What makes some children turn into bullies? Is it present in them since early childhood or does it manifest itself in adulthood?
I would say that bullies are rarely born bullies. By exploring a bullying situation in more depth, one can usually uncover various reasons for someone becoming a bully. For example, some children will react by becoming bullies to major life changes like the birth of a sibling, moving to a new country, etc.
Also, children are expert imitators and will sometimes model behaviours they have noticed from significant adults in their lives. If they witness those adults getting what they want by using those bullying behaviours, they might mimic them without realizing it is an inappropriate way to interact with their peers.
Sometimes a child will have been a victim of bullying himself and deal with it by bullying others, or feel left out and rejected and think that bullying more vulnerable kids will make them popular.
Something else to keep in mind is that children are still learning to control their emotions, and bullying might simply be their way of telling adults “I do not know how to deal with my anger!
What psychological impact does bullying have on a vulnerable child? Do children tend to bully those that are ‘different’ or have special needs and why?
The effects bullying can have on victims can be devastating. They are often psychological, social and physical and can range from short term to lifelong consequences. Short term impacts include a drop in grades and school refusal, social withdrawal and isolation, and physical symptoms like headaches, stomach pains, loss of appetite, etc. Impacts can also be as serious as major depression and self-harm or suicide attempts.
Kids who are “different” and “stand out” from the rest of the crowd do tend to get picked on. Very often, “different” students are already a bit socially isolated. Studies have also shown that special needs children are at a 2 to 3 times increased risk of being victims of bullying. Bullies tend to choose victims that will be “easy” to bully, therefore kids who are different or aren’t able to defend themselves.
How can parents stop or prevent their children from bullying others and what steps should a school take to control them?
The first tip I usually tell parents is to pay attention and be involved in what is happening in their children’s lives. Do not minimize the situation if your child has been displaying bullying behaviours. Keep the lines of communication with the teachers and the school counselor open and support them in dealing with your child’s behaviour. Help you child understand that his behaviour has hurt others, and make sure to model non-violent and respectful behaviours in the home. Limit his involvement with violent TV shows, video games and role playing. When you notice that your child is displaying kind, respectful and empathetic behaviours, make an effort to recognize those and to praise him.
As a teacher, it is also important to approach the situation with an open mind and to hear all parties involved separately. The bully very often needs as much help as the victim, and simply punishing them will not resolve the situation. Witnesses must also be educated that they are responsible of either trying to stop the bullying if possible, or report it to an adult as soon as possible. If they feel the situation is becoming out of their scope, teachers should get school counselors or health professionals involved.
Anything else that you might wish to add?
I think that bullying is getting more and more press and this is a good thing. People are willing to talk more about it and awareness of the problem is growing. It is everywhere and it is unfortunately pervasive. In Singapore, studies have shown that 1 in 4 secondary school students have fallen victim to bullying. By talking about it, I believe we are helping to change the behaviours of bullies, victims and bystanders. The key message is as a parent or a teacher, pay attention, be aware of what is going on with the students and if the situation is above what you feel comfortable dealing with, get help!
Dr Mélissandre Noël is based at IMC Jelita. So to www.imc-healthcare.com to make an appointment if you have concerns about bullying.