October 31, 2023
Bullying is a major concern for professionals and teachers who work with children and young people. Experiencing bullying in childhood can lead to a range of negative consequences, including poor self-esteem, anxiety disorders, and depression (1). Children who have mental health problems can be bullied because of issues they may be experiencing only to contribute further to their suffering.
In short, bullying can lead to mental health problems or mental health problems can lead to bullying, which creates a distressing vicious cycle. This is why it is important that any school-based approaches to tackling mental health address bullying and any anti-bullying approaches in schools support pupil mental health and wellbeing.
This blog post will delve into the link between bullying and mental health, highlight how developing positive relationships and kindness can prevent bullying in schools, and provide practical tips for protecting children's mental health from bullying.
The link between bullying and mental health is clear. Studies have shown that children who are bullied are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation (1). These negative impacts can last well into adulthood and can have a severe impact on an individual's life. It is therefore imperative that we take action to prevent bullying, and one of the most effective ways to do this is by developing positive relationships with children and young people.
Bullying in schools can be a result of negative relationships between students, teachers, and even parents. Children who feel excluded or ostracized by their peers are more likely to bully others as a way to gain power and control. On the other hand, children who have positive relationships with adults tend to have better mental health outcomes and are less likely to engage in bullying behaviours.
Being bullied for having mental health problems can lead children and young people to experience feelings of shame, embarrassment, and further isolation. This is why it is crucial for schools to address mental health issues early on and provide support for children who may be struggling. By creating a safe and inclusive environment where students feel comfortable discussing their emotions and seeking help when needed, we can prevent bullying and promote positive mental health.
It is essential for schools to address bullying directly. This can be done through anti-bullying policies and procedures that clearly state the consequences of engaging in bullying behaviours(2). It is crucial for all staff to be trained in how to handle and prevent bullying, as well as how to support pupils who have experienced or engaged in bullying behaviours.
We suggest an alternative way of tackling bullying and that is instead of looking at removing or reducing bullying is to prevent it from happening in the first place through building a culture of positive relationships and promoting, acceptance, connection, empathy and trust through day-to-day interactions that facilitate wellbeing and protect not only against bullying but also against mental health problems.
Positive relationships are key to preventing bullying in schools. When teachers, mental health leads, head teachers, and youth workers take the time to build relationships with children and young people, they create a safe and nurturing environment where everyone feels valued and respected. Positive relationships can be modelled between staff and pupils which facilitates the development of wellbeing through day-to-day interactions.
Pupils can also act as positive relationship role models for peers, creating a culture of kindness and empathy in the school community. This can be done through activities such as peer mentoring programmes, buddy systems, and promoting acts of kindness within the school.
This, in turn, makes it more difficult for bullying to occur. Children who feel like they are part of a community are less likely to engage in bullying behaviour because they feel a sense of responsibility to the group.
We have developed our Wellbeing Ambassadors programme to train pupils to lead wellbeing interventions that develop peer-to-peer positive relationships and can be part of any anti-bullying strategy.
Kindness is another essential factor in preventing bullying. When children and young people are taught to be kind to one another, they are less likely to engage in bullying behaviour. Furthermore, when kindness is modelled by teachers, mental health leads, head teachers, and youth workers, it sets the tone for the environment and creates a culture of kindness and respect.
When we promote kindness and empathy among students, we create a positive school climate where everyone feels supported and included.
Kindness is also an evidence-based approach to developing wellbeing this is known as a positive psychology intervention and is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to help promote positive mental health in a school for all age groups and even with very EYSF children (3).
Kindness can be taught through various activities, such as random or intentional acts of kindness, challenges, gratitude journals, and empathy-building exercises. World Kindness Day on the 13th of November which falls during Anti-Bullying Week 13th-17th November is a great opportunity to promote kindness activities in your school.
Kindness can be explicitly taught in the curriculum, in PSHE lessons or experienced through rituals and routines in your school. For example, achievement assemblies could be the perfect opportunity to compliment and recognise the acts of kindness pupils do for one another each week. This not only helps the children to feel pride, a positive emotion essential for wellbeing but also models the behaviour you want to cultivate in your school environment.
To find out more about how to develop kindness in your school for pupils join our Kindness Interventions for School Wellbeing Workshop.
So, how can we protect children's mental health from bullying? Here are some practical tips:
Bullying and mental health are closely linked, and it is up to teachers, mental health leads, head teachers, and practitioners to prevent it. By developing positive relationships with children and young people and teaching kindness, we can create a safe and nurturing environment where everyone feels valued and respected. It is essential that we take action to protect children's mental health from bullying, and by implementing practical tips, we can make a significant difference.
Interested in running a peer-led proactive approach to addressing bullying and preventing mental health problems check out our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme or find out more by downloading our free cheat sheet.
Learn about how positive psychology-based Kindness Interventions can support the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people in your school by joining our free workshop.
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