Bullying: the basics
Most children tease others at some stage. But bullying is more than teasing. It’s:
- teasing other children over and over again
- ignoring other children or leaving them out of games or activities
- saying mean things or calling other children names
- spreading nasty stories about other children
- hitting and pushing other children
- taking other children’s 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.
If your child is behaving in these ways with the intention of hurting other children physically or hurting their feelings, it might be time to talk with him about bullying.
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 her.
Neither of these signs means your child is definitely bullying, but you might want to talk to your child’s teacher to find out if there have been any problems at school.
What to do about your child bullying
Working on bullying at home
It’s important to tell your child that his bullying behaviour is not OK. Try to be calm about it, but make sure he 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 she’s doing and why she might be doing it. Listen to her, and try to avoid blame.
- Help your child understand how his 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 mobile phones.
Working on bullying with the school
It’s also important to talk to the school (or club 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 help stop the bullying. For example:
- Is your child being bullied herself? Some children bully because they themselves have been bullied. Listen to your child for signs that she might be a victim of bullying.
- Is your child joining in bullying to avoid being bullied himself? 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 herself’? 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 he’s young – the younger he is, the more likely he is to change the way he acts.
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 she stops bullying. You could also include things she could do instead of bullying.
As part of the contract, you might get your child to write an apology letter to the child he has been bullying.
Your child might need counselling to help her 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, dealing with anger or controlling her impulses.
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.
Building your child’s self-esteem can help. To do this, you could let your child try lots of different activities, and encourage and support him in anything he likes. It might be sports, art, music, drama or something entirely different.
As part of building your child’s self-esteem, try giving your child lots of positive attention. Children who get this kind of attention are less likely to bully. Children who feel unloved 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.
If your child is bullying, it’s really important to get her the helps she needs to stop. This can help your child avoid becoming a victim of bullying herself. It can also help her avoid problems with antisocial behaviour, workplace harassment, child abuse, sexual harassment and substance abuse later in life.