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Bullying at school – how to recognise it and help your kids

Two big kids grabbing a smaller kid by the collar threateninglySchool can be a stressful time.

If you have concerns about bullying, it becomes even more stressful for both the children and the parents involved.

Australia’s rate of bullying at school is 50% higher than the international average – so we need to know how to recognise it and how to help our kids get through it.

It is important to know when a little teasing between students actually becomes bullying. Bullies usually pick on the same target over and over again. Their targets are usually different to them, smaller, and weaker than them, and who they think won’t fight back.

There are many different types of bullying, including:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Extortion
  • Malicious rumours
  • Physical violence
  • Damaging/stealing property
  • Exclusion from groups or activities

If your child is being bullied

Warning signs include:

  • Suddenly having a strong aversion to going to school
  • Being tense, angry, or upset about school
  • Having physical marks on their body
  • Being extra hungry after school (as if they didn’t eat lunch) but having no food leftover
  • Refusing to talk about any issues
  • Sudden weight gain/loss without other obvious cause
  • Having “lost” belongings when they don’t normally lose things
  • A sudden drop in their academic performance
  • Sudden change in temperament – being more cranky, quiet, etc. than normal
  • Regression of development – bedwetting, no longer sleeping through the night, etc.
  • Loss of motivation for doing other activities

If you notice any of these signs in your child, it is crucial that you talk to them immediately. Before they even go back to school after holidays, ensure that your child always feels comfortable coming to you and talking on a regular basis. Any issues your child might have are not necessarily going to be about bullying, but it is always good to know what is on their mind.

Whatever the issue is they are telling you about – believe them. Don’t let them think they’re a wuss or show that you may think they’re making some or all of it up, as this can make it worse.

In these early stages, don’t take all the control of the bullying at school before your child has a chance to try and handle it without you stepping in. Taking it to the school and causing a big issue immediately can make your child feel even less in control, as the bully is taking the control away from them to begin with. Try helping them to stand up to the bully so they can take the control back with these methods:

  • Make sure they stay positive. Remember the other good things in their life, what things they are good at, and that they have family and friends who love them.
  • Help them understand that real friends don’t bully you. Get them to hang around with the people who are their friends so the bully doesn’t have easy access to them.
  • Teach them to say no. Tell the bully “I don’t like what you’re doing” in a strong, confident voice.
  • Teach them to ignore. Bullies thrive on the reaction they get, so if your child shrugs it off and walks away, the bully has nothing to feed on. Get them to stay neutral and unimpressed by what the bully is doing or saying.
  • If they can’t ignore, help them make routine responses to the bully. Saying “yeah, whatever” each time will take away the reaction the bully wants, or if they are teasing the child about being different in some way, get them to say “yeah, I’m different. It’s a good thing” and make sure they know that different really is good.
  • Encourage them to deal with it non-violently. Fighting should not be endorsed, unless it is truly necessary for self-defence.
  • Help your child find ways to avoid the confrontation in the first place. Get them to play in a different place at lunch or walk a different way around, to, or from school.
  • Teach them to put up an invisible barrier when the bully is around that shields them from harm. It can be a magic wall, bubble, or anything else that makes them feel safe, that way the bad words or other mean things bounce off and won’t hurt them.

When talking to your child about it, make sure you:

  • Listen fully and don’t interrupt them.
  • Stay calm no matter what they say.
  • Show you understand the situation.
  • Thank them for coming to you and telling you.
  • Ensure they know you’ll help.
  • Explain why people bully and that it is not their fault.
  • Stay positive and avoid comments like “toughen up and fight back” or “oh you poor thing, you can stay home tomorrow”.

If your child is bullying others

If you find out that your child has been bullying or has been called a bully, it is still incredibly important to help them. There is usually an underlying problem that causes them to bully, such as some other stress, insecurity, or even having been bullied before. In this situation, you need to:

  • Stay calm and find out why they are doing this or why they were called a bully.
  • If they don’t know why, ask what they’d said or done to the other child that day, or even ask the effected child together. If your child goes up to the other child by themselves, it can be intimidating or even frightening for the other child.
  • Once the bullying action is determined, explain why this is a bad and hurtful thing to do and how it feels to be bullied.
  • Teach them how to interact with others in a nice and respectful way.
  • Explain that they need to take responsibility for their actions, including telling the teachers (if they don’t already know), apologising to the effected child, and accepting whatever consequence is determined for them by you or the school.

If your child knows they were bullying, the most common reasons they behave this way are because they think it’s game, they can get away with it, it doesn’t hurt the other child, or that everyone does it.

They might also think that what they are doing is all in good fun, and insist that they weren’t bullying, but what the bully thinks about the situation is largely unimportant. If it makes the victim feel bullied: it’s bullying. It will affect the victim the same way regardless of how the bully perceives the situation. They need to identify what they are doing that hurts the other child, and stop it.

Sometimes you will need help and support from other parents, or a professional opinion if you think the bullying is out of hand.

Most children think bullying can’t be stopped, and reporting it will make it worse. We need to get our children to speak up as soon as anything happens. Make sure your child knows to help other children who are being bullied, as there is always strength in numbers when standing up to bully at school.

Find more info on school issues in our Back to School Hub.

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2 comments so far -

  1. My 10 yo has been bullied by a child since 2012 & the principal fails to take action because the bullies mother volunteers at the school eg reading, canteen duties and her sister is also a colleague of the principal in another school. The bullies family haveade it hell for my daughter at school & they are trying everything to get reaction from me when they hurl abuse towards me so they can obviously ban me from attending the school.
    Not only is the bullying behaviour from their child, the parents of the bully but also the ‘school leader’.
    I don’t want to move schools because my daughter has her friends there and the school is walking distance from our home & I don’t want them to think that they have won.
    Please advise what I can do .
    Ps I have tried to lodge complaint with the Region Office but he used to be a principal at the school & he would defend the newly appointed Bully Principal.
    I feel like I want to go to the media but my child is still at that school.

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