It’s a conversation every parent dreads: ‘Mum, Dad, I’m being bullied...’ But, with an estimated 1.5 million young people in the UK experiencing bullying in 2016*, it’s one every parent or carer needs to be geared up for. Just in case.
‘Letting your child know that they can talk to you at any time is key,’ says child psychology expert Professor Mike Boulton of the University of Chester. ‘At least half of all children who are being bullied, if not more, don’t tell anyone.’
It’s obviously a sensitive subject and also one that increasingly needs to be addressed – Childline reported an 88% rise** in calls about online bullying in the last five years.
Often, telling an adult is the only way for your child to stop what can be a very upsetting time for the whole family, so try to have the tools in place to help them with it. Here’s our guide to treating the issue, calmly, sensibly and supportively.
Spotting the signs
Some clues may be less obvious than others. If you notice any of the following, your child may be having a problem with bullies.
- Your child seems withdrawn, anxious, depressed
- Their behaviour becomes more defiant or aggressive
- Garments and belongings get ‘lost’ or damaged
- You notice unexplained physical injuries
- They try faking illness or skipping school
- They are unable to concentrate in lessons
- They have problems with eating or sleeping
Talk it out
Discussing bullying can be difficult for children – and for mums, dads and carers, too. ‘Parents may think their child can talk to them about anything, when actually they feel like they can’t,’ says Professor Boulton.
Children often worry that they might not be believed, that they could be blamed, or that their parents might overreact and make a scene. For them, telling an adult could make the situation worse, or simply make no difference at all.
The key is to approach them first. ‘Look for a good moment to raise it, in a way that doesn’t look like you’re interrogating them,’ says Professor Boulton. ‘Then give them time and space to think about what’s been said and let them talk to you if and when the time is right for them.’
Keep calm and listen carefully to everything they have to say, then discuss with them what they would like to do next. Reassure them that things will improve now they have told you. After your chat, keep reminding them that you’re there to talk about what they are feeling at any time. If they find speaking to you difficult, encourage them to get advice and support from a trained counsellor.
Take a stand
1. Stay calm
Keeping a cool head is vital. ‘How parents or carers respond the first time round often determines if a child will confide in us again,’ says Professor Boulton. Take time to consider your next move, then work positively to reach a happy resolution.
2. Work together
Include your child in the process. ‘Parents taking control can make their children feel helpless and weak rather than involved,’ explains Professor Boulton. ‘Ask your child how they’d prefer the situation to be handled, then move forward on their terms.’
3. Tread carefully
‘Talking with parents of other child(ren) involved may be an option, but only if you’re sure things will stay civil,’ says Professor Boulton. ‘It may be wiser to contact the school.’ By law, all state schools must have a behaviour policy that includes anti-bullying measures.
4. Take action
Don’t take their phone away because they are being bullied online. Visit blockem.co.uk for a free app** to prevent unwanted messages. If they are being bullied on social media, visit thinkuknow.co.uk, which has lots of advice for kids, parents and teachers on how to report upsetting online content.
5. Reassure them
Bullied children often suffer from confidence issues so it’s vital to build them back up. ‘Explain that these hurtful comments say more about the bully than them,’ says Professor Boulton. ‘Tell them none of this is their fault and they are loved and valued.’
6. Focus on them
Focus on things that make them feel good, like having friends over or enjoying a hobby.
*Source: ditchthelabel.org/annual-bullying-survey-2016/. **Mobile data charges may apply. Available on Android.