Bullying: the basics
Bullying is when someone deliberately and repeatedly upsets, frightens, threatens or hurts someone else or their property, reputation or friendships.
Bullying can be:
- teasing, saying mean things, threatening someone or calling someone names
- deliberately ignoring someone or leaving them out of games or activities
- playing nasty jokes or spreading rumours
- pushing, tripping or hitting someone
- taking or damaging someone’s things
- encouraging others to behave in these ways or joining in with this behaviour.
Bullying can happen face to face. It can also happen online – this is cyberbullying.
Bullying is never OK. All bullying is hurtful. When it keeps going, it can cause long-lasting harm.
Signs that children are bullying others
If your child is bullying, someone will probably tell you – a teacher, another child’s parents, or one of your child’s siblings. Your child probably won’t tell you themselves, and they might deny it if you ask them.
Other signs of your child bullying include your child:
- talking consistently about other children in an aggressive or negative way
- having money, toys or other things that don’t belong to them.
None these things definitely mean your child is bullying, but it’s important to stay calm and find out more. Start by talking with your child’s teacher to find out whether there have been any problems at school.
Not all bullying behaviour is deliberate. Some children bully others without realising the harm they’re causing. Generally, this sort of bullying will stop when your child is shown that what they’re doing is wrong or hurtful.
What to do about your child bullying
If your child is bullying others, your child needs help. Learning to treat others respectfully is important for your child’s social and emotional development.
It’s important to tell your child that their bullying behaviour is not OK. Try to be calm about it, but make sure your child knows that you expect it to end and that you’ll help them to make that happen:
- Explain to your child what bullying is. Talk with your child about what they’re doing and why they might be doing it. Listen to your child, and try to avoid blame.
- If your child denies the bullying, you can simply say ’I know it’s hard to admit this, but we want to help you so that this stops’.
- Help your child understand how their behaviour affects others – for example, ‘Would you like someone to do that to you?’ or ‘How do you think that made the other person feel?’
- Keep an eye on your child’s use of the internet and phones.
You could also look for reasons for the bullying. This might help you work out whether there’s something that you can change to stop it. For example:
- Is your child being bullied? Some children bully because they themselves have been bullied. Listen to your child for signs that they might have been bullied. Even if your child has been bullied, you still need to break the cycle by dealing with what they’re doing to other children.
- Is your child joining in bullying to avoid being bullied? Talk to the school or club about how your child can avoid being involved in bullying.
- Is your child seeing bullying at home or in other settings, or in TV programs or YouTube videos? Sometimes bullying happens because children see others doing it.
- Is your child bullying to feel more important or in control? Some children bully because they have low self-esteem.
- Is your child misunderstanding messages about ‘standing up for themselves’? Sometimes positive comments about being aggressive or assertive can encourage children to bully.
Working with schools when children are bullying
If your child is bullying at school, the best way to stop it is by working on the bullying together with the school. School staff should be trained in handling bullying. They can work with you to prevent further bullying and help your child learn to treat others more respectfully.
There are several things you can do to work with your child’s school in a constructive and positive way:
- Let your child know that you’re working with the school to help them.
- Discuss the problem with your child’s teacher, and ask what the school does in these situations.
- Ask what you can do from home to support the school’s approach.
- Work with the school to develop a plan for how the situation will be managed and a time for a follow-up meeting.
Your child might be embarrassed or think that you’re over-reacting by working with the school. But learning to treat others respectfully is an important aspect of your child’s social and emotional development. The best way to support your child is by working with the school, even if it’s against your child’s wishes.
It’s best to do something about bullying sooner rather than later. You have the most influence on your child’s bullying behaviour while they’re young – the younger your child is, the more likely they are to change the way they behave.
What to do if your child continues to bully
If this isn’t the first time your child has bullied, and you’ve already tried the suggestions above, you might need to take further steps.
If the bullying is happening at school or a club, working with the organisation will give you the best chance of changing your child’s behaviour.
Your child might need counselling to help them stop bullying and develop more positive ways of relating to other children. Counselling can help if your child is having trouble with self-esteem, anger or impulse control.
If the bullying is happening at school, the school might offer counselling or refer you to someone else.
Your child can also see a mental health professional who isn’t associated with their school. To do this, you’ll need a referral from your GP.
Confidential telephone counselling services like Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 can help if your child wants to speak to someone between appointments.
How to prevent bullying in the future: being a role model
Preventing bullying is about teaching children how to get on well with others by showing empathy, respect and care for others.
When you and other adults in your child’s life model respectful and caring behaviour, you help your child build the skills they need to develop positive relationships and feel good about themselves. This can be as simple as making sure your child always hears you talking about other people with respect and empathy. For example, ‘I know that your teacher can be grumpy sometimes, but they have a lot of experience and knowledge to share with you’.
It’s great if your child sees that your social media posts are always kind and respectful too.
You can also help your child learn to express anger or negative emotions in healthy ways. For example, if you feel angry, you could say something like, ‘I feel really angry just now. Could we talk about this later when I’ve calmed myself down?’
And if you have a conflict with your child or somebody else, it can be a chance to show your child how to resolve conflicts constructively. For example, it often works best to listen to your child, express your own feelings without judgment, and look for ways to negotiate and compromise.
This lets your child know that you can talk about feelings, rather than having to act on them.
If your child has a warm and positive relationship with you, they’re less likely to get involved in bullying others. And when your family sets rules, boundaries and standards for the way you treat each other, it helps to build strong relationships in your family. This can go a long way towards helping your child grow into a well-adjusted, considerate and caring adult.