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 or calling someone names
- deliberately ignoring someone or leaving them out of games or activities
- playing nasty jokes or spreading nasty stories
- pushing, tripping or hitting someone, or taking or damaging their things.
If children join in with bullying or encourage someone else to behave like this, it’s also bullying.
Bullying can happen face to face. It can also happen online – this is cyberbullying.
Bullying is never OK.
Signs that a child is bullying
If your child is bullying, someone will probably tell you – a teacher, another child’s parents, or one of your child’s siblings.
Other signs of your child bullying include your child:
- talking about other children in an aggressive or negative way
- having money, toys or other things that don’t belong to them.
None these things means your child is definitely 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.
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.
Working on bullying at home
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 want it to end.
Here’s how to start:
- 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.
Working on bullying with the school or organisation
It’s also important to talk with the school or organisation where the bullying is happening about its policy or guidelines for bullying. They’ll use these to decide the consequences for your child.
If you support the school or organisation’s decision, it sends a strong message to your child that bullying behaviour is not OK. You can also ask what you can do from home to support the decision, and then check in with the school or organisation regularly.
Thinking about why the bullying is happening
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 deal 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.
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 act.
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.
A ‘behaviour contract’ is made between you, the school or other organisation, and your child. It lets your child know that you’re all working together. The contract can include things like what will happen if your child bullies and what will happen if your child stops bullying. You could also include things your child could do instead of bullying.
As part of the contract, you might get your child to write an apology letter to the child they’ve been bullying. This helps your child understand how their behaviour has affected the other person.
Your child might need counselling to help them stop bullying and develop more positive ways of relating to other children. Counselling can really 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.
How to prevent bullying in the future
Preventing bullying is about teaching children how to get on well with others by showing empathy, respect and care for others.
The best way to do this is by being a role model for your child, and making sure that your child always sees you treating others with respect and kindness.
It can also help to work on your child’s self-esteem. This might mean they don’t need to put others down to feel worthwhile. There are many ways to build your child’s self-esteem. For example, you could encourage them to try and enjoy different activities like sports, art, music, drama, and so on.
You can also try giving your child plenty of positive attention, particularly when they’re treating others well. Children who get this kind of attention are less likely to bully. Children who get a lot of negative messages about themselves, or who experience violence in their families, are more likely to bully.
Discipline can help too. This means setting limits and using consequences for your child’s behaviour, and reinforcing the good behaviour when it happens.
And if you want your child to learn how to resolve conflicts without bullying, your child needs to see you managing your own conflicts constructively.
Working on your child’s bullying behaviour can help your child avoid being bullied. It can also help your child avoid problems with antisocial behaviour, workplace harassment, child abuse, sexual harassment and substance abuse later in life.