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Bullying

Bullying is when a person deliberately and repeatedly hurts someone else.

The hurt can be physical or emotional. Bullying can occur in a range of different contexts, but it is most commonly discussed in relation to children at school, cyber-bullying or people at work.

Psychologists can help people affected by bullying, but more importantly, they can also help to create safe and healthy schools and workplaces that promote physical and psychological wellbeing.

Key points

  • Bullying includes hitting, pushing, name calling, leaving people out and teasing.
  • If someone often feels scared or hurt when they are with a particular person or group, they may be being bullied. Bullying is a form of aggression that can escalate into violence.
  • Cyber-bullying is a particular form of bullying through the internet and mobile phones. Cyber-bullying can include spreading malicious rumours about a person, sending threatening messages, sharing embarrassing images, and excluding people from social networking groups.
  • Children who are being bullied need adults to intervene and provide support.
  • Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed toward an employee, or group of employees, that creates a risk to health and safety (definition used by WorkSafe Victoria). Four key elements of workplace bullying are:
    • a workplace conflict that:
    • is enduring and repeated in nature
    • is inappropriate and possibly aggressive
    • results in a level of (physical and/or psychological) distress.

Signs and symptoms - children

Signs to indicate a child may be being bullied can include:

  • gets hurt or bruised
  • is scared or has nightmares
  • loses or has damaged possessions
  • puts him/herself down; doesn’t want to go to school
  • has no friends or party invitations
  • often feels sick
  • acts aggressively.

Signs and symptoms - adults

Signs and symptoms indicative of workplace bullying may include:

  • experiences ranging from mild annoyance through to severe psychological, social and economic trauma.
  • depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, decreased self-confidence, panic attacks, fatigue, eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, and/or suicidal ideation.

Strategies for coping - children

Strategies for helping children affected by school bullying include:

  • increasing supervision of children when with other children
  • letting children know what bullying is, why it is unacceptable, and how to spot it
  • making clear rules and consistent consequences for all children
  • praising children when they play cooperatively with others
  • teaching them that telling a trusted person about bullying is okay
  • teaching children how to stand up for themselves
  • helping children to improve their social skills.

Strategies for children affected by cyber-bullying include:

  • talking with children about how cyber-bullying can happen, why it is not ok, and how it can affect the receiver
  • encouraging them to talk if they feel uncomfortable, bullied or intimidated
  • teaching them strategies for blocking, deleting, reporting bullies
  • trying not to rely on blocking access to online environments as the only way to protect children.

Strategies for dealing with children who are bullying others can include:

  • increasing supervision when the child is with other children
  • explaining what bullying is and why it is not acceptable
  • talking with the child about the impact of bullying on others. Try to get them to understand what it is like for the person being bullied, for example by asking how they would feel if they were being bullied
  • talking with the child about what they think might help them to stop bullying
  • showing them how to join in with other children in a friendly way (for example: first observe a game and the other children, look for a natural break in the game for joining in, choose a person with a friendly face and ask them if you can join)
  • making clear rules and consequences, and being consistent in dealing with inappropriate behaviour;
  • praising children when they play cooperatively with others
  • enrolling the child in a group program that helps children learn to manage their behaviour.

Strategies for coping - adults

Strategies for dealing with workplace bullying include:

  • creating channels for employees to voice their concerns around bullying in the workplace
  • breaking the collusion of silence amongst colleagues about the bully's behaviour and its effects on victim(s)
  • offering the bully every assistance possible (in good faith) to improve and change his or her behaviour
  • dealing with bullying through supervisory support and disciplinary processes
  • modelling respectful behaviour from the top down and setting clear expectations at all levels of the organisation

Treatment

There are three main components of treatment for victims of chronic bullying:

  1. Realisation and acknowledgement of the damage and humiliation that has occurred
  2. Dealing with the events associated with the bullying
  3. Making sense of what has happened, as for any trauma victim.

Seeking help

If bullying is affecting your day-to-day life or your child's, a psychologist may be able to help. Talk to your child’s teacher or school psychologist if the issue involves another student at school.

Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals, skilled in diagnosing and treating a range of mental health concerns, including the impacts of bullying.

If you are referred to a psychologist by your GP, you might be eligible for a Medicare rebate. Ask your psychologist or GP for details.

There are number of ways to access a psychologist. You can:

  • use the Australia-wide Find A PsychologistTM directory or call 1800 333 497
  • ask your GP or another health professional to refer you.

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