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No parent likes to think about their child being bullied or, even worse, being a bully but the fact is, more than half of all children are involved – either as a perpetrator, victim or witness. So, there’s a good chance you’ll have to deal with it at some point. If your child is being bullied there are things you can do to help them.
"Listen without getting angry or upset," says Sandra Hiller, Family Lives. "Put your own feelings aside, sit down and actually listen to what your child is telling you – then show you have done so by ‘playing back’ to them what you hear. Ask your child: "How do you want me to take this forward?" rather than just taking over so they don’t feel excluded from deciding what to do or end up even more stressed/worried than they were already.
Reassure your child it’s not their fault. There’s still a stigma attached to bullying and some children feel they’ve brought it upon themselves. Remind them that many celebrities have been bullied too. Being bullied isn't about being weak and being a bully isn't about being strong. "Encourage your child to try to appear confident - even if they don’t feel it," says Sue Atkins, former deputy head and parenting coach. Body language and tone of voice speak volumes.
Sometimes people say nasty things because they want a certain reaction or to cause upset, so if your child gives them the impression they’re not bothered, the bullies are more likely to stop. Role-play bullying scenarios and practice your child’s responses. Talk about how our voices, bodies and faces send messages just the same way our words do.
Don’t let the bullying dominate their life. Help your child develop new skills in a new area, says Rob Parsons, international speaker on family life and author of Teenagers! What Every Parent Has to Know (Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99). This might mean encouraging them to join a club or activity like drama or self-defence. This builds confidence, helps keep the problem in perspective and offers a chance to make new friends. Ease up on pressure in other less-important areas like nagging about an untidy bedroom.
Don’t charge off demanding to see the head teacher, the bully or the bully’s parents. This is usually the very reaction children dread and, according to ChildLine’s counsellors, can cause bullying to get worse."Never tell your child to hit or shout names back," says Sandra Hiller. "It simply doesn’t solve the problem and, if your child is under-confident (and most bullied children are) then it just adds to their stress and anxiety."
Never dismiss their experience: If your child has plucked up the courage to tell you about bullying, it’s crushing to be told to "sort it out yourself" or "it’s all part of growing up." Don’t tell them to ignore it, warns Lyndall Horton-James, Bullying Prevention Education Consultant and author of 'Raising Bullywise Kids'. This only teaches them that bullying has to be tolerated, rather than stopped – and sets them up for further bullying in the future.
"You may feel anger, hurt, guilt, helplessness or fear," explains Sue Atkins. "Your own memories of being a child may help you empathise and find solutions but they can also get in the way. Think about how you feel before reacting – or you may not be able to help as much as you want."
Be honest, advises Lyndall Horton-James, "Be prepared to admit that you don’t know something and offer to help find an answer by searching the internet, calling a helpline, asking their school or by visiting the library together.
"Doing everyday tasks together provides ideal opportunities to chat casually about bullying," says Lyndall. "But don’t expect a once-only message to stick: Research shows that around 40% of children, whose parents had talked to them about bullying, couldn’t recall what their parents had said."
Don’t be upset if your child wants to talk to other adults and friends about the problem. You, also, may find it helpful to discuss the matter confidentially with your friends – though preferably not with those whose children go to the same school.
All schools are legally required to have an anti-bullying policy. Many also offer different forms of peer support where certain children are trained in active listening or mediation skills to help bullied children. In secondary schools they may be called peer mentors, supporters, counsellors, listeners or mediators while in primary schools, they might be called friendship or playground buddies, playtime pals or peacemakers. Lyndall Horton-James, Bullying Prevention and Education Consultant offers the following tips:
Keep a bullying diary. Write down every incident as soon as possible after it happens. Include the date, what happend, who did it and who saw it. Include the effect on your child, whether your child told anyone and what they said or did and any later effects.
Tell the school each time. Write down what they say or do and any effect their actions have.
If your child is hurt, take photographs and see your doctor (and the police if the assault is serious).
Schools have a variety of options for dealing with bullying. These range from a warning, seeing the bully’s parents and detention to internal exclusion within the school, fixed term exclusion and permanent exclusion.
If you’re not satisfied with the school’s response, don’t give up or be made to feel like a timewaster or a troublemaker. The Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) offers step-by-step advice on how to deal with the school, from how to write a letter to your options if you need to take things further. Their advice line is 0300 0115 142. You can also use our template letters to write to the Head, Governors, Education Dept and Ofsted. Remember, unless you are home teaching, you face prosecution if you take your child out of school. If your child is too frightened or stressed to go, contact the LEA education welfare officer/social worker and ask them to intervene with the school.