What to do if your child says they are being bullied at school
A child or teenager who bullies does so because she feels insecure or not good enough in some way, and putting others down makes her feel temporarily better. This does not make it okay. It is up to parents to teach values such as kindness to their children from the very start of their lives. Schools, however, are responsible for a culture of kindness and not tolerating bullying behaviour. Sadly I have found that whilst all schools have an anti-bullying policy to deal with clear incidents of bullying, some do not actively work to build a culture of kindness, understanding and appreciating one another’s differences. This can lead to unkindness in the playground which is not direct bullying but can be a slippery slope: Leaving someone out of a group, making repeated throwaway comments, putting someone down, or perhaps using social media to shame someone.
Always take bullying seriously
Whilst it is always crucial to take bullying seriously, it is also important to take a step back and consider that your child’s view and those of others may not match up. Make sure you listen carefully to your child’s story, taking a note of any details such as what your child tells you the other child said or did, and when. That way you can ensure your child feels heard. Don’t immediately assume that your child’s version of events is 100% correct. Sometimes young people get it wrong, exaggerate or misunderstand another person’s intentions. Empathise with the emotion even if you are not sure exactly what happened. For example: “I can see why you felt lonely when James seemed to invite everyone to play the game except you. That must have been horrible.”
Make sure your child knows the difference between bullying, teasing and banter
I know from personal experience that some children think they are being bullied when actually their friends are engaging in good-natured “banter”. Equally, some children do not realise when they are being bullied. Talk through the differences with your child, using examples if possible. It is important for your child to be very clear on this, so he can quickly and correctly identify bullying. This video might help.
Bullying can have a lasting effect
I work with older teenagers who are still trying to recover from bullying that happened earlier in their childhoods. Bullying, both the physical type and the more subtle (emotional/verbal) type, can be so traumatic that it has a lifelong impact. Of course, this depends on the nature of the bullying, severity, type, how long it goes on, and the child’s “resources” to cope with it. By resources, I mean how safe and loved they feel at home (a “safe base”), whether they have academic or emotional needs which place extra stress on them (for example, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia), and how resilient they are able to be.
What to do if your child is being bullied
Things to do at home if your child is being bullied
- Continue to provide lots of empathy with the emotions your child expresses (fear, stress, anger, and so on).
- Work extra hard to provide a safe haven at home. This might include extra treats and comforts such as a movie and popcorn snuggled up as a family. A secure attachment and “safe base” are crucial when a child faces challenges outside the home.
- Provide extra nurture. Don’t be afraid to treat your child as if he was younger for a little while, to help him feel safer. For example, reading bedtime stories and giving cuddles. Even teenagers like this sometimes.
- Ensure that friendships and social activities outside of school carry on, so that your child has as many positive social experiences as possible.
- Reassure your child that better times lie ahead (many successful and happy adults were bullied as children).
Communication with school if your child is being bullied
- Keep written notes including dates when bullying was reported to you by your child.
- Ensure you are familiar with the school’s policies on bullying. That way you can ensure everything that can be done, is being done.
- Notify the school of your concerns at an early stage and build a plan together. For example, staff may agree to monitor you child’s interactions in the playground for a while, and maintain regular email contact with you to build up a picture of what is going on. Meet face to face as often as you can.
- If your child is struggling with friendships in general and being rejected by peers, staff should have a number of resources they can link your child to, such as mentoring, friendship skills groups or a buddy system. It does not mean your child is not being bullied. He may also be struggling with certain important friendship skills and may benefit from some coaching or support, separate from the bullying issues to be addressed.
- Aim to build a close and trusting relationship with key members of staff from school, such as the Head of Year and/or Head of Pastoral Care. Always try to avoid a defensive pattern of communication; aim for openness and collaborative working. Most members of staff really are keen to do their best for your child. If you have concerns that someone does not have your child’s interests at heart or does not have a full understanding of the situation, try to build a rapport with someone else instead.
- Take further action only if, despite your best efforts, things do not improve. Take your concerns to the Head teacher, and to the school governors if necessary.
In General: Things to do if your child is being bullied
- Get as much support as you can from family and friends. It can be challenging and stressful to support your child through a difficult time at school. People nearly always want to help.
- If you think your child is experiencing mental health difficulties as a result of bullying, discuss this with your GP. This might include post-traumatic stress, low mood or depression, or anxiety. Your GP can refer you on to appropriate services.
Taking your child out of school
I see many children who have been removed from a school by their parents. Often they felt this was the only option to preserve their son or daughter’s wellbeing. Sometimes, these children start a new school and end up being very happy. Other times, the pattern may repeat itself. Occasionally, families decide to take their child out of formal education altogether and home-school them. There is no right answer; each child’s needs are different. Do not feel you (or your child) have failed if you decide to take them out of a school. Sometimes, the “fit” between the child’s needs and what the school can offer, is just not a good match.
If your child starts to refuse to go to school as a result of bullying, this article may help.