Bullying is a nightmare for parents – how do they help their kids?

17 Nov 2022 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 17 Nov 2022

The idea that your child could face bullying is quite terrifying. Surveys show lots of children experience bullying. However, there are ways adults can help.


This week is Anti-Bullying Week.

Bullying can happen to anyone, and in any circumstances. Its effects are terrible. And, unfortunately, children are at significant risk.

The NI Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) polled the experiences of young people aged 11-16 and found that more than half had been bullied in the previous six months. The survey, published in November 2020, found that almost a quarter of respondents were targeted frequently. Most of this bullying took place either at school or online.

Despite this, the Department of Education (DE) recently chose not to collect data about the amount of bullying in Northern Ireland’s schools (note that this is a complex issues and DE has some interesting and quite compelling reasons for the DE’s choice).

The NIABF defines bullying as “behaviour, that is usually repeated, by one or more persons intentionally to hurt, harm or adversely affect the rights and needs of another or others.”

Bullying can be physical and involve violence, it can be direct verbal abuse, it could be someone taking or damaging your belongings, it could be the spreading of malicious rumours, it can be deliberate exclusion. Bullying can also target perceived differences, for instance racism, sexism or homophobia.

All of these things can happen in person, and most of them can happen online.

Bullying is miserable. Its effects can be devastating. What can you do about it?

Guide for parents

Parenting NI has an online guide for parents about how to recognise the signs of bullying, and how to help any child in this situation.

There are various potential signs that your child is being bullied. Emotionally, they could be anxious, stressed, depressed or aggressive. There could be physical signs, like unexplained cuts or bruises, a loss of appetite, poor sleep or bedwetting. They could also be socially averse, avoiding places like schools or clubs, avoiding social media, have few interactions with friends or seem generally isolated.

Finding out that someone you care about is being bullied can be very difficult. However, most people will simply want to help.

Parenting NI has five main tips for helping your child to overcome bullying, which are:

Listen to them and reassure them - Allow them to explain what is happening and accept what they are saying. Praise your child for telling you and let them know they did the right thing getting help. Make sure your child knows this isn’t their fault, and reassure them that they are loved and valued.

Find out the facts - Repeat back to them what you have heard from them about the bullying to show you have listened and ask your child how they want to move forward. If they feel involved in deciding what to do they will be less likely to become more stressed or anxious than they already are.

Stay Calm - Try to remain calm and not over-react. Your child may be really worried about telling you they are being bullied and could be scared that your reaction will make things worse

Talk to your child’s school or club - Schools have a responsibility to protect pupils from bullying. Talk to them whether it is happening in or out of school. If the bullying is happening at a youth club, speak to the leader in charge. Arrange a meeting, bring any evidence you have of the bullying and express the impact it is having on your child. You might want to jot down notes from what is said at the meeting. Ask for a copy of the school’s Anti-Bullying policy and ask what action will be taken making sure everyone is in agreement with what should be done. Arrange to meet again to be updated of any progress

Take things further - If the bullying continues and you are not happy with the school’s response from either the child’s teacher or principal, you can write to the Chair of the schools Board of Governors. If the situation continues, you can write a formal complaint to the Education & Library Board or CMS Board.

Further information

The NIABF brings together various public and third sector organisations from around NI, all working together to try and end bullying.

It has a range of toolkits, some aimed at young people and some at parents or carers, that could be useful if you or someone you care about is being bullied. It also has extra information about particular forms of bullying.

If you need help, that is a good place to start. The effects of bullying can be terrible – but help is available.

For this week, the NIABF wrote their own short anti-bullying “manifesto”, which says: “Bullying affects millions of lives and can leave us feeling hopeless. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we challenge it, we can change it. And it starts by reaching out.

“Whether it’s in school, at home, in the community or online, let’s reach out and show each other the support we need. Reach out to someone you trust if you need to talk. Reach out to someone you know is being bullied. Reach out and consider a new approach.

“And it doesn’t stop with young people. From teachers to parents and influencers to politicians, we all have a responsibility to help each other reach out. Together, let’s be the change we want to see. Reflect on our own behaviour, set positive examples and create kinder communities.

“It takes courage, but it can change lives.”

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