I think my child is being bullied

It’s a common anxiety for many parents – what to do if their child is being bullied.

What is bullying?

Children and young people are bullied for all kinds of reasons. Bullies pick on those they think don’t fit in, maybe because of how they look, how they act, their race or religion or their sexual orientation.   

Bullying may be physical or verbal; the latter can be even more damaging than physical violence because it constitutes psychological abuse which is very harmful to a child’s or young person’s self-esteem and can lead to serious levels of anxiety and depression, if not addressed.  Bullying is most likely to happen at school because that’s where children spend most of their time.  It is usually a pattern of behaviour that can last for years, if not addressed and action taken to stop it.  

Online bullying is now a very common occurrence; this may include malicious messages, threats to upload images and bombarding the victim with destructive material about self-harm and suicide.  This type of bullying is extremely difficult to escape from because young people’s lives are so tied up with their presence online.  Unlike physical or face to face bullying, there is no respite from online bullying at home, day or night.   

How to tell if your child is being bullied

Young people are sometimes embarrassed to admit that they are being bullied and they may not tell anyone right away. They might underplay the bullying because they're worried that reporting it will make it worse. Even if your child doesn’t turn to you for help, you can watch for these warning signs that he or she is being bullied. 

Signs that may indicate your child is being bullied: 

  • Withdrawal from social life 
  • Reluctance to go to school 
  • A drop in grades 
  • A loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities 
  • A change in behaviour 
  • Feigning illness 
  • Torn clothing 
  • Bruises 
  • A need for extra money or supplies 
  • Self-harm 

How to support your child when they're being bullied

If you are asked for help in this situation, do take it seriously.  It’s probably taken them a lot of courage to talk to you about what’s happening and your empathic and immediate response is really important.  Don’t minimise or make light of what they’re telling you.   

The following may be helpful:  

  • Talk to their teacher about it rather than confronting the bully’s parents. If they don’t act to stop the bullying, talk to the headteacher or safeguarding lead. 
  • Teach them non-violent ways to respond to bullies by walking away, ignoring them or making sure they have trusted friends with them whenever possible, at school.  
  • Don’t encourage a violent response; this could lead to injury and retaliation, getting in trouble and setting off more serious problems with the bully. 
  • Involve your child in activities outside of school such as a sports club or youth club. This way he or she can make friends in a different social circle and build their self esteem. 
  • If the bullying is really serious and includes physical assault, damage to property or stealing from your child, you may want to get the police involved. 
  • Keep checking in with your child what’s happening and whether the bullying is lessening or becoming more frequent.  Remember that it’s unlikely to be a one-off event.  
  • Your child may benefit from having some counselling at some point but remember that counselling will not, in itself, prevent bullying from happening.   

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