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"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words do just as much damage"

With a new academic year starting I thought I would write a blog post about the issue of 'Childhood Bullying'.

Bullying can be defined as "a type of aggressive behaviour which is intentional, repeated, and usually involves imbalance of power between the bully and victim".

There are four common types of bullying:

1) Physical - This includes hitting, kicking, pinching, tripping, pushing, blocking, touching in unwanted or inappropriate ways, or damaging property.

2) Verbal - This includes name-calling, threatening, insulting and making disrespectful comments about someone's attributes like appearance, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity etc.

3) Social - This involves lying or spreading rumours, playing nasty jokes to embarrass and humiliate, negative facial or physical gestures, encouraging others to socially exclude someone and damaging someone's reputation and social acceptance.

4) Cyber Bullying - This involves bullying using digital technologies (computers, smartphones) over social media, texts, websites and other various online platforms. Internet trolling and cyber stalking are also common forms of cyber bullying. This type of bullying is often similar to traditional bullying, but with some distinctions. Victims sometimes do not know the identity of their bully, or even why they are targeting them.

There is a wealth of statistics in relation to bullying both in the U.K. and overseas and you will regularly see bullying reported in the media. The UK Annual Bullying survey of 2017 was conducted in secondary schools and colleges across the U.K. and found alarming results. 54% of all respondents said that they have been bullied at some point in their lives - that's every other child. 1 in 5 said they had been bullied within the last year and 1 in 10 reported being bullied within the last week.

Various studies have shown that bullying can have serious psychological effects - anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts as well as 15 to 25 children a year taking their own lives as a direct result. It can also cause the victim to lack confidence as well as suffering from various physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach pain. Furthermore there is an increased risk of these individuals missing school, facing barriers to learning as well as being excluded. Research has also demonstrated that these problems can carry on long after the bullying has stopped - even into adulthood.

Kings College London conducted research in 2015 which highlighted the long-term effects of being bullied. They found there is an increased risk for previous victims to experience a range of mental health issues as an adult, they were also more likely to earn less, not be in employment, education or training, be less likely to gain qualifications, be in stable relationships and be obese. Other research has shown that childhood victims of bullying are more likely to be homeless as an adult and commit or be a victim of domestic violence. Research from the University of Warwickshire and Duke Medical Centre even goes as far as suggesting that the long term impact of bullying may even be worse than that of child abuse.

So what do you do as a parent if you find out your child is being bullied?

Most importantly listen to them and put your own feelings aside to focus on how they are feeling. Reassure them that it is not their fault and encourage them to stay strong and to appear confident. Never tell your child to fight back - as retaliation will only lead to more problems. It is also important that you seek the schools help and not try and deal with the issue yourself. All schools are legally required to have an anti-bullying policy so list all the facts about the bullying situations your child has been in and arrange a visit to the school to tackle the problem head on.

What do you do as a parent if you find out or suspect your child has been bullying others?

Your first reaction might be shock or anger but it is important to remain calm and not react in anger or frustration. At some point, sooner rather than later, you will need to have a chat with your child about this. It is really important that you get their side of their story and try to get to the bottom of whats going on. Do not go in angry or they may shut off and not want to talk. If they have been bullying others, find out how they felt, what lead up to these incidents and what they feel would help to resolve this. Explore the feelings of the person who has been bullied and ask your child how they think they would be feeling. Get them to put their feet in their shoes to understand the impact of bullying and how it can cause long term issues. Letting your child know to expect some form of sanctions or consequences is essential too and remind them that this could impact on their future choices. Sometimes, changes or difficulties in a child's life could be behind a child behaving in a negative way. Whatever the cause may be, it is important to try and delve behind the behaviour to find out the root cause and help them find another way to deal with this, whether this is through counselling, support or an activity where they may be helping others.

As a society, we all have a role to play in preventing bullying. We need to ensure our children understand bullying and know that this is unacceptable by talking openly about the issue. Its important that we check in with children often. Really listen to them, try and understand their concerns and ensure they are adequately supported.

But perhaps most importantly we have a role to play in modelling how to treat others with kindness and respect.

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