Dealing with Bullying at School
People don’t always behave as we’d like them to and we can sometimes feel hurt by the comments or behaviour of another person, but when it goes on and on, bullying can put a person in a state of constant fear. One of the most painful aspects of bullying is that it is relentless and it can happen to us at any age. My previous few blogs have looked at bullying in the workplace and this one looks at dealing with bullying at school.
Wherever and whenever it happens, the effects of bullying on an individual can be devastating. For children and teenagers, schoolwork suffers, as does health, both physical and emotional. Studies show that having regular headaches, stomach pains and diarrhoea can result, as can low self-esteem, stress, depression, or anxiety or self harm and suicidal thoughts.
To speak out or not to speak out??
For younger children, the essential thing is to tell a trusted adult. However, for teenagers, whether to do this can depend on the situation. There may be situations where telling an adult, can make things even worse – for example telling a teacher may lead to a person being accused of being a “tell-tale” if the bully finds out and may actually make the bullying worse. However there are times when it is a clear cut decision: If bullying threatens to lead to physical danger and harm, perhaps including stalking, threats, and attacks, it becomes dangerous to suffer in silence.
Dealing with the situation yourself
The following suggestions apply particularly to teenagers but there are also suggestions that parents can talk about to younger children. Once you have made the decision that, a least for the time being, you will try to handle the situation yourself, what can you do? Here are some suggestions for dealing with both psychological and verbal bullying:
Ignore the bully and walk away
Much easier said than done, but walking away is NOT a coward’s response. Bullies thrive on the reaction they get, and if you walk away or ignore hurtful emails or instant messages, you’re telling the bully that you just don’t care. Sooner or later the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother you. Walk tall and hold your head high. Using this type of body language sends a message that you’re not vulnerable.
Don’t show your anger
Yes, a nasty comment can make us feel extremely hurt and angry but this is exactly the response the bully is trying to get, to have control over your emotions. If you can’t simply walk away in a dignified manner, try using humour, which can throw the bully off guard. You may need to take steps to deal with your anger in your own time, as continually squashing it down is not good for you long term. This may involve talking it through with someone, writing down your thoughts or burning off the adrenalin produced in an intense physical workout or run.
Don’t get physical
However you choose to deal with a bully, don’t use physical force (like kicking, hitting, or pushing). Not only are you showing your anger, you can never be sure what the bully will do in response. You are more likely to be hurt and get into trouble if you use violence against a bully. You can stand up for yourself in other ways, such as gaining control of the situation by walking away or by being assertive in your actions.
Practice ways to respond to the bully verbally or through your behaviour. Practice feeling good about yourself (even if you have to fake it at first) and do think about your own body language – trying to hide away or submissive slouching can both make you feel vulnerable and make it more likely that the bully will strike.
Take charge of your life
You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can stay true to yourself. Think about ways to feel your best — and your strongest. Exercise is one way to feel strong and powerful and is a great mood lifter. Learn a martial art or take a class like yoga. Another way to gain confidence is to hone your skills in something like art, music, computers, or writing. Joining a class, club, or gym is a great way to make new friends and feel good about yourself. The confidence you gain both mentally and physically will help you enormously going forwards.
Talk about it to people you trust
It is ALWAYS the case that talking helps – although you need to be selective as to who you talk to – whether it’s a friend or a teacher or parents, you need to be completely sure they are trustworthy and can give you the support you need. Hearing a friend say, “I know the rumour’s not true. I didn’t pay attention to it,” or “yes, I had a problem with that person all last year, too” can help you realise that not only so most of the time people see bullying for what it is but that the bully has often picked on many other people before he or she got to you.
Don’t let your fear stand in the way
Most people hesitate to speak out because it can be hard. It takes confidence to stand up to a bully — especially if he or she is one of the established group leaders. But chances are that other students witnessing the bullying behaviour feel as uncomfortable as you do — they just don’t speak up. Perhaps they feel that they’re not popular enough to take a stand or worry that they’re vulnerable and the bully will turn on them. Staying quiet (even though they don’t like the bully’s behaviour) is a way to distance themselves from the person who is the target.
When a group of people keeps quiet like this, the bully’s reach is extending beyond just one person. He or she is managing to intimidate lots of people. But when one person speaks out against a bully, the reverse happens. It gives others license to add their support and take a stand, too.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!