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How Children Can Stand Up To A Bully

It's no easy feat, but standing up to a bully can help stop the harmful behaviour rearing its head in schoolyards and on computer screens.

Friday marks National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence, and counselling service Kids Helpline is calling on bystanders to speak out.

Leo Hede, Kids Helpline counselling centre supervisor, acknowledged this can be difficult -- particularly for children who fear reprisal or may not know how to act.

"Having to stand up to people can be intimidating as a lot of kids are concerned they will become a victim themselves," he told 10 daily.

Image: AAP

In 2018, more than 3500 counselling contacts from children and young people to Kids Helpline were about bullying, with 86 percent related to bullying at school and one quarter involving cyber bullying.

Hede said while focus on cyber-bullying is needed, traditional bullying scenarios in school playgrounds remain the most common form.

New data released by the helpline on Friday found verbal abuse accounted for 24 percent of reported bullying, while 13 percent included exclusion, isolation or spreading rumours.

About six percent of children and young people experienced threats of personal harm and four percent experienced physical aggression or assault.

READ MORE: How Do We Stop Cyber-Bullying In Our Schools? 

READ MORE: Lisa Wilkinson: I Survived The Schoolyard Bullies, But Too Many Aussie Kids Don't

The effects are well-documented, with recent research by online mental health advocacy group ReachOut finding a worrying 16 percent of young people aged 14-25 cope with bullying by turning to illicit drugs or alcohol.

So, what can be done to stop it? One approach is called the 'upstander effect'.

"People often engage in bullying to exert some control over another person. What we're hearing from research is even if one other person stands up against their behaviour, it can take that power away," Hede explained.

Here's how children can learn to respectfully and safely stand up to bullying.

1. Stay Calm and call It Out

If a young person sees bullying taking place at school, Hede warned against defensive behaviour that can, in some cases, worsen the situation.

"We're not suggesting children stop a fight or start calling names back," he said, adding a bully is often seeking such a reaction.

"This is about owning it themselves, alerting the person engaging in the bullying behaviour and saying they don't agree with what they're seeing."

This process should help to interrupt the bullying -- one Hede said also works online.

"Online, it can be much easier to be passive. We encourage people to not only engage or pile on nasty comments on Facebook or Instagram, but to call someone out in a group message, for example," he said.

The upstander effect can also work online. Image: Getty
2.rEMOVE THE pERSON bEING bULLIED And Offer support

Hede suggested removing the person being bullied from the situation, which often heeds support from a group of friends.

"Often friends calling out their own friend who is doing the bullying is going to have the biggest effect," he said.

He suggested offering a reassuring message to the person being bullied that counters that from the bully.

"Often people who have been bullied feel that they're isolated. Let them know you don't agree with what the bully is saying," he said.

3. Talk To An Adult You Can Trust

The final step is talking with an adult -- something children often fail to do.

"We're working to change the schoolyard culture that speaking to a trusted adult is okay and should be encouraged," he said.

In a school context, where bullying can often continue, he said follow up is key.

Parents, too, are encouraged to maintain open and direct communication with their kids.

"Be open and receptive to hearing what's going on for them -- it might be different to a parent's own experience and that can feel minimising for their child," he said.

"Don't be afraid to ask kids directly whether they're experiencing bullying and let them know you want to work through it together."

Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years. FREE call 1800 55 1800 or online .  

Schools can invite a counsellor to class to talk about bullying and cyberbullying via the Kids Helpline @ School Wellbeing program. 

Kids Helpline works closely with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to support children and young people who are experiencing online safety issues. Young people can report cyberbullying online. 

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au