What is bullying?
A natural part of your child’s development is learning to deal with conflict. Normally, conflict is short-lived, but sometimes it may turn into bullying.
Bullying appears much like teasing or joking around. But when such behaviour occurs repeatedly, it becomes bullying. Examples include repeated pushing, tripping, name-calling or deliberately excluding someone from an activity. Having an argument or disagreement with a friend is not bullying.
Teasing, being pointed at or called names as a one-off occurrence, while not nice, is not bullying. This sort of behaviour happens from time to time, and is a normal part of children interacting with each other and learning respectful relationships.
Bullying can happen face-to-face as well as remotely by mobile phone, text message, email, or through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Cyber-bullying (or online bullying) is using modern communication technology deliberately and repeatedly to harass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate someone. Examples include sending anonymous threatening emails, spreading rumours on social networks or the school e-bulletin board to break up friendships, or posting unkind or unpleasant comments about someone or passing these comments onto others.
Bullying can be devastating for a child’s confidence and self-esteem. It can make them feel like they have no safe place.
It is important to act immediately once you suspect your child is being bullied.
How to know if your child is being bullied
Subtle changes in your child's behaviour could alert you that they are being bullied. You'll need to use your judgment, together with knowing your child’s personality. Trust your intuition and try talking to your child about what's happening and what you are noticing about their behaviour, even if they don't open up and tell you what is going on at first. It could be bullying. But then again, it may be something else entirely.
Other indications that may mean your child is being bullied at school include your child:
- not wanting to go to school
- changing their method or route to school or becoming frightened of walking to school
- having frequent tears, anger, mood swings and anxiety
- having unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches
- having missing or damaged belongings or clothes
- asking for extra pocket money or food
- showing an unwillingness to discuss, or secrecy about, their online communication
- not wanting to answer questions or talk about what’s been happening at school
- withdrawing from friends and activities
- not sleeping well
- not eating properly
- feeling sick or complaining of frequent headaches or stomach aches.
Some changes in behaviour may also be a result of other student issues such as depression or substance abuse, which may require a different response.
Whether it involves bullying or other student issues, schools can help by involving student wellbeing staff.
What to do if your child is being bullied
The most important thing is for your child to know that it is OK to talk about what they are experiencing and how they are feeling.
Thank your child for telling you about the problem. Reassure them that they are safe and loved, and that you will work through it together. Let your child know that the situation is not their fault, and it can be fixed.
Stay calm, as your child will take a cue from your response as to how they should react to this problem, and indeed to problems generally.
Tell your child you will talk to the school. They might initially be concerned that this will make the problem worse - that they might be labelled as a ‘dobber’ and be further ostracised by the kids at school. Again, remind your child that bullying is something that needs to be openly talked about by everyone and that they won’t suffer recriminations.
Don’t encourage your child to retaliate. This will only make the situation worse.
Talk to your child’s teacher or school principal as soon as possible. Every school has a policy for dealing with bullying and they take the matter very seriously. When discussing the problem with the school, be assertive but not angry or accusatory. Ask the teacher or principal for their view and discuss how the situation will be managed, and then keep in touch with the school.
Contacting the bully or their parents, tempting as it might seem, is also likely to make the situation worse. It is best to work with the school to fix the problem rather than try and solve it yourself.
Talk to your child about ways of dealing with the behaviour they are experiencing. Ask for their suggestions. Suggest things like:
- walking away or ignoring the behaviour
- firmly telling the bully to stop
- avoiding places where bullying is likely to occur – as long as that doesn’t mean your child will miss out on activities or being with friends
- use deflecting strategies like providing an offhand or humorous response when the bully says offensive or negative things
- asking friends to help.
It is also useful to talk to your child about why children bully. For example, the bully is reacting to something that is upsetting them, or taking their problems out on others, or they are copying behaviour exhibited by others and may not know this is wrong or that it can be hurtful.
It may take some time and some adjustment at school and at home to get things back on an even keel. So be prepared and stay confident that things will work out. If the problem doesn’t seem to be improving, raise it again with your child’s teacher or school principal.
- Bully Stoppers – information for parents
- Bullying – Victorian government schools guidelines for the prevention and management of bullying.
- Bullying No Ways’ Facts about Bullying – what it is and why it happens.
- Bullying No Ways’ My child is being bullied – tips to help your child if they are being bullied.
- Raising Children Network’s Cyberbullying – Learn about cyberbullying – what it is, when to step in, and what to do about it.