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The spread effect of bullying

When people ask me how my daughter is doing I smile and say “yeah great thanks” but I am not telling the truth. You see my daughter was bullied. She was bullied to varying degrees for three years, yet she is only nine years old. Yes, I know what you are thinking, do kids really get bullied as young as six and that is exactly what my husband and I thought and that is why 3 years later we are going through a very traumatic time of undoing the damage that has been done. Because that is the thing with bullying, it has a spread effect. The waves of trauma and upset ripple through the whole family from brothers and sisters to grandmas and granddads.

I am very fortunate to have two healthy children, what upsets me is that I have to omit the word ‘happy’ that usually follows. I did have two healthy, happy children. Always smiling and giggling, wanting to have fun and very open with emotions (and I mean tears and tantrums as well as laughter). Now I still have two healthy children but with my daughter, happiness has been replaced by anxiety, fear and anger.  All these emotions are forced on to the rest of us; all these emotions rub off on the rest of us and over time all these emotions have become mirrored in the rest of us.

As parents, my husband and I feel guilt, frustration and helplessness. I can no longer tell my daughter things will all be ok and have her believe me. I can no longer cuddle away the pain and the trauma of experiences and, as a family, we have had to change all our ways to avoid conflict or emotional stress.

The next question is why didn’t we do anything about it?  The hardest part of this is that we did! As soon as I saw the distress of my daughter, aged six, which came about because she was being alienated and told she was ugly or had a big nose. I spoke to her teacher and her teacher acted upon it and with relief we thought that was that. But it wasn’t.  The nature of bullying is clever, manipulative and evil. It knows when to hide and it knows how to go on unseen. It eats away at a child’s innocence and hope; it makes them feel totally alone even when surrounded by people who love them. Bullying is bigger than love; it makes itself bigger than love.

Over time my daughter stopped telling us what was going on because she didn’t want to be told to toughen up anymore or to just ignore the words and the actions. A young child can’t ignore and some children aren’t ‘tough’ and when they call out and get no answer, the calling stops but the pain doesn’t. At home she was withdrawn, quiet and stopped eating.  To the outside world she was all smiles, polite and the ‘lovely’ girl everyone had grown to expect. But inside she felt like the world had abandoned her and we started to lose our little girl.

All I felt was confusion and frustration at the pure insolence she was showing and the insistence that nothing was wrong. My husband and I started taking those frustrations out on each other and I can’t even tell you what my son was up to or feeling because, I am ashamed to say, that he got left in the wings while we tried to conjure even one happy moment with our amazing little girl.

Then one horrendous heart breaking moment gave us clarity.  My daughter suffered a panic attack about going to school.  She started screaming and attacking like a feral animal and that is no exaggeration. She didn’t care who she hurt or what she was saying and we literally could not restrain her. Then when she stopped lashing she started struggling to breath. I was so scared I cannot even explain. This was my precious, perfect eight year old girl. My smiling, happy, confident gorgeous little girl and I didn’t even recognise her.  At that moment my heart broke, my husband’s heart broke and my son’s heart broke.  Now there are four people to fix. And that is the thing about bullying and its spread effect.

A change of schools and a fresh start means my daughter can at least face each day but it still isn’t with a smile. She has a counsellor who is working tirelessly to unravel the anxiety that has knotted her whole insides and my husband, my son and me? Well, we are still learning how to help an angry, scared and emotional being who can still take it all out on us in one foul swoop.

There are glimpses of the little girl we once had and to the outside world she is just great but to us we have a long road ahead. I want to be able to cuddle her again and be her protector, I want to know that I can read what she is feeling and I want to be sure that nothing or no one is hurting her because that is what a parent should be able to do right?

I am lucky my girl is still here with me to walk the long road with and I want to share with you an insight into the effects of what she has been through. She no longer has to face her bully and she is removed from the environment where her trauma happened but only yesterday she wrote this poem, the pain is raw for her and the spread effect of bullying is still raw for us but it hasn’t broken us so it can only make us stronger.


Heart thumping, fearful anger grows inside, world laughing at me, sitting here weeping alone, what should I do?

I am scared to go outside, what happens if it happens again, what will I do then?

If I meet her, what happens if I meet her again, what will I do?

Will it make my sadness worse; will people think I am stupid for trying to stop her?

If I meet her, what happens if I meet her again, what will I do?

Will she do it again or has she changed?  What happens if she does it again, but then she could have changed, I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what to do anymore.

If I meet her, what happens if I meet her again, what will I do?

Anti-bullying week may have come to an end but for my family its effects go on as it does for countless families across the world.


  • Poor sweet girl…that’s just terrible! I, too, was a bullied kid as I was heavy AND the tallest in my class.
    Our town (USA) has a “ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY” for bullying. Suspension followed by expulsion if need be. Of course, most children won’t tell an adult that they’re being bullied as they then become a ‘tattle tell.’
    No easy answers I fear. The parents of kids that do the bullying are often aggressive types too.
    Thanks Emma, please continue to give this horror a voice. :(

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