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Bullying: how to spot it and what to do

Advice for parents and carers from anti-bullying charity KidscapeKidscape

As parents and carers we all want our children to enjoy their school days without fear of bullying.
There is so much talk of bullying in the news, and many of us will have experienced bullying ourselves as children, or know children that have gone through or are going through a bullying situation.
The good news is that there is help available and there are practical steps you can take to keep your child safe.

How to spot bullying online and offline

Bullying is any behaviour that is intended to hurt, is repeated, and where the person or people on the receiving end find it hard to defend themselves. It can happen anywhere - in school, at work, online, on the bus, on the street or in the park. It takes many forms - verbal, emotional, physical and sexual.

While bullying in itself is not a criminal offence, some bullying behaviour can constitute a crime, such as physical and sexual assault, threats to hurt or kill, or encouraging someone to hurt themselves.

We also know that children with a real or perceived difference, such as disabled children and those with special educational needs, young people identifying as LGBT or seen by their peers as not conforming to perceived 'gender norms', young carers, looked after children, children with disfigurement, minority race and faith groups and children that have been bereaved, can be more vulnerable to bullying.

There are some common symptoms that may suggest your child is going through a bullying situation. These could include:

  • Reluctance to attend school, youth clubs or social events
  • Frequent unexplained illness (e.g. tummy upsets, headaches)
  • Changes in behaviour and mood.
  • Becoming sad and withdrawn or unusually aggressive
  • Bed wetting
  • Hair loss
  • Showing signs of distress or anxiety after using mobile phones or tablets
  • Becoming unusually secretive. Not wanting to talk about their day or hiding their activity online

What to do if you think your child is being bullied

First and foremost try not to be overly anxious. Many children go through bullying situations and with the right support they will bounce back. Relationships can be very volatile in the school years, and children like adults can be cruel. Let your child know that if you are always there for them, and together you will sort it out.

Make sure your child knows their worth and the worth of others. Always remind your child that they are precious, that they are worthy of respect and kindness, and that any difference is their unique strength. It is equally important to model respectful and kind relationships as a parent, and to encourage your child to look out for others who may be lonely and sad.

If your child is being bullied stay calm. They may be very reluctant to tell anyone at first so keep the lines of communication open, gently reminding them they can always share anything that may be worrying them. Let them know that you are there for them, but understand that sometimes they may need to get advice from another adult they trust and that is okay too. If they do tell you they are being bullied, let them know that it is not their fault, there is a way through, and that together you will sort it out.

Keep a diary. Keeping a diary of events is a good way of establishing what is happening and important for any meetings with the school.

Talk to the school. Schools have a legal duty to keep your child safe from bullying. If the bullying is happening in school, or involves children from your child’s school then the sooner they are informed, the sooner they can help. You may feel angry and hurt about what has happened to your child but again it is important to stay calm, and remember that the main goal is always to work together to stop the bullying behaviour. The more you show willing to work with the school the better.

Bullying online. If the bullying is online, but involves children from the school then still tell the school. Headteachers have powers to discipline pupils for bullying behaviour outside of school hours and are expected to take cyberbullying seriously. You may also want to report bullying and harassing behaviour to the social media provider (for more advice visit Internet Matters or Childnet International).

Practical tips. For many years Kidscape have run ZAP assertiveness workshops to help children that are experiencing bullying behaviour. Considering ways of using your body language and speech to manage difficult situations can be helpful. The more your child can feel empowered the better able they will be to handle a bullying situation (for more information on ZAP visit the Kidscape website). It is also important to help your child identify who and what is good in their life at this time, and can help them get through this situation. For example, looking for other ways of making friends outside of school can be helpful.

Help! It's not working. If the school are not taking action, and the behaviour is having a serious impact on your child then take further action. Bullying by law is a safeguarding issue and so you can contact the local children’s services team for advice. You may also want to take your child to the GP for medical advice, and explore options for additional support in your area such as counselling services. There are also a number of charities that can offer advice and support such a Kidscape, Family Lives, Contact a Family (for parents and carers of disabled children) and YoungMinds.

What to do if your child is bullying others

This can be just as hard as finding out your child is experiencing bullying. It is natural to want to defend your child, and it can be hard not to take it personally. It is important to stay calm and to listen to your child, but to accept that we are all capable of bullying behaviour. The priority is to understand what is driving their action (some children bully others in retaliation, because of their own stress levels or because of peer influence) that your child understands the harm they have caused and why it has to stop. For more advice visit Kidscape.

For further advice, including support through Kidscape's Parent Advice Line visit www.kidscape.org.uk.

 
 
Reviewed: March 2018
Key points
  • Try not to be overly anxious
  • Stay calm
  • Keep a diary
  • Talk to the school
  • Seek advice and support

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