This week is Anti-Bullying Week, when schools across the country raise awareness and take a stand against the bullying of children and young people.
After a difficult few years for schools and pupils, this year's theme for Anti-Bullying Week is "One Kind Word" – a message of hope and positivity. The organisers want to shine a light on the power of kindness to stop hurtful behaviour in its tracks and to empower children to break the bullying cycle with small acts that might change someone's day.
The message is simple, but the underlying problem deep-rooted and troubling. Bullying can lead to significant mental health issues in children, both now and in later life. Whilst bullying was once primarily limited to the periods when children were physically together, they are now more exposed than ever, with bullying continuing over social media, at any time of the day and over any forum.
For children being bullied, the starting point can often be to seek help from their school. By law, every school in England must have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying. Even if the bullying has progressed from the playground, Head Teachers have a specific statutory power to discipline pupils for poor behaviour even outside of the school premises.
How to deal with bullying
We regularly assist parents in working together with their child's school to address bullying. In our experience, it is important that concerns about bullying are raised with the school early on, so that teachers can keep an ear to the ground and play an active role in intercepting bullying behaviour. If the bullying does not stop with increased supervision, we recommend to parents that they keep a diary of the incidents their child describes and ask that teachers write up the same in the school's welfare log. Parents can seek a letter from their child's GP, setting out the impact bullying is having on the child's mental and physical health. These details can all be added to the child's school file and sent with a letter to the Head Teacher, urging them to take action. In the event that a satisfactory response isn't forthcoming, parents should consider escalating their concerns to the school's chair of governors or further still, to their Local Education Authority.
Support for parents and children
In addition to the day-to-day guidance offered by teachers, parents can consider counselling or mentoring sessions for their child so that they are receiving support while the bullying is being addressed. It is worth checking what can be offered by each school, as many have their own wellbeing services, along with school counsellors or links to external providers. This can profoundly change the way in which a child is able to process their feelings and reduce the chance of emotional scars following them into later life.
Last week, MPs held a debate in the Commons on the provision of school-based counselling services, calling for a paid counsellor to be made available in every secondary school, academy and further education college in England. It is hoped that this will reach the ‘missing middle’ of young people, who do not meet the threshold for support from NHS mental health services but need more help than can be offered by existing mental health support teams in selected schools.
For parents who feel that their child would benefit from support outside of school, the Firm's Family Team work extensively with child and adolescent counsellors, including psychotherapists, psychiatrists and experts in all areas of education, and can recommend someone based on the specific needs of the child. We can also recommend parenting programmes to give parents the tools and support they need to continue guiding their child through such challenging experiences.
Anti-Bullying Week is coordinated by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a coalition of organisations and individuals that are united against bullying. Find out about their work on their website, and for more tools and resources to get help and support anti-bullying year-round.