What to do if your child is being bullied

Estimated read: 7 minutes

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.

Key points:

  • Listen without getting angry or upset. Put your own feelings aside, sit down and listen to what your child is telling you so you can give them the best support
  • Never tell your child to hit or shout names back. It simply doesn’t solve the problem and if your child is lacking confidence then it just adds to their stress and anxiety
  • Aim to work together with the school and make it clear that you are seeking the school's help in finding a solution
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Supporting your child

It is important to try and listen without getting angry or upset. Put your own feelings aside, sit down and listen to what your child is telling you. Reflect what you have heard by ‘playing back’ to them what you hear. You can ask them how they want you to take things forward, so they don’t feel excluded from deciding on next steps. Your child may fear reprisals if they report the bullying so they may need lots of support.

Reassure your child it’s not their fault. Remind them that being bullied isn't about being weak and that the person who is doing the bullying has the issues and that is why they feel the need to make others feel this way.  Encourage your child to try to appear confident by helping them build resilience as 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 practise 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 skills in a new area. Encourage 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.

Things that may not help

Don’t charge off demanding to see the head teacher, the bully, or their parents. This is usually the very reaction children dread and can cause bullying to get worse. Never tell your child to hit or shout names back. 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, as this can teach them that bullying has to be tolerated, rather than.

Dealing with your feelings

You may feel anger, hurt, guilt, helplessness, or fear when you hear that your child is experiencing bullying. 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.

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.

Getting support from the school

All schools are legally required to have an anti-bullying policy which provides guidance on their obligations and what support they can offer. Before you approach the school, list all the facts such as what happened, who was involved, when it occurred, who witnessed it and how often it has happened.

Don’t arrive at the school unexpectedly, make an appointment with the class teacher or head of year. Aim to work together with the school and make it clear that you are seeking the school's help in finding a solution.

Avoid accusing the school and remember often teachers are usually the last to find out that bullying is happening at school. Be patient and allow the school time to deal with the problem but stay in touch with them and arrange a follow up meeting to see how the situation is being resolved.

What to do if things don't improve

Keep a diary and write down every incident as soon as possible after it happens. Include the date, what happened, 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 there is an incident. Write down what they say or do and any impact 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. You can use our template letters to write to the Head, Governors, Education Dept and Ofsted.  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.

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. 

This page was updated on September 2021

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