Help, my child is being bullied at school!

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Carolanne Bamford-Beattie


Bullying in school

It’s a moment that every parent dreads. Your child appears sad, withdrawn and irritable. You ask what’s wrong and they admit that people are bullying them at school. Your heart sinks and you choke back your own emotions as you put on a brave face to help them out of this horrible situation.

What is bullying and what types of bullying happen at school?

Unfortunately, bullying can be extremely common in schools, and with the popularity of social media platforms, there are ways for bullies to carry on with their abuse outside of the playground.

Bullying is a form of harassment. It’s behavior that seeks to deliberately harm, intimidate or coerce another.

A child can become a target for bullies for many reasons and for no fault of their own. Bullies act the way they do because of the relationship they have with themselves and the people around them, not the victim.

Some of the forms of bullying in schools include:

Physical bullying

Hitting, tripping people up, damaging their property and doing things like blocking their entry and exit to a building or transport are all examples of physical bullying in school.

Verbal bullying

Name-calling, throwing insults and using words to threaten or intimidate are all examples of verbal bullying.

Social bullying

Is often harder to detect and can be particularly insidious. Examples of social bullying include spreading rumors, mimicking someone to be unkind or playing jokes with the intent to humiliate them.

Cyber bullying

The internet provides an unfortunate amount of opportunities for children to be bullied. From gossiping about them on social media, setting up fake accounts about them, or to target them. Cyberbullying is fast becoming one of the biggest problems in today’s schools.

What is the impact of bullying in schools?

Bullying has a lasting impact on a person’s self-esteem and mental health. In the short-term, the effects of bullying in schools includes:

  • Making learning harder for the victim
  • Cause a person to miss school.
  • The same research concluded that children being bullied at school daily were three times more likely to be excluded than peers who weren’t bullied
  • Bullying in school also encourages children to retaliate – exacerbating the situation and putting them in potential danger
  • Bullying can also damage a child’s relationships with others and cause tension at home
  • Be excluded (LSYPE research below found that children that were bullied daily were 3 times more likely to be excluded from school than those that were not bullied)

At the most worrying end of the spectrum, bullying in schools can lead to children being depressed, withdrawn and anxious and in the most serious of circumstances, self-harm or attempt to take their own life.

Preventing bullying in schools

Long gone are the days when children are expected to ‘keep their chin up’ or ‘hit a bully back’, when someone becomes aggressive with them at school. It is widely accepted that bullying is not a rite of passage, nor should it be accepted by children and their families.

There are many international organizations that s have taken on the fight to help prevent bullying in schools and their sites are full of information and resources on how to prevent, and report bullying in schools, including:

According to the UK’s Anti-Bullying Alliance, there are 10 principles that teachers, caregivers, and the wider scholastic community should consider to help prevent bullying in school. These are:

  • Listening to all and every complaint or issue that a child or carer has with regard to bullying in school
  • Encouraging and actively creating an environment of inclusion for everyone, no matter their background, disability or special education needs
  • Respecting everyone from teachers to the pupils and support staff
  • Challenging any and all examples of inappropriate and bullying behavior
  • Celebrating difference in others and fostering an environment where difference is seen positively
  • Understanding what bullying is, how to identify it and what it means, and what it isn’t
  • Reports any and all incidences of bullying in and outside of the school setting
  • Take action against any incidences of bullying and this includes children with disabilities and special educational needs
  • That the school has a policy in place to ensure that there are clear procedures and guidelines as to bullying and what happens if you are caught, or are a victim of, school bullying

Should schools have a bullying policy?

Yes. Responsible schools should have concrete bullying policies that every pupil, carer, and staff member has access to, and is completely aware of.

In the UK, this is written into law. Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 states that all state (non-paid for) schools should have measures in place to encourage good behavior and discourage all forms of bullying.

What should a school anti-bullying policy look like?

  1. It should have a clear definition of bullying that spells out what bullying in school includes
  2. In the U.S. many states have model anti-bullying policies that a school can refer to when creating one that fits that particular institution. When creating the policy it is important to make sure that it’s clear where the policy applies, including trips and cyberbullying
  3. There should be a clearly defined and agreed reporting procedure
  4. The anti-bullying policy should include how and where victims can get help if they have been bullied at school
  5. It should also lay out how the school will take proactive measures to prevent bullying in the first instance

My child is being bullied at school, what should I do?

It’s heartbreaking to learn that your child is being bullied at school, but it’s really important to make sure you follow the right procedures and try to keep a cool head to help manage the situation, and support your child.

First off, let your child know that the bullying is never their fault. Bullies harm others because they are unhappy in their own lives.

Listen. Try to understand the whole picture and context of what’s been happening and support your child with an open and non-judgemental space to talk about exactly what’s been going on.

Create a plan. Make sure your child is prepared before the bullying takes place. Teach them how to diffuse a situation where someone is being unkind or provocative. Examples of this include, ‘that’s not a kind thing to say’ and a simple. ‘Leave me alone.’

The idea of bullies can be really intimidating for children. Try role playing scenarios at home so you can give them some appropriate tips and advice on how to act in a potential bullying situation at school.

Build your child’s confidence and sense of justice by being really clear at home with your own boundaries of what constitutes acceptable behavior towards others.

If your child experiences repeated and severe bullying that hasn’t stopped when they have asked the other student to back off, then report the behavior as per the schools’ anti-bullying procedures.

Keep evidence of the bullying and a log of dates and incidences. If your child is being cyberbullied, save the screenshot and messages, make your child’s profile private and block the offending bully so they can’t contact them any longer.

Encourage your child to be the sort of person who looks out for, and stands up for others when they’re being bullied at school.

Speak to the parents in a non-confrontational way. Explain objectively that your child has been upset, and has spoken to you about some things that have happened at school. Ask if their child has mentioned anything to them, and explain that you’d like to work out a solution together to keep both children happy.

Teach skills that diffuse situations to your child. Never encourage a child to hit back, or get their own back to stand up for themselves. Children who are being bullied should be as confident as they can and this comes from a clear idea of what is right and wrong.

Keep the school, and other important caregivers in the loop. Teachers might not know what’s been happening as children can be very covert with their bullying – especially if it’s happening online. Keeping teachers in the loop ensures that everyone is aware of what’s going on and can provide an extra set of eyes when you’re not around to monitor things too.

Bullying in school is a horrible thing for any child and their parents to experience, but by staying confident, understanding the rules a school has in place, and reporting the bullying in a measured way can help to stop the behavior and potentially stop others from experiencing the same treatment in the future.