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What To Do if My Child is Being Bullied

If you are a parent, your child experiencing bullying could be one of the most unimaginable things. But the truth is, bullying is quite common amongst children. This could be bullying at school, at clubs, or even at home on their computers and phones.

Many children experience social and peer problems at school or outside of the home. That does not, however, mean that it makes dealing with the problem any easier for parents and loved ones.

This article aims to try and help you, as a parent, to recognise and ultimately support your child if they are experiencing bullying.

How to recognise if your child is being bullied

Firstly, it is important to point out to your child that bullying is not just when someone is mean to them once, but that it happens over and over again and makes them feel like it won’t stop. Bullying is defined as repeated and deliberate harm and humiliation towards another. Bullies usually target those that are weaker, smaller, or more vulnerable in some way.

Bullying can take many different forms. These can be verbal, physical, psychological or emotional. In this day and age, it can also unfortunately come through online.

Bullying in its many forms is pretty common for school-aged children. In fact, according to some research, almost 1 in 4 schoolchildren across the UK reported that they were bullied either a lot or always.

Along with these different forms, there are signs to look out for. These include:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Changes in appetite (e.g. coming home from school very hungry)
  • Lost, destroyed or damaged clothing, books, jewellery, electronics etc.
  • Trying to get out of going to school
  • Difficulty sleeping and/or having nightmares
  • Loss of interest, or fear of using electronics
  • Sudden loss of interest in, or avoidance of social situations

This, however, is not an exhaustive list as the effects of bullying can manifest in different people in different ways. Sometimes, there may not be any visible signs that bullying is taking place.

A proactive approach to recognising bullying

Even if you cannot spot any telltale signs, your child may still be facing some problems with bullying. This is especially important to consider if they are typically hide their emotions, or are closed-off or shy.

Parents and caregivers can play a huge role in preparing their child to recognise the signs of bullying and supporting them by regularly inquiring about social challenges. The best defence against a bully is being socially skilled. By teaching and modelling social and emotional skills you can help your child to learn and grow confidence in their ability to resolve conflict.

Some examples of how parents can support:

  • Provide real-life scenarios with your child, to equip them with what to say, and how to behave
  • Be a positive role model by treating others with respect
  • Respond appropriately if you see (as the adult) unkind or intimidating behaviour

Finding opportunities to bring up a conversation about bullying or other peer problems is what can be described as a proactive approach to looking out for your child. Try to find contextual conversation starters to encourage conversation, without sounding interrogating.

For example, if you are watching a television show with a scene with bullying, try asking something like

“How would you react if you were in this situation?”.

This way, you can encourage your child to open up organically and allow them if they are shy or scared to bring any problems up, they can do so in a hypothetical way.

What can I do to support my child’s development of social and emotional skills?

There are many day-to-day things you can do to support the development of your child’s social and emotional skills. The great news is that you are likely to already be doing many of them. Here are some more to consider with the context of bullying in mind.

  • Be a positive role model of what you would like your child to do and how to respond in these situations; with kindness, calmness and confidence.
  • Teach them about empathy by talking about things other people do and how they might feel if they were in the same situation.
  • Praise your child when you notice them making an effort to get on with other children.
  • Build up positive behaviour by talking about taking turns, sharing, helping, and looking after others.
  • Practice listening, sharing, cooperating and taking turns. Playing games that involve taking turns or passing a toy (such as a ball) helps children develop these important social skills from an early age.
  • Point out stories of positive behaviour from personal experience, current events, films, books and technology.
  • Talk about how everyone is different and how that’s great, since our differences make us special. Interactions with other children are best when they understand, appreciate and respect one another.

There are also some specific questions you may choose to explore with your child if the conversation arises. For example, perhaps you could ask:

Have you seen bullying happening? What did you do? How did you feel?

Who are the adults you would talk to when it comes to things like bullying?

Have you ever felt scared to go to school because you were afraid of someone bullying you?

Have you ever tried to help someone who was being bullied? What happened? What would you do if it happened again?

Understand, encourage, reassure and ask

It is not easy to learn that your child is facing peer problems outside of their home. It can feel frustrating, confusing or scary. You might feel more protective and feel like you want to keep them within your sight.

Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Therefore it is important to find some ways to ease the burden on yourself. The first step is making sure you understand the problem so that you can be assured that you are as educated as possible before trying to solve the problem.

Finding ways to encourage your child to speak up about their problems with people they trust is very important. If they feel empowered to do this, it can make their situation much safer than handling it alone.

Reassuring your child that it is okay to talk about their problems, if they have them, can help them to achieve the psychological safety that many young people might struggle with.

Finally, it is important to ask your child what they want to do. Try not to jump in to solve the problem, as much as you feel like you want to.

Providing support without handing solutions on a plate will help your child build their own autonomy and ability to face difficult situations now and when they may encounter them in the future.

As an adult, we can help guide them and understand the consequences of what they choose to do.

Coping Mechanisms for your child

There are many resources available online to help your child manage their problems autonomously. For example, the Anti-Bullying Alliance has resources addressed directly to children. They say, if you are being bullied:

  • Tell someone you trust
  • Keep a record of what is happening
  • Don’t retaliate
  • Surround yourself with people that make you feel good
  • Don’t blame yourself – it is not your fault, be proud of who you are.

A common misconception when it comes to providing support for your child is that it is useful to say things like ‘stand up for yourself’ or ‘fight back’. In truth, these statements can be damaging and make your child feel unsafe or inadequate if they feel like they can’t.

Steps to take to work with the school

If you discover your child is being bullied at school or within a club or a group, having a good working relationship with the network is vital.

Firstly, listen calmly to your child and get the full story. This will help you, as the parent or caregiver, to communicate clearly with the school/club about the situation. Keep a record of events and agree (with your child) together on the actions you will take.

Kidscape have a great template for parents or caregivers who wish to log bullying incidents.

Then, encourage your child to speak to a teacher/coach or another trusted adult in that environment. Let them know you will also report the bullying if it does not stop. Your child may be reluctant to do this, but do your best to reassure them that the school or club would want to know and can help. Make an appointment to meet with your child’s teacher, coach or whoever is in a position of care. Speak to the school and agree upon appropriate action.

Remember, you are totally entitled to contact the school immediately if you have concerns about your child’s safety. If you feel your child is at immediate risk of harm, contact the police.

What questions could I ask when meeting with a teacher/coach etc?

  • Does the school/club have a bullying prevention policy?
  • What procedures are there for dealing with bullying behaviour?
  • What support is available for children who are involved in bullying?
  • Who should my child report bullying to?

Check in regularly with your child about whether the problem has been resolved. It can take time to resolve an issue so it is important to regularly speak with your child about their experiences and feelings. Your ongoing support as a parent or caregiver is important.

If you are unhappy with the way the school/club has responded, you can make a written complaint. For more information on making a complaint about a school, you can consult the Anti-Bullying Alliance advice page.

My child has witnessed a bullying incident – what should I do?

Those who are bystanders to bullying can feel anxious and distressed about seeing something they believe to be wrong. Children can feel upset if they are unsure about what to do.

As a parent/caregiver, you can talk to your child about how to be a supportive bystander. If they feel able and safe to do so, your child could:

  • Walk away and tell a trusted adult right away
  • Tell the person who is doing the bullying that they are going to get a (trusted) adult if they do not stop
  • Encourage their friends to walk away or tell the person to stop
  • Tell the bully that they don’t think what they are doing is right and that it’s not funny
  • Help the person who is being bullied to get away and go somewhere safe

If your child does not feel safe to say anything, there are other things they could do to help:

  • Tell the person being bullied that it is not OK and they didn’t do anything wrong
  • Ask the person being bullied if they want help to get it stopped
  • Tell a trusted adult
  • Ask the person being bullied to join their group or game
  • Walk away – people who bully can be encouraged to continue if others are watching

It can be helpful to practice these approaches at home to help your child feel more confident.

Help – my child is being bullied online!

If you discover your child is being bullied online, it is important to keep all evidence where possible. This will be useful when reporting it to the school or police. If the bullying involves physical threats and you are worried about your child’s safety or if there is an immediate risk of harm, contact the police straight away.

As much as you want to protect your child, it is also important to remember:

  • Taking away their technology may be your first response, but remember that this will separate them from their peers and their potential support networks.
  • Staying calm is vital as it allows your child to continue communicating with you and they will know that you’ll be a source of support.
  • Your ability to evaluate the situation is important as it ensures you know exactly what is going on before deciding what to do next.
  • Stay mindful of how your child is being affected. We know all children are different; behaviour that deeply affects one may not affect If your child is upset, let them know that you understand and validate their feelings.
  • Be tech-savvy. Teach your child how to use features on devices, apps or social media sites. For example, blocking and ‘unfollowing’ people and accessing privacy settings.
  • Discuss a plan of action together.

We know that learning about any problems your child might be facing can be incredibly distressing for a parent.

At Kari, we hope to provide you with the support and services you need to tackle these problems for both youand your family’s sake.

For more services and support, you and your child can also use these hotlines:

Childline (Under 18): 0800 11 11

Samaritans (Over 18): 116 123

Family Lives (Parents and Caregivers): 0808 800 2222

This article has been reviewed by our Kari Health Experts and Editorial Board to ensure accuracy and reliability of the information presented. However, please note that the content provided is for informational purposes only and should not replace advice from your medical professional.

Did you find this article helpful this article? 

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