Backing off the bullies

How to identify and deal with potential problems

Backing off the bullies

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Tuesday September 14, 2010

It can start with something minor - teasing on the playground or being left off the invitation list for a birthday party.

But what may first seem to be nothing more than unkind or selfish behaviour can escalate into something much more mean-spirited and serious: bullying.

Michelle Warren, Clinical Psychologist with Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre, says bullying behaviour is a serious problem for children of all ages, both physically and psychologically. "In the short term, it can create anxiety, depression and self-doubt in the victim," she says.

Bullying is defined as the act of intentionally harming someone physically or psychologically repeatedly over time. According to Public Safety Canada, it can include physical actions, such as punching and kicking; verbal actions, such as threats and name-calling; and social exclusion, such as ignoring and isolating someone on the playground or in the school cafeteria.

Bullying is a serious issue in Canada. A recent survey published by Public Safety Canada suggests that about eight per cent of students between the ages of 12 and 19 report being bullied on a weekly basis.

This is a problem because bullying can have a very serious effect on a child's health and well-being. Research shows that it can inhibit a child's ability to learn and leave him or her feeling fearful and sad. It can also cause depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. According to Public Safety Canada, male victims of bullying are five times more likely to be depressed and girls are three times more likely to be depressed than their respective classmates.

With kids returning to school this September, parents and teachers need to keep a watchful eye. If they suspect a child is being victimized, there will likely be some indicators. "Sleep problems, changes in appetite, stomach aches, irritability, headaches, and school avoidance could all be signs that a child is being bullied," says Warren.

Taking action is important. Parents and teachers can encourage communication and let kids know it's okay to talk about it. Asking how they feel if they encounter bullying behaviour towards themselves or others, sharing their experiences, and empathy building are all good strategies that will help the child feel empowered, she says.

"I always let the victim of bullying know their life will get better when they are out of this situation," says Warren.

And while it's natural to feel concern for the victims of bullying, it's important that children engaging in bullying receive attention, too, because this pattern of behaviour can have long-term negative effects for them, Warren says. "Identify the inappropriate behaviours rather than label the child as a bully."

Certain behaviours can be red flags for bullying. A youth's aggressive behaviour towards a parent or teacher, for example, may signal a tendency towards bullying his or her peers as well.
Be aware that girls and boys have different ways of bullying.

"Boys engage in more physical forms of bullying. Girls, on the other hand, tend more towards relational aggression -- socially isolating someone or rejecting them and spreading nasty rumours," says Warren. "Victims of bullying are often physically smaller and tend to be somewhat self conscious or anxious to begin with."

Bullying: What to Do if You Are a Parent or Guardian

  1. Listen and respond to all complaints from your children about bullying, even the seemingly trivial ones such as name-calling.
  2. Talk to the adults who were in charge when the bullying occurred to find ways to remedy the hurt and prevent future problems.
  3. Stop bullying behaviour that happens at home and in the community. Consistency matters!
  4. Consider how you treat others and how you allow others to treat you. As a role model, your actions and reactions can influence how youth relate to each other.

Source: Public Safety Canada

For More Information

To learn more about bullying, please visit the following websites:

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