Bullying and how it affects children and pre-teens
Bullying can be devastating for children’s confidence and self-esteem.
If your child is being bullied, they need guidance, love and support, both at home and at school. Your child also needs to know that you’ll work with the school to prevent any further bullying.
Children have the right to learn and develop in safe and healthy environments. Protecting children from bullying and working to prevent it in schools and other settings is part of creating safe environments that help children grow and thrive.
Talking with children who are being bullied
If your child is being bullied, listening and talking with your child is essential. This helps you to find out what’s happening so you can take action with the school or other organisation. Calm and caring conversations with you will also help your child feel loved and supported.
Here’s how to get started:
- Listen. Give your child your full attention and consider talking in a quiet space. Ask your child simple questions, then listen to the answers. Try saying things like, ‘So what happened next?’ and ‘What did you do then?’
- Stay calm. This is a chance to show your child how to solve problems. If you feel angry or anxious, wait until you feel calm before you talk with your child or others.
- Summarise the problem. You could say something like, ‘So you were sitting on your own eating your lunch. Then Sam took your lunch box and threw it across the playground’.
- Let your child know it’s natural and OK to feel upset. You could say something like, ‘No wonder you’re feeling so sad about this’.
- Make sure your child knows it’s not their fault. For example, ‘It didn’t happen because you wear glasses. Jo might have been upset about something happening at home. But that’s no excuse for it’.
The next step is showing your child that you care and will help:
- Agree that there’s a problem. For example, ‘It’s not OK for someone to treat you like that’.
- Praise your child. Telling you about the bullying might not have been easy for your child. Praise will encourage your child to keep sharing problems with you. For example, ‘I’m really pleased that you’ve told me about this’.
- Make it clear that you’ll help. For example, ‘It sounds like things haven’t been so good. Let’s think about things we could do to make it better’.
- Avoid negative comments. It won’t help to say things like, ‘You need to stand up for yourself’ or ‘You poor thing. Never mind, you can stay home’.
And if your child understands why some children bully, it might help your child to realise that the situation isn’t their fault. For example, you could tell your child that the person who is bullying might:
- be copying other people, and not know that bullying is wrong
- not know how to be nice to other people
- have a problem and think that making other people feel bad will make things better.
Working with teachers to sort out the bullying
If your child is being bullied at school, get the help of your child’s teacher and school as quickly as you can.
Schools take bullying extremely seriously, and all Australian schools have policies related to bullying. Your school will assess the situation with you. Schools will always focus first on protecting the child who is being bullied.
Your first step is talking with your child’s classroom teacher. Your child’s teacher will be trained in spotting and handling bullying and can work with you to prevent further bullying.
Also, your child needs to know that you’re working on the problem, so make sure that you tell your child you’ll talk to the teacher about it.
Here’s how to work with your child’s classroom teacher to stop bullying:
- Make a time to speak privately with the teacher.
- Calmly present your concerns as a joint issue for you both to deal with. For example, ‘Tyler says Sam is hitting them at lunch time, calling them names and telling the other kids not to play with them. I’d like your help to find out what’s happening and what we can do about it’.
- Discuss the problem with the teacher. Ask the teacher for information and their perspective on the situation. You could also ask for a copy of the school’s anti-bullying policies and procedures. It might also help to explain the effect that the bullying is having on your child. For example, ‘Tyler doesn’t want to go to school anymore. It takes a lot of encouragement to get them there’.
- Be assertive, not angry or accusatory. For example, ‘Yes, children do tease sometimes. But I don’t agree this was just teasing. I think it’s more serious’.
- End the meeting with a plan for how the situation will be managed. For example, ‘You’re going to talk to the other teachers about this so they can watch the children carefully in the playground at lunch time. And we’re going to talk again next week’.
- Keep in touch with the teacher.
What if your child doesn’t want you to talk with the teacher?
Your child might not want you to talk with the teacher. Your child might be embarrassed or worried that it will make the bullying worse.
It’s important to listen to your child’s concerns and see whether there’s anything you can do to help them feel less worried. For example, you might be able to make an appointment at the school at a time when other students are less likely to notice. You could also ask the teacher to make sure that the school deals with the bullying in a way that has no negative consequences for your child.
In the end, you’re the best person to decide what’s in your child’s best interests, even if that means involving the teacher against your child’s wishes.
Directly contacting the child doing the bullying or the child’s parents is likely to make the situation worse. It’s always safest and most effective to work with the school (or any other organisation where bullying is happening) than to try to solve bullying on your own.
If the bullying doesn’t stop
If the bullying doesn’t stop even after you’ve spoken to the classroom teacher, it’s still safest to work through the school.
Here are further steps you can take:
- Keep a record of what happens and when. If the bullying involves physical harm or damage to your child’s property, you could also take photos. If it involves cyberbullying, take screenshots of the social media posts or text messages.
- Write a note to the classroom teacher saying that the bullying is still going on. Ask for your concern to be addressed in writing.
- Speak to the school principal.
- Ask to see the school’s grievance procedure.
- Request a meeting to discuss the matter with the school board.
- If the bullying doesn’t stop even after you take all the steps above, consider seeking further advice from your school’s regional office.
It takes time to change behaviour, so you might not see overnight results.
If the bullying behaviour is extreme, there might also be reasons to look for help outside the school system.
Support outside the school system
If the bullying is violent, if criminal offences have occurred, or if you think the school has treated you unfairly or unreasonably, you might consider some of these options:
- Seek legal advice.
- Tell the police.
- Apply to the Children’s Court for a restraining order against the person doing the bullying.
- Contact the education department or your state or territory ombudsman to make a complaint.
It’s best for your child’s wellbeing and development to be in an environment where they feel safe, respected and valued. If you decide that moving schools is the best way to support your child’s development and wellbeing, it’s good to get support with this process. You can ask your GP for a referral to an educational psychologist.
Supporting children at home
Your child needs a lot of support and love at home while you and your child’s teacher work on stopping the bullying.
You could aim to have a time each day when you chat with your child about the good and bad parts of the day. Rather than always asking about bullying, you can ask more general questions like ‘What was the most fun part of your day?’
Some children might not want to talk about the bullying often, but let your child know you’re there for them whenever they do want to chat.
Sometimes professional support might help your child deal with bullying. You could talk to your GP or the school counsellor for more information.
What children can do to cope with bullying
If your child is being bullied, you should always step in using the strategies above. But your child can also learn ways to handle the bullying while it’s being addressed by the school. This gives your child skills to deal with future bullying or negative social behaviour. It also helps your child feel more confident and less powerless about being bullied.
Here are ideas for your child, along with ways to explain the ideas to your child:
- Ignore it and think about moving away if the bullying continues: ‘You physically move away from children who are teasing or bullying’.
- Tell the person doing the bullying to stop: ‘Standing up to people who are bullying in a calm way lets them know that what they’re trying to do isn’t working’.
- Avoid high-risk places: ‘If you keep away from places where bullying happens, you can avoid the people doing the bullying – as long as this doesn’t stop you from doing things you like to do’.
- Stay around other people: ‘If you stay with your friends, the person doing the bullying probably won’t bother you. Or you could stay in a busier part of the school where there are teachers’.
- Ask other children for help: ‘Other children probably understand what you’re going through and can help you if you need it. People are less likely to bully if they can see that you have backup’.
- Tell the teacher: ‘Your teacher can help you deal with the problem. The person doing the bullying might not even know that the teacher is helping you. Bullying can be hard to handle, and grown-ups are there to help’.
You could also talk with your child about the strategies for different situations. For example, if someone is calling your child names, your child might tell the person to stop. But if the person doing the bullying is being physically violent, it’s best to tell a teacher.
What if your child is the one doing the bullying? It can be hard to understand and accept. But it’s essential to work on changing your child’s behaviour. Learning to treat others respectfully is important for your child’s development.