My child is being bullied - what should I do?

·7 min read
School girls bullying
Rejection is part of bullying, and can be very damaging. (Getty Images)

Bullying can take many forms, and when your child says they're being bullied - or you suspect it's happening - it can be hard to know what''s really going on.

Whether it's a sustained campaign of rejection, or cruel 'teasing' on Snapchat, bullying can ruin lives. Schools may insist that nothing like that occurs on their watch - but social media has made policing bullying almost impossible, unless children confide in an adult.

It's currently anti-bullying week, and despite the recent focus on kindness in the wake of growing awareness of mental health issues, it seems the message hasn't got through to everyone.

A survey by the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that one in five (21%) pupils in England reported being bullied 'a lot or always', with 1 in 22 (4.6%) - the equivalent of more than one in every classroom - saying they are frequently 'hit, kicked or pushed' by other children.

Meanwhile, one in twelve are 'frequently teased', one in 14 say they are often called hurtful names, and one in 16 say they are picked on for being 'different.'

girl in bed texting on smartphone
Online bullying can be hard for parents to recognise. (Getty Images)

Childhood cruelty can leave lasting mental scars, and make schooldays a misery. In the past, teachers may have turned a blind eye and parents dismissed it as 'just teasing,' unaware of how damaging any form of bullying can be. 

But while we now recognise its impact, it can be harder than ever to clamp down, with much taking place online and outside school hours. So if you know - or strongly suspect - your child is the target of bullying, what should you do?

Watch: What parents can do if they find out their child is bullying others

First of all, don't panic, says Tanith Carey, author of The Friendship Maze: How to help your child navigate their way to positive, happier, friendships.  

"If your child says they are being bullied, stay calm. However incensed you are, resist the temptation to go off the deep end in defence of your child. At this point, they need you as their firm anchor.

"Next, check it really is bullying," she advises. "Remember that one child being mean to another is not bullying. The definition of bullying is that it is repetitive, intentional abuse, meant to deliberately cause harm. True bullying is also done by one more socially powerful child to another who is less so. 

"If it’s two former friends who have fallen out and they are both equally engaged, it’s not bullying – but your child may need help to manage the conflict."

Let your child know that you're taking their feelings seriously. (Getty Images)
Let your child know that you're taking their feelings seriously. (Getty Images)

Take it seriously

If you are sure it is really bullying: take it seriously, advises Carey. "It’s critical to support your child, particularly if they are feeling victimised and worthless. Look through old family albums and remember the happy times. Tell them just because it feels bad for them now, doesn’t mean it will feel like this forever," she adds. "Help them be kind to themselves; encourage your child to do activities that help them feel better, whether it’s exercise or a craft project. 

"Reassure them you love them and it’s not their fault. Encourage them to see friends they know out of school, who can remind them they are still liked and valued."

Read more: Rylan Clark-Neal says he'll always hate how he looks because of childhood bullying

Explain why bullying happens

One of the worst things for kids who are being bullied is wondering why they are the targets, says Carey. "Don’t let your child think ‘Why me?’: Explain that being bullied doesn’t make them a wimp or a loser. Children target others for complex personal reasons, and sometimes because they feel threatened."

A bully may be victimised at home, or feel ignored and powerless. He or she might be trying to curry favour with more popular children. Let your child know that bullying is always about the bully - and not the person enduring it. 

Sharing secrets with mom. Preteen african girl sitting on couch having confident frank talk with understanding mother or elder sister, school psychologist listening to bullying or racial abuse victim
Help your child to feel empowered by letting them know they can speak up. (Getty Images)

Help them to feel empowered

"It’s also important that they feel empowered not victimised," says Tanith Carey. 

"Help them work through how best to respond. Whatever the reasons, other children will be emboldened to continue bullying behaviour if they believe yours is too scared to speak up. 

"They are more likely to back off when your child takes a stand to name the behaviour, warns them they will tell an adult and so makes it clear they are not an easy target. 

"Even if your child doesn’t get the outcome they are hoping for, they have stepped out of their victim role. One way, recommended by educators and bullying counsellors, is help them practise saying straightaway: ‘I don’t like it when you say/do that. I want you to stop.’"

Read more: 'I couldn't take it any more': The bullied teen who turned the tables

Keep a record

If it continues, she recommends keeping a record with your child. "If there is a longer-term bully-victim dynamic in place, empower your child by getting them to write down what happened, when it happened, and who was involved. If the bullying is online, keep the evidence – save or copy any photos, videos, texts, emails or posts. Screenshot any messages."

See the school

Teenager visiting psychotherapist, successful addiction rehabilitation
Going to see the Head or a teacher may feel like a last resort, but it may bring the bullying to an end. (Getty Images)

If this doesn’t work, then you will have to go to see the school. "As a parent, aim to deal with the situation as forensically and practically as possible to avoid further damage. 

"Ask teachers to monitor the situation over time and be aware of the social dynamic and give your child support if need be."

Anti-bullying charity Kidscape conducted a survey to mark this year's anti bullying week and its focus on friendship day on Friday 19 November. 

Reassuringly, it found that "children have reported experiencing good levels of kindness from other children and staff in our schools. The majority of pupils see their peers and teachers as kind and on the whole they are able to approach teachers with any issues or worries."

78% of children agree they can talk to a teacher if they are sad, scared or worried, while three quarters of children agreed that people in their school are kind to them. 

A huge 94% of children say they are kind to others in school, and 88% of children agree that the teachers in their school are kind.

Watch: Little Mix's Jade Thirlwall opens up about eating disorder

If you suspect your child is being bullied but they won't talk about it, Kidscape lists the signs to watch out for: 

  • Any change in behaviour (louder, quieter, angrier, sadder)

  • Being scared to go to school or take part in their usual activities

  • Unexplained illness like tummy bugs and headaches

  • Disturbed sleep

  • Bed wetting

  • Injuries

  • Distress after using phones or tablets

  • Lost or stolen belongings

"It is natural to feel angry and upset if your child is being bullied," they advise. "But taking this out on school staff or other parents won’t stop the bullying. Stay calm so that you can get the help you need for the bullying to stop."

Watch: See how this teenager is standing up to bullies through fashion

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