Parent standing in street

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

Many parents worry about the most appropriate way to react – whether they should take a proactive approach and speak to the bully’s parents or whether they should complain to the school.

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Finding out your child is being bullied can be an emotional experience: you may feel anxiety, anger, sadness, hopelessness or even a degree of fear.

Signs to look out for

If you suspect your child is being bullied, watch out for these signs:

  • Any bruises or marks.
  • Mission or broken possessions, such as stationary or schoolbooks.
  • Becoming quieter or more withdrawn.
  • Eating less or more or changes in their sleeping patterns.
  • Sudden changes in mood or behaviour.
  • Signs of anxiety around going to school.
  • A sudden drop in grades.

How to talk to them about it

If you do find out your child is being bullied, there can be a temptation to wade in and try to ‘fix’ the problem. This is understandable: you’re probably worried about them and want to rectify the situation as soon as possible.

However, if you come on too strong, there’s a chance your child will clam up and resist telling you anything else. You can also risk escalating the bullying situation.

It’s better to talk to your child about what’s happening and how they feel; and try to figure out a way forward together. What’s most important is they know they have your support and that they can trust you.

  • Listen to them. Don’t just prescribe solutions. Many children don’t tell their parents about bullying because they’re scared things will be taken out of their hands and made worse. Try to understand how they are making sense of what’s happening. Make suggestions rather than telling them what to do. The aim is to help and empower them to work out what they’d like to do about the situation.
  • Comfort them. Make time to talk regularly about how the bullying has made them feel. Bullying can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for a young person and can have a negative effect on their self-esteem. Talk to them about their emotions. Let them know there’s no shame in feeling hurt or upset. Spending time together doing anything that gives your young person a sense of achievement can help to boast their self esteem.
  • Reassure them. Many children worry they’ve brought the bullying on themselves. Let them know that bullying is unacceptable – and that none of this is their fault. Let them know that everyone is different and unique; this is something to be praised!
  • Don’t encourage them to hit or shout back. There’s every chance this will make the problem worse and, if they’re already suffering from low self-esteem or anxiety, is likely to put them under more stress. Instead explore what options they feel they have that may help them to feel better or more in control of the situation.

Working with the school

Depending on how serious the bullying is, you may want to involve your son or daughter’s school. All schools are legally required to have an anti-bullying policy, which means they must have measures in place designed to stop bullying. You are able to request a copy of this if you don’t already have one.

Before approaching the school, you may find it useful to think about the following:

  • Get all the facts. Try to gather what has been happening and how: what the incident involved, who took part, when it happened, if anyone saw, whether it was a one-off or it’s been happening for a while and so on. The more you know about the bullying, the better you’ll be able to address it with the school.
  • Don’t arrive without an appointment. You may be feeling upset or aggravated, but don’t turn up unexpected. Call ahead and ask for some time to speak to your son or daughter’s teacher or Head of Year. 
  • Go with a positive attitude. Although you may want to get things sorted as soon as possible, understand that sometimes addressing bullying can take a little time. Be prepared to cooperate with the school.

What if things don’t get better?

Sometimes, bullying can be persistent and it may take time for it to stop. Keep a diary of any further incidents, including details on what happened - and the effect on your child. Inform the school every time an incident happens and keep working with them to address the problem. Schools have a variety of options for dealing with bullying, from warnings to full time exclusions.

Prolonged bullying can have negative emotional effects on a child. If you think they might need extra help, you may want to consider Children and Young People’s Counselling. For advice on when this is appropriate and how to suggest it, read our information blog.

Online bullying

Bullying that takes place on social media or via mobile phone is becoming more and more commonplace, and can be even harder to know about as a parent.

From the victim’s point of view, it can be an even more oppressive form of bullying, as it can continue at any time; meaning that there may be no release from the bullying. Children may know who’s bullying them – it can be an extension of real-life bullying – or they may not. Anonymity can sometimes increase the likelihood of bullying behaviour.

You should approach online bullying as you would any other type – by working with your child and the school to make sure it stops. 

Kidscape has some really useful advice on Cyberbullying, including how to report it. 

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