Think of bullies and you usually think teens, but pre-schoolers can and do bully with damaging impact on children’s self-esteem.
The first sign may be a reluctance to go to preschool or child care or your child may tell you outright that they don’t want to play with a particular child because they’re repeatedly hurting or teasing them.
Bullying is a serious health issue, harming children, and carrying a significant cost for communities both now and into the future.
As parents we all must listen and talk about bullying, to provide the necessary support for our children.
National Child Health Poll
One in five Australian parents report one or more of their children was bullied in the last school term.
The 2018 Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) National Child Health Poll on childhood bullying found that while most parents have a good understanding of what bullying is, and the serious potential effects on children, half of all parents still say they need more information on how to protect their child, including from cyberbullying.
Almost every parent (89%) of a child who was bullied say the experience affected the whole family. One in six parents felt physically sick, and one in five felt depressed or anxious. Almost half (48%) worried about the long-term effects of bullying on their child, while many were angry (44%) and frustrated at being unable to help (44%). One in three (32%) felt guilty for not being able to stop the bullying while one in four felt helpless (28%).
Poll Director, paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes, says bullying is a health problem and a community problem.
“It is serious and common and it can harm the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of children and young people,” Dr Rhodes says.
“The best way to address and prevent bullying is for children, parents and schools to work together in a whole-of-community approach.”
Overall, the poll shows most parents have good levels of knowledge about the definition, causes and consequences of bullying children. Seventy-one per cent of parents know that arguments or disagreements between children are not bullying, but only 20% know that random acts of aggression or intimidation are not bullying.
These actions can cause distress but do not fit the definition of bullying which requires that the action are repeated and on purpose.
One in four parents (22%) thought that most bullying involves a child physically hurting another child. When in fact verbal and social bullying are both more common than physical bullying, particularly among girls.
Seventy per cent of parents report knowing that how parents raise their child can affect their chances of being involved in bullying.
Most parents (90%) know that bullying is not best ignored or left for children to sort out for themselves. Seventy-seven per cent of parents feel bullying can lead to behaviour changes at home (95%).
Parents are most likely to be confident they would recognise physical bullying if it is happening to their child (70%), compared with verbal (53%), social (45%) or cyberbullying (45%). Forty-six per cent of parents are confident they would know if their child is bullying another child.
Children need to learn empathy
Acting Clinical Nurse Consultant Sandi Phillips from the Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service says children need to learn empathy to help combat bullying behaviour.
“Empathy is about how other people feel so that’s a really important thing to learn because obviously if we can tune into how people are feeling we are going to have better communication leading to stronger relationships.
“We all want to know that people are hearing us.”
Sandi says parents can help by role modelling how to show empathy when children are upset or afraid.
“It is showing them we’re there for them,” she says.
“Role modelling is very important. Children watch everything we do and how we interact with people on a day to day basis. They’re watching how we talk to people at the cash register, how we interact with anyone. As adults we need to be mindful about role modelling positive behaviour.
“When parents or carers begin to talk about how other people are feeling, toys can be used. The parent or carer could talk about how teddy is feeling or why teddy might be sad.
“Our aim should be that if a child tells us a story, we ask how did you feel, and then you can start to talk about different emotions and let them talk about feelings.”