How common is bullying and teasing?
Unfortunately, bullying and teasing are very common. A survey of schools in 36 countries found that Australian primary schools were amongst those with the highest incidence of bullying in the world. More than 25 per cent of Australian 4th grade students said that they had suffered bullying, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/12/14/2445879.htm).
Children who are bullied and teased typically feel isolated, angry, and sad, and are left feeling worse about themselves afterwards. The effects of bullying on self-esteem can be long-lasting.
Bullying and teasing are discussed here in relation to children, however bullying and teasing can occur in any age-group, causing significant distress to the sufferer. Often adults who are bullied feel ashamed about seeking help precisely because most people only think of bullying in relation to children.
What is the difference between bullying and teasing?
Bullying and teasing are similar and many people use the terms interchangeably. Teasing is generally used to refer to name-calling, but it also includes excluding someone. Some teasing can be managed by teaching the child skills to manage the teasing such as not fuelling the teasing by overreacting.
“Bullying is repeated oppression, psychological or physical of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons” (Rigby, 1996). Bullying tends to make a person feel unsafe. In contrast to teasing, bullying should always be addressed by an adult and the child being bullied should be taught to report any bullying to an adult that they can trust.
Treatment for bullying and teasing
What can the school do?
Most schools have strict policies around bullying and teasing and will take swift action once it is reported. If you are in any doubt about how your school manages bullying, contact your school and ask about their policy. Talk to your school, school counsellor, or your child’s teacher.
Our psychologists can also talk to the school about the issues and recommend appropriate actions or interventions.
What can I do to help my child?
1. Build coping skills
Children can learn skills to lessen the chance that they will be teased or bullied and build their coping skills with dealing with these behaviours. Given that children cannot control the bully, treatment needs to focus on changing the child’s reactions to the teasing. First, children need to understand what motivates the bully and what he or she gets out of it. Reasons why people tease and bully others include:
- It can make them feel better about themselves
- Because they are jealous
- They are trying to look good in front of their friends
- They want the attention
2. Develop better responses to bullying
Common responses to teasing (e.g., disagreeing, arguing, getting upset, fighting back) simply make it more fun for the bully and usually maintain the teasing or bullying. Children who are bullied need to practise developing responses that make teasing less fun for the bully. It is also important for children to develop more confident body language. Body language includes things like:
- The way we stand
- The expression on our face
- What we do with our arms, hands, legs and eyes
3. Increase coping skills and self-esteem
Teasing is most hurtful when it is about something personal that the child already worries about or feels might be true. Therefore, teaching the child to use coping self-talk and developing their self-esteem are two helpful treatment strategies.
i) Coping self-talk
Coping self-talk involves acknowledging a difficult situation but thinking about it in a way that increases the child’s ability to cope and makes them feel better (not worse) about the situation..
Examples of coping statements include:
- “It feels awful and unbearable but I can deal with it.”
- “What I’m feeling is normal and it won’t last forever.”
- “I’m going OK. I’ll just keep doing my thing.”
Coping self-talk also includes kind, helpful things that the child can say to themselves to help take the sting out of personal teases.
ii) Develop self-esteem
Techniques that are aimed at developing a child’s self-esteem focus on helping the child to recognise the various qualities and attributes that make them unique and special. This may also involve helping the child to develop additional skills and abilities or address particular undesirable behaviours or qualities (including their behaviour at home or the way they behave towards their friends).
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for bullying and teasing, or to book an appointment with one of our child clinical psychologists who provides treatment for these issues, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.