Bullying: Advice for Parents

Bullying continues to impact the lives and families of many young people.  We often think of bullying as physical violence, however random acts of violence or intimidation, as upsetting and distressing as they are, are not necessarily bullying.

Bullying is when an individual or a group of people, repeatedly and intentionally cause hurt or harm to another person or group of people who feel helpless to respond. Bullying can be physical, however for many children verbal bullying (such as name calling, insults and intimidation) and social bullying (lying, spreading rumours, purposefully excluding) are more common.[1]

As parents we experience a range of emotions when our children are bullied.  The 2018 RCH Child Health Poll reports in a sample population of 1575 parents, 48% worried about the long-term effects of bullying.  44% experienced anger and frustration at being unable to help their child and 28% of parents felt helpless.[2]

When we feel helpless and angry it is easy to do things, we think will be helpful but in fact may cause more problems.  For example, 565  of the 1575 parents said they would directly approach the parent or the carer of the child doing the bullying and a third said they would be likely to directly approach the child doing the bullying and one in three parents said they would keep their child home from school for a break.[3]  While these strategies may appear to be pro-active, they can make the situation worse.

We want our children to learn and develop skills to deal with problems, yet sometimes, when we use strategies where we get directly involved, we take away the opportunity to assist our children learn skills that will bolster their self-confidence, problem solving ability, autonomy and sense of purpose.[4]   We know bullying behaviour doesn’t finish when our children finish high school.  Many of us, as adults have experienced bullying behaviour from co-workers, bosses and even possibly, partners. 

In the definition of bullying, an important aspect is the person or group who is experiencing the bullying behaviour feels helpless to respond.  As parents we can encourage our children to learn skills that will build their capacity to feel less helpless.  The skills we teach and encourage our children to use in dealing with bullying behaviour in school, will be the skills they can utilise as adults in dealing with bullying behaviour they may experience in their work life.

What are some of these skills?

We can nurture healthy self-esteem in our children.  We know the value of our children and what they bring to life. Our role is to assist our children see their value, to see themselves in a positive light.  This will assist them to understand the bullying they are experiencing is not a reflection of who they are, but a reflection of the choices made by the person who is doing the bullying.

We can promote problem-solving skills in our children.  One way to do this, is to sit with our children and brainstorm ideas that will work for them.  Often as parents we tell our children what they should do, rather than acknowledging the uniqueness of their individuality and that they may know what will work best for them.  Some of the possible ideas that can be brainstormed are the child or young person speaking to the teacher, or the possibility of making new friends or seeking help from other students.  When faced with behaviour that is bullying, we often shut down and don’t think about how else we can manage the situation.  We can assist our children to think about other options.

We can help our children question their inner critical voice.  Yes, children do have an inner critical voice and often that voice is harsh and judgemental.  When a child is experiencing social and/or verbal bullying it is easy for their inner critical voice to join forces with the name calling and insults they are experiencing and begin to believe the criticisms.  This can lead the young person to engage “victim-thinking” which is detrimental.  We can assist our children to identify negative self-talk, to be self-compassionate and to reframe negative thinking.

Importantly, as much as possible, we can keep the lines of communication open with our children. Model healthy assertive styles of communication with your children and encourage them to practice assertive communication.  Teaching our children to be assertive in their communication gives them a sense of agency and lessens the feeling of helplessness. Regular parent-child communication about healthy and respectful relationships and what to do if they experience or come across bullying behaviour can help protect children from bullying.[5].

[1]RCH National Child Health Poll, Poll 11, June 2018

[2]ibid

[3]ibid

[4]http://cyberbullying.org/cultivating-resilience-prevent-bulying-cyberbullying

[5]RCH National Child Health Poll, Poll 11, June 2018



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