One in four Australian children are bullied repeatedly.
It is a stark reality but in conjunction with the 8th National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence today (March 16), parents are encouraged to know the signs so they can help children speak up.
Director of Australian parenting website, raisingchildren, Julie Green, said young people who have experienced bullying needed to be reassured they were not alone.
“It is important children are not left to sort out bullying on their own as it can be devastating for a child’s confidence and self-esteem,” she said.
“If parents are aware their child is being bullied they can take steps together with other key people, for example teachers, to quickly stop it.
“There is no single way to tell if your child is being bullied if they don’t tell you, but there are some social, emotional and physical signs parents and carers can look out for.”
These include bruises, cuts, scratches, poor eating and sleeping, not wanting to go to school, bed-wetting, avoiding social events, complaining about head or stomach aches, missing property or torn clothing.
“You might notice your child might seem unusually anxious, upset, nervous, teary, withdrawn or secretive and these behaviours become more pronounced at the end of the weekend or holidays, when the child has to go back to school,” associate professor Green said.
“Listen to what your child has to tell you and make it clear that you will help.”
“Days like today's National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence are an important opportunity to start a conversation at home about bullying, why it’s not OK, and how we can support children on this issue.”
But University of QLD professor, Marilyn Campbell, says knee-jerk reactions to bullying are counter-productive.
“Bullying is a complex social relationship problem which is deeply embedded in our society,” she said.
“It is a community issue with no single, simple, quick-fix solution.
“The best way to address bullying in schools must take a longer term, multi-tiered approach.
“Programs which work in primary schools are much less effective in secondary schools, whose students need a different approach.
“In our research on individually counselling students who persistently bully, using motivational interviewing, it took about three months of weekly sessions to effect a change.
“One day can highlight the issue but it won’t solve the problem.”
She emphasises the importance of building on existing programs.
“Any approach takes time and effort and should have a strengths-based focus, making use of the invaluable, nationally available resources which are evidence-informed,” she said.
University of South Australia lecturer in child development, Lesley-anne Ey, said early intervention was important.
“International and Australian research has found that children under the age of eight years commonly confuse bullying behaviour with developmentally normal conflict and aggression, suggesting a need for education about bullying with this age group,” she said.
“Currently there is a lack of anti-bullying educational resources and programs for young children, with formal education being absent in the Australian curriculum in the junior primary and preschool years.”