Supporting a bullied child
It goes without saying that parents want to protect their children from harm, and see them develop into healthy, happy adults. It is therefore extremely difficult to witness the affect that bullying can have on a child.
The most important thing to remember is that with firm, immediate action, young people will move past bullying and overcome the emotional scars it leaves behind. While individual experiences will influence the way your child is affected, in general, there are some universal steps all parents should take to support their child through bullying.
Have an open conversation
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, or they have already told you of an incident, the first thing to do is have an open conversation. Try and follow these guidelines:
Speak in private: Find a quiet time when you won't be disturbed to discuss the different types of bullying. Ask if they have ever experienced or witnessed any of the examples and encourage them to give specific details.
Be patient, calm and understanding: Do not make assumptions or interrupt. Put your feelings aside and really listen to what your child is telling you.
Reassure them: Make it clear that the bullying is not their fault and praise them for being brave enough to confide in you. Assure them that now you know what is happening, the issues can be resolved.
Give support and trust: Let your child know that you will need to talk to the school, but promise not to take action without discussing it with them first. Openly explore the options together, and come to an agreed course of action.
Teach them how to cope
Bullies often 'test' potential targets to gauge how they respond, and while the target is never to blame, those who appear the most vulnerable usually continue to be bullied. It is for this reason that alongside reporting to the school, teaching your child how to be assertive can be the most effective way to help them.
The skills explained in our dealing with bullying page offer young people practical, non-confrontational ways to deal with bullies. With practice, these techniques can not only prevent them from being targeted, but will give them the confidence and independence to tackle potential bullying situations in a positive way that inhibits escalation.
If your child is aged 9-16 they may benefit from attending ZAP, our assertiveness workshop for bullied children and their parents. More information and details on how your family could benefit can be found here.
Behaviour to avoid
It can be very overwhelming when you are faced with the reality that your child is coming to harm. In order to respond effectively and give your child the support they need, it is important that you put aside any anger or assumptions. Please bear in mind the following:
Do not act aggressively: Storming into the school or confronting the bully will be the reaction your child has been dreading, and will often make the bullying worse.
Do not dismiss their experience: Telling a child to ignore the bullies or dismissing the experience as just 'a part of growing up' will not stop the bullying. These messages teach them that bullying should be tolerated rather than confronted. The effects of bullying can be devastating, so it is imperative you give your child the appropriate help.
Do not promote retaliation: Instructing a child to fight back will not solve any issue but only promote a cycle of bullying. It is likely to place your child in further danger, or result in the school labelling them as the problem. Refer to our advice above for positive ways your child can deal with bullying behaviour.