to you about anything without fear of being considered a liar.
Children worry their parents will tell them to fight back, refrain from doing this. They fear the bully already, talking to you as a parent should be soothing not putting them back in the situation that got them hurt in the first place.
Work with them to develop a solution. Consider informing the teacher, principal, or other authority figure where the bullying takes place so they know about the situation and can prevent future occurrences.
Teach your child how to react. Encourage them not to take the bully’s words to heart and not to be afraid to seek help if they feel unsafe.
Help your child to feel good about themselves. Identify what they do well and encourage them to do more of it.