Tips for what to do if you suspect your child is being bullied
Try to stay calm when talking with your child about their situation.
Watch what you say in front of them about the bullying. If your child sees or hears you being particularly anxious or angry about the bullying, they will often feel more anxious themselves. Some children also feel guilty about worrying adults, if they think we are overly upset or angry about the situation.
Be caring and understanding.
There are many different ways of helping a child who is being bullied, but the most important one is this: Your child needs your kindness, support and compassion. Resist the temptation to “jump in” with all the answers. Wait until you have as much information as possible before offering advice.
Talk to your child about the situation at a time when they are calm and relaxed, not when they are agitated and upset.
Often it is helpful to avoid talking about the bullying immediately after school but instead waiting until they have eaten and had “down time”. Also try to pick a time to talk in which the child can be calmed down and distracted after the conversation is over. This usually means avoiding talking about the bullying immediately before bed.
Ask calm, specific questions about what happened.
If possible, find out what happened before the bullying occurred, what was said or done, who was there, what happened afterwards, where it happened and what your child felt was the most upsetting aspect of the bullying. Be aware that sometimes children will say what they think we want to hear so try to ask neutral or “options” rather than leading questions. For example, the question: “Did you feel X, Y or Z?” is sometimes better than the question: “Did you feel X” because it gives the child permission to have a range of feelings. In a similar way, you might like to consider asking “Did you say X, Y or Z”, and “Did the other person do X, Y or Z” and so on. Children have developing brains which means they do not always accurately remember events, even when they have the best of intentions of telling you the truth.
Make an appointment to talk to the child’s teacher or someone at the school.
Alert the teacher to what your child has reported to you and ask the teacher if they have any ideas about the situation. Teachers often will be able to give you further information once they have been given a chance to talk to the children involved or observe them interacting.
Work with the school to help them protect your child as much as possible.
Schools have much experience in this issue and are usually very skilled in helping children who have been bullied. As a start, they will usually give the child a safe place and person to go to, and options to report/escape bullying behaviour. They will try to supervise the situations in which the bullying is occurring.
Help your child learn what to do if they are bullied again.
Role play situations in which you pretend to be the bully and help your child act and speak out what to do. For older children, have conversations about how they might react to certain hypothetical situations. Remember to try to stay relaxed during these conversations. It will be helpful for the child if he/she sees that bullying is a very unpleasant situation but that, with your help, they can survive it and it is “not the end of the world”.
Talk to your children about why children bully.
Explain that bullying sometimes happens because other children are fearful or worried about not having friends. Help your child see what the bully is thinking or feeling. Learning empathy skills such as these is a vital part of development. It does not mean the child must accept the bullying, but it helps them feel more able to cope with it.
Continue to teach your child social skills appropriate for their age.
For example, make sure your child knows how to start and maintain a conversation with peers, how to give a socially appropriate compliment, how to show confidence and cheerfulness, how to ask questions, make humorous remarks and generally be able to join in the social interactions that occur with their peer group.
Help your child develop more than one friendship group.
Seek out of school hour activities for the child (sport, drama, clubs, church/community groups etc). This gives the child another peer group option if bullying occurs repeatedly and they are isolated at school.
Continue to ask the child about positive things that happened at school.
Don’t make the bullying the focus of all conversations. Make sure your child receives attention when they are talking about what they enjoyed about their day.
If you feel your child is significantly anxious or distressed about the bullying, always seek additional help from a health professional. If you would like more information about our counselling services for children and families, click here.