Finding the causes of 'bullying behaviour'
Dr Sheen says any child who is showing “bullying behaviour” is clearly going through, or has gone through, a situation that has impacted on them in a negative way.
“It’s important to understand that behaviour is a form of expression and there’s clearly something else going on for them. It might be something happening in their preschool or school, or it might be something happening in their home,” Dr Sheen says.
“So whether we call the behaviour bullying or whether you want to call the behaviour something else, if the child is behaving aggressively or being unkind to others then there needs to be something put in place to help support that child. The child will need help to understand what’s appropriate behaviour and what is not appropriate.”
A US study conducted over seven years found that any child can be a bully and a majority of children will bully another child at one point in their life.
Another study at the University of Turku in Finland revealed about 20 percent of those who were bullies as children had a mental health problem that needed medical treatment as a teen or young adult.
This compares to a finding in the same study that 23 percent of the children who were bullied frequently had sought help for a psychiatric problem before the age of 30.
(The group that fared worst in terms of adult mental health were the children who were frequently bullies and were also bullied themselves.)
But when it comes to the child carrying out the bullying behaviour, Dr Sheen advises parents to take a close look at what’s going on at home.
“The best way for parents to handle the situation is to reflect on their home life. How are they behaving at home? Are there any changes or stresses in the child’s environment that you can manage as a parent?” Dr Sheen says.
“If there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary at home, then parents need to take a look at the daycare, preschool or whatever environment that the child is in to see if the stress is coming from that place.
“But, of course, it’s not easy to look into an environment, such as a preschool, that you have no control over. So unless you can be in a situation where you can observe your child in the preschool, I’d encourage parents to take a look at the environment that they can control, such as the home environment.”
“Often, when we reflect on these situations, we might notice a subtle change that’s going on, or it might be that the family has just moved house and the child is feeling uncertain or anxious. Parents can usually find that there are certain things that the child has been going through that has influenced their behaviour.”
If parents are unsure about what might be causing their child’s behaviour, Dr Sheen suggests talking to teachers or carers and taking a look at whether the child is happy in that particular environment.
“If you’ve excluded all those potential causes and if you really can’t see anything that might be causing their behaviour, then it might be time to talk to your GP and then talk to a psychologist as that might be the only way to really understand why the child is behaving in a negative way.”