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Author: Dr Dennis OugrinConsultant Child Psychiatrist

Bullying can take many forms and isn’t always obvious to the adults in a child’s life. For the child being bullied, there are likely to be serious implications - unhappiness, stress, loss of concentration, self-esteem and focus at school and even physical ill health.

It’s a serious issue for both those being bullied and the bullies themselves.


What is bullying?

Most children at some time have been teased or have had difficult times with their friends. But when another child is tormenting them either physically, verbally or in other ways, it needs to be dealt with.

Increasingly, cyberbullying is turning into a problem. Bullies are taking to new media platforms - emails, chat rooms, instant messaging, social networking sites and texting to taunt and bully others – which can extend the comments to a wider group of children – increasing the suffering for the child being bullied.

1 in 8 children have been bullied on social media


Signs your child is being bullied

Often children don't want to tell a parent they are being bullied – they may feel humiliated, feel they are at fault somehow or worry that by telling you things will get worse. As a parent, you might suspect something is wrong.

Common signs that your child may be being bullied are:

  • Stomach aches or headaches caused by the stress
  • Not sleeping well or having nightmares
  • Being more moody or bad-tempered than usual
  • Over-reacting to situations and taking it out on siblings
  • Belongings being damaged or going missing
  • Decline in concentration, focus and attainment at school
  • Worrying about going to school or not wanting to go
  • Change in friendships or normal routines with friends
  • Becoming socially withdrawn
  • Crying, tearfulness or low mood
  • Bruises or tears/marks on clothing

1 in 10 secondary school children report being bullied

We felt that the therapist was able to offer our son the space he needed to talk about his issues without worrying about the consequences. The change in his behaviour has been remarkable – it’s like we have a different child in the house.

Aisha, London


The long-term impacts of being bullied

It makes sense that being bullied is going to have a negative impact on your life – and studies with twins have looked at the long-term mental health effects. The study showed that those who have been bullied are more likely to develop anxiety disorders, depression and even paranoid thoughts. These conditions may not show themselves immediately – they can develop years down the line1.

1 Singham, T., et al (2017)

Bullies and those bullied are 3 times more likely to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts


What if your child is the bully?

Finding out your child is bullying another is a horrible and worrying thing – and parents often don’t know how best to stop their child’s behaviour. Confrontation and punishment are natural reactions for parents, however, bullying can be a sign that there is an underlying issue that needs to be dealt with.

Benefits of finding help for a child who bullies:

  1. Teach other ways of behaving - finding help for your child or teenager early is the best way to teach and reinforce alternative behaviours.
  2. Underlying mental health issue - if your child is bullying another, the likelihood is your child will also need some support – the bullying behaviour could be a sign of an underlying mental health condition like conduct disorder, ODD, ADHD or anxiety.
  3. Talk to an expert - you may want to consider an assessment for your child or teenager to understand the causes of their bullying behaviour. This might sound scary, however the Psychiatrists we work with help thousands of families every year who are in a similar position to you. Their main focus is making sure your child is ok – they aren’t there to judge you or your child.
  4. Consider talking therapies - a talking therapy, like CBT, can be hugely effective at helping children deal with their emotions in a more positive way and to understand the consequences of their behaviour. By involving a third party to help your child, it can improve your relationship with your child as you are no longer the only one trying to address the problems.

Seeking help early is the most important step you can take to ensure that negative behaviours do not escalate or becoming entrenched.

Read more about treating behavioural issues

Most children will face bullying at some point in their lives, either as victims, perpetrators or bystanders. Bullying has enormous costs not just to individual children, but also its general social and economic costs are running into billions of pounds through mechanisms such as early school dropouts, exacerbation of mental disorders and criminal activity.
MBBS, MRCPsych, PGDip (Oxon), CCT, PhD

Consultant Child Psychiatrist
London

Dr Ougrin is a psychiatrist with nearly 10 years of clinical and academic experience specialising in child and adolescent psychiatry. He also has undertaken much research in the area of self-harm and has developed an effective intervention for...

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