If you suspect your child is being bullied, you’d be wise to trust your instincts. Not all children feel comfortable coming to their parents (or teachers) if they’re being bullied. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or worried that telling an adult what is happening may increase the intensity of the bullying.
As parents, it’s important to know the common indicators of bullying, and be proactive about supporting our children if they’re being targeted.
There are 4 main types of bullying:
- Physical bullying includes hitting, pinching, tripping up, pushing and damaging the victim’s belongings
- Verbal bullying includes name calling, insults, teasing and intimidation
- Social bullying is also known as covert bullying, and is often hard to catch. Spreading rumours about the victim, playing nasty pranks on them and encouraging other peers to exclude the child from social circles can cause untold damage to a child’s self-esteem and relationships
- Cyber-bullying involves using multimedia devices to harass and intimidate: cyber-bullying occurs via text and instant message services, social media platforms, and other online forums. Cyber-bullying is abusive, hurtful, and often goes undetected by parents and educators.
According to a recent survey of Australian primary and secondary schools, 1 in 4 Australian students have been bullied by their peers. Schoolyard bullying tends to peak in Grade 5 and Grade 7, however online bullying is also of growing concern, with 1 in 5 young people reporting that they have been cyber-bullied.
Signs that your child is being bullied
What can parents do? Firstly, it’s important to recognise the signs of bullying. These are the most common warning signs that indicate a child may be being bullied:
- Sudden changes in their mood or behaviour
- Tantrums and ‘acting out’
- Reluctance to go to school
- Increased irritability or anger
- Isolating themselves from family
- Insomnia, nightmares or bedwetting
- Missing items of clothing or possessions
- Drop in academic performance and grades
- Major changes in their friendships or relationships
- Physical injuries, such as unexplained cuts and bruises
- Frequent complaints of feeling unwell (eg headaches & stomach aches)
- Coming home hungry every day (because their lunch has been destroyed or stolen)
It’s important to remember that these signs may also indicate some other problem, so the first step to take if you think your child is being bullied is talk to them. If they are being targeted by other kids, there are a number of things you can do to protect your child from being bullied and increase their social coping skills and confidence.
Have a conversation with your child and tell them you’re concerned about them and you’d like to help. Listen calmly and offer comfort and support. Reassure them that they haven’t done anything wrong; it’s the bully that’s behaving badly.
Suggest ways to avoid the bullying, such as playing in a different area of the playground, playing a different game, or staying close to the teacher on duty. At high school level, extra-curricular activities held during lunchtime can provide a welcome respite from bullying as well as opportunities to make new friends.
If the bullying is happening online, notify website administrators as to what’s happening. Social media platforms like Instagram, FaceBook, Tumblr, and Twitter all have anti-harassment policies. There are also excellent educational resources available for parents who want to protect their children against being cyber-bullied.
Notify a teacher or the school about the situation. All Australian schools are required by law to have a bullying prevention policy. Your child’s school will take the necessary action to address the bullying, and prevent it from occurring in the future. Ask your child’s teachers to monitor the situation to see that it’s improving.
Don’t angrily confront the bully or their parents – no matter how upset you may be. Take some time to calm down and approach the situation with the school’s support, rather than a direct personal confrontation. This strategy is more likely to reducing the bullying, instead of aggravating the situation. You’ll also be providing a positive role model for your child, by setting a great example for them in how to handle conflict confidently and effectively.
Get support from your family and friends, or from other parents who have been in a similar situation with their own children. Read up on bullying and bullying prevention, and form an advocacy group at your child’s school. Bullying most frequently happens when there are no adults around: getting involved at your child’s school (for instance, volunteering) ensures that the risk of bullying is greatly reduced within your child’s school community.
The main priority, though, is to ensure your child feels safe and secure. It’s important to reinforce that they did the right thing by confiding in you, and reassure them that they can come to you in the future with any other problems. Be sure to keep a level head throughout, as this sets an excellent example for your child to follow when dealing with stressful and upsetting situations.
If the bullying persists, or you are concerned about the emotional and psychological impact of being bullied on your child, specialist child and adolescent counselling can help your child to process their feelings of being victimised. Counselling can also equip your child with increased self-confidence, and help them to develop coping strategies and stress management skills that will serve them throughout childhood and into their adult lives.
Bullying research resources:
Chalmers, C., Campbell, M. A., Spears, B. A., Butler, D., Cross, D., Slee, P., & Kift, S. (2016). School policies on bullying and cyberbullying: perspectives across three Australian states. Educational Research, 58(1), 91-109.
Milosevic, T. (2016). Social Media Companies’ Cyberbullying Policies. International Journal of Communication, 10, 22.
Nickerson, A., & Rigby, K. (2017). Understanding and Responding to Bullying in the School Setting. In Handbook of Australian School Psychology (pp. 521-536). Springer International Publishing.
Smith, P. K., Thompson, F., Craig, W., Hong, I., Slee, P., Sullivan, K., & Green, V. A. (2016). 15 Actions to prevent bullying in western countries. School Bullying in Different Cultures: Eastern and Western Perspectives, 301.
Marcus Andrews is the founder and director of Life Supports, which was established in 2002. He has extensive professional experience working as a counsellor and family therapist across a broad range of issues. The core component of his role at Life Supports involves the supervision of other counsellors, including secondary consultations. Marcus has worked in many sectors, including private, government, non-profit, health, forensic and community practice.