Bullying and school refusal – what can we do?

Unsurprisingly bullying can be a contributory factor in school refusal and attendance difficulties. Children and young people may be avoiding school to protect themselves from bullying or as a result of the effects on their self-esteem and mental health.

“Bullying is repeated negative behaviour done on purpose to hurt someone. Often a person or group targets another person or group to make them feel embarrassed, insecure or scared.” (Mencap).

This includes physical, verbal, social and emotional, or cyberbullying.

Sadly some children and young people may actually be bullied because of their difficulties. Children with SEN and mental health problems can be more vulnerable to bullying. These children might not be able to understand social rules, or may be isolated and grateful for the interest of other young people who might not be genuine friends. Mencap describes this as “mate and hate”. Some may be joining in with bullying to avoid being bullied.

All schools should have anti-bullying policies and hopefully effective anti-bullying programmes. Some schools might report that they have zero tolerance to bullying. Any school who responds to questions and complaints about bullying with claims they have no bullying, robably doesn’t understand the issues and dynamics within groups of children and young people and are potentially failing to protect them. Some also report being bullied by adults within school. Bullied children need support, and bullying can be reduced by a whole school ethos including good pastoral care. Parents and schools need to work together to support these children, and develop strategies and procedures to keep all children safe.

The distress and powerlessness felt by children and young people who are relentlessly bullied is horrific. There are unfortunately serious cases of bulling and cyberbullying across many schools with a very real impact on mental health and school refusal. As the implications can be very damaging, with long term effects, it is important to seek help immediately – inform school and seek advice from other organisations too. These children and young people need to be listened to, to be given a voice to ask for help, and to be taken seriously. They may be frightened of repercussions from reporting bullying and therefore bullying needs to be dealt with and monitored, to ensure they are all kept safe.

How bad does the bullying need to be before it’s reported?

There is no measure, no threshold. Bullying affects the victim and the bully. If its bullying it needs to be dealt with appropriately. Presumably children and young people who bully are also in need of support, to explore the issues leading to this behaviour and to reconsider their apparent need to bully someone to communicate their feelings, or to make themselves feel better. They need to stop.

Mencap.org.uk explain:

“Bullying is wrong because it makes people feel scared and upset.”
What is bullying?

Bullying is when someone is horrible to you on purpose. Anyone can be bullied. People are usually bullied because they are different from other people.
If someone bullies you they might:

  • call you horrible names
  • hit you
  • kick you
  • steal your things
  • send you nasty text messages, emails or letters or make a nasty phone call
  • make you do things you do not want to do
  • ignore you and leave you out of things

What should I do if I am being bullied?

It is important to get it stopped. You can get help by telling:

  • a family member
  • a friend
  • your teacher if you are at school or college
  • your social worker, key worker, or carer if you have one
  • the police if someone has hit you or is seriously hurting you. See our webpage on mate and hate crime.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to talk about our feelings or if something bad has happened to us. It’s common for people to feel that it’s their fault or feel ashamed, as well as scared, confused and alone.
  • But if you are being bullied, it is never your fault. Ever. And there is always someone who can help stop it. Talking about it is the first step to stopping it.

Different ways to tell someone

Face to face: Speak to a parent, carer or sibling. Maybe you’ll feel more comfortable talking to a friend or grandparent, your doctor, school nurse, or Mencap’s helpline advisors. Whoever you feel most comfortable talking to, don’t delay having this conversation, do it now – they will want to listen and help.
Letter, email or text: If you don’t feel you can talk to someone, why not write a letter or email about the situation to someone you want to tell? Include what happened, and how this made you feel.

Bully box: If your school has a bully box, write down or draw what has happened and how you feel, and post it in there. When the bully box is opened, someone will read your information and get help.

What if the bullying doesn’t stop after I have got help?

There are lots of laws that say bullying is wrong. If you are still being bullied after you have got help, the police might be able to help you. The police might ask you for evidence. Evidence means proof that something has happened. You can show the police evidence by keeping a diary of what is happening to you – you can write the diary or record it on a tape keeping any nasty letters, texts or emails to show them.

What if I am still upset and scared when the bullying has stopped?

You can speak to your doctor and tell them how you feel. They might be able to find someone you can speak to about your feelings. This person is called a counsellor. A counsellor can help you to find ways of dealing with your problems. If you need more information you can call our friendly advisors on 0808 808 1111 or email: help@mencap.org.uk

Find out more about bullying on our What is bullying?