Bullying has long been a problem for children, in both schools and social situations. Through the years there have been many attempts at overcoming it, but unfortunately they have never been entirely effective. When your child already suffers from anxiety you are left with an even greater problem if bullying presents its ugly head. You’ll need to learn as much about bullying and its effect on children with anxiety, in order to support your child as best you can.
Bullying may take many forms, and includes the taunts on the school bus or while walking home from school, the spreading of vicious rumors, the social isolation from their peer groups, threats, and the theft of lunch money or other personal effects. Unfortunately it also may include beatings from other children that may not only leave your child’s pride hurt, but may also leave them physically injured.
Bullying will affect all children differently, but children who already suffer from anxiety are likely to be especially effected. They may also be targeted by bullies because of the way that they react to stress. This is because their anxiety is likely to make them want to run from or avoid the bully rather than confronting them, and this in itself can make them even more vulnerable to bullying.
How would you know that your child is suffering at the hands of a bully? Generally there are signs and symptoms that it is happening that go beyond your child seeming sad, or otherwise depressed. Remember that many children will not speak out against a bully, for fear of reprisals if the bully were to be caught and punished.
If the bully attends the same school as your child, you may notice that their grades begin to drop. This may have multiple causes beyond bullying, for instance the fact that your child’s increased anxiety levels are likely to be causing them to be distracted. It is hard to concentrate on school work when you are constantly afraid of what will happen later.
Where the bully is in the same class as your child, the child may start to skip classes in order to avoid encountering the bully. With the lack of classes your child’s learning will be impaired so that they will be unable to perform as well in tests or for their homework as they previously did.
In a similar way, your child may avoid clubs or after school activities. They may decide that they no longer want to ride the school bus, and start walking long routes instead to avoid the bully. There may be mood swings, with triggers that don’t make sense, and excuses given in order to avoid things that they previously enjoyed.
Anxiety in children is often caused by them being exposed long term to stressful events. In short their brain is so constantly switched into stress or fear mode that it becomes unable to relax from that mode. It also begins to associate the fearful events with innocent things that were happening at the same time.
Your child may seem permanently afraid or nervous, or may have full blown panic attacks. This can mean that walking to a particular class, or seeing the school bus arrive may cause them to start to panic. The brain has so strongly associated the bad event with innocent events, that experiencing the innocent event can trigger the fear response in order to try and help themselves avoid the perceived threat.
When a child is bullied they already experience a high level of stress. Their body prepares itself for fight or flight by releasing hormones that make your child feel nervous and jumpy. A child with anxiety already tends to have these hormones circulating, or else are easily pushed into panic, or fight or flight mode. When exposed to frequent episodes of bullying the child with anxiety will experience an increase in the severity of their symptoms-or may be pushed into a negative feedback loop, where they become increasingly anxious, focus on the perceived threat and this makes them even more anxious and likely to focus on it.
In fact, many studies have shown that bullying is often a trigger for childhood anxiety that may be with the child for years to come. It is logical therefore that a child who already suffers from anxiety would experience an increase in the severity of their pre-existing condition.
Performance at school, or achieving high grades is often a source of stress for children, so much so that it can be the root cause of some children’s anxiety. When bullied to the point that they begin to cut classes and their grades start slipping, it can cause a conflict. Their anxiety disorder is pushing them to try harder and do better, and yet their fear of bullies keeps them away from class. Bullying in this way can cause a particularly severe problem in children with anxiety.
Bullying may cause other effects for children with anxiety. Sleep loss is common because of the permanent presence of stress hormones, and because of the inability to relax. They may become over tired, and again this can negatively affect their grades.
Eating may be affected, with a loss of appetite being caused by their feelings of nervousness. This may lead to weight loss. Avoidance of the school cafeteria-where episodes of bullying are often seen to happen, or theft of their lunch money may mean that your child is regularly skipping their midday meal, and this too can compound their weight loss.
Bullying is a terrible thing for any child to experience, and may have long lasting effects that reach into adulthood when it comes to self esteem and the reaction to stress. It may affect their health, as well as their happiness. Yet bullying and its effect on children with anxiety will be particularly pronounced, and is likely to need a great deal of loving support not only from their school, but also their family.
If you suspect your child may be suffering from anxiety, click below to learn more about what you can do to help:
Click here to learn more about your child’s anxiety and what you can do to help