Dealing with bullying

Bullying is all about power – making yourself feel bigger and stronger by putting someone else down.

It involves deliberately and repeatedly attempting to hurt, scare or exclude someone. And it can be overt – hitting, pushing, name-calling – or more indirect, such as deliberately leaving someone out of games, spreading rumours about them, or sending them nasty messages.

Whatever form it takes, bullying can be incredibly damaging. It causes distress and can lead to loneliness, anxiety and depression. Bullying can also affect children’s concentration and achievement at school.

When children have been bullied they may:

  • not want to go to school
  • be unusually quiet or secretive
  • be more unhappy or anxious than usual, especially before or after school, sport or wherever the bullying is happening
  • not have many friends
  • become more isolated – stop hanging around with friends or lose interest in school or social activities
  • seem over-sensitive or weepy
  • have angry outbursts
  • have trouble sleeping
  • complain about having headaches, stomach aches or other physical problems.

You may notice that their belongings have been damaged or are missing.

There might be other reasons for some of these signs in your child, so it’s best to talk together about what’s going on and any changes you’ve noticed.

Raising the issue

If you suspect your child is being bullied, it can be hard to know how to raise it with them. Some kids try and hide what’s happening, or feel ashamed, afraid or might not want you to worry or make a big deal. Often children just want the bullying to stop without confronting the issue or drawing attention to it.

They might find it uncomfortable discussing their feelings and emotions openly with you, or get angry and defensive when you ask if they’re ok. Try to stay calm, and realise you may need to raise the conversation in different ways over time to get a response.

What you can do to help
  • Listen and provide support.
  • Try to understand what has been happening, how often and how long it has been happening
  • Encourage social skills and clear communication – being assertive, telling the bully to stop and seeking help
  • Come up with some practical steps and strategies together – who they can talk to at school and what they can do when the bullying is happening.
  • Talk with your child’s teacher and ask for help.
  • Keep talking with the school until your child feels safe.

If your child tells you about bullying they’ve seen or heard at school:

  • encourage them to stand up for the child who is being bullied
  • encourage your child to report what they’ve seen or heard to school staff

If your child is doing the bullying:

  • make sure your child knows bullying behaviour is unacceptable and why
  • try to understand the reasons why your child has behaved in this way and look for ways to address problems
  • encourage them to think about the other person’s perspective, such as “how would you feel if …”
  • help your child think of alternative ways of dealing with situations and communicating their feelings.

To help prevent cyber-bullying you can:

  • supervise children’s use of electronic devices
  • talk to kids about staying safe online. It can help to remind them that the internet is still ‘real life’ and you should behave the same – and expect the same behaviour from others – as you would in person.
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