How to know if your child is being bullied at school & what you can do about it

What to do if your child is being bullied
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It's important to be able to recognise the signs that might suggest your child is being bullied at school, and know what steps to take when it arises within your child’s relationships. Written by Claire Maher, Educational Psychologist.

Bullying among children is on the rise in South African schools. It can be physicalverbal (name-calling, taunting, teasing), social (being excluded) or cyber (via social media and online forums). There is no specific blueprint for the type of child who gets bullied – or the type of bully. However, children who are, for example, slightly different, anxious or shy can be easy targets.

Table of contents

The behaviours listed below may be due to reasons other than bullying, but the important thing is to always be aware and to act when necessary.

Bullying can manifest in various forms, including physical, verbal, and cyberbullying. It is essential to recognise the signs that your child might be a victim, as children often do not come forward about their experiences due to fear, embarrassment, or shame.

Signs that suggest your child might be a victim of bullying at school:

  • They tell you they’re being bullied.
  • They become more withdrawn.
  • Loses their appetite (or starts eating more than usual).
  • Cries easily.
  • Refuses to go to school.
  • Has trouble sleeping.
  • Starts wetting the bed.
  • Is reported by their teacher to get into fights easily and often.
  • Has unexplained bruises or scratches.
  • Appears to be upset after using their phone.
  • Complains frequently of head or stomach aches.
  • Begins to struggle academically or with concentration.
  • Starts speaking negatively about themselves.
  • Withdraws from social settings or time with specific friends or peers.
  • Their belongings go “missing” regularly.
  • They display self-destructive behaviours such as running away from home, self-injury or talking about suicide.

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Bullying can have profound and lasting effects on a child’s emotional, mental, and physical health. If you suspect your child is being bullied, it’s crucial to take immediate and effective action to address the situation.

What to do if your child is being bullied at school:

  • Stay engaged and involved in your child’s life – ask questions about their day.
  • Allow your child the freedom to talk about a variety of topics. The more open you are the more likely they will be to approach you.
  • Believe what your child is telling you to be true.
  • Be sensitive and acknowledge your child’s feelings.
  • Model positive behaviour regarding how to handle conflict.
  • Teach morals and acceptance at home.
  • Encourage independence.
  • Equip them with tools to handle the bully.
  • Call the parent of the child in question if worst comes to worst.
  • Monitor your child’s online and social media presence and activity.
  • Communicate with your child’s teacher.
  • Encourage your child’s school to adopt an anti-bullying campaign.
  • Seek professional assistance from a psychologist if necessary.

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What NOT to do if your child is being bullied at school:

  • Tell your child they’re being silly or must just ignore it.
  • Leave it and hope it will go away.
  • Tell your child it will make them stronger.
  • Tell your child to fight back.
  • Judge your child or think they’re weak.
  • Panic or become overly emotional. Be there for your child.
  • Catch the bully in the school parking lot and give them a piece of your mind.
  • Bully your own child, even just in jest. Innocent teasing or joking can often be misconstrued.

Advice for kids who are being bullied at school

If you’re being bullied at school, here’s what to do:

  • Tell the bully to stop.
  • Don’t respond or retaliate.
  • Tell a teacher or your parent.
  • Keep evidence (especially if you’re being cyberbullied).
  • Don’t hang out near the bully.
  • Don’t feel weak or useless.

Bullying is a serious issue that can have detrimental effects on a child’s well-being. As a parent, it’s vital to be vigilant for signs of bullying, communicate openly with your child, and take proactive steps to address and prevent bullying. By fostering a supportive environment at home and advocating for a positive school culture, you can help protect your child and promote their healthy development. Remember, the most effective defence against bullying is a combination of awareness, communication, and action.

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Signs that your child might be being bullied at school include unexplained injuries, lost or damaged belongings, changes in eating or sleeping habits, avoidance of social situations or school, declining academic performance, frequent headaches or stomach aches, and sudden mood changes such as increased sadness, anxiety, or irritability.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) if your child is being bullied at school

What are some signs that your child might be being bullied at school?

Signs that your child might be being bullied at school include unexplained injuries, lost or damaged belongings, changes in eating or sleeping habits, avoidance of social situations or school, declining academic performance, frequent headaches or stomach aches, and sudden mood changes such as increased sadness, anxiety, or irritability.

How can parents start a conversation with their child if they suspect bullying?

Parents can start a conversation by choosing a calm, private moment and expressing their concern in a non-judgmental way. Asking open-ended questions like “How are things going at school?” or “Have you seen any bullying happen?” can help the child feel comfortable to share their experiences.

What should parents do if their child confirms they are being bullied?

If a child confirms they are being bullied, parents should listen carefully and validate their feelings, reassure them that it is not their fault, and promise to help. It is important to gather details about the bullying and to work with the child to decide on the next steps.

How can parents work with the school to address bullying?

Parents can work with the school by contacting teachers, school counsellors, or administrators to report the bullying. It is helpful to provide specific details and evidence if available. Requesting a meeting to discuss the school’s anti-bullying policies and to develop a plan of action can also be beneficial.

What strategies can help build a child’s resilience against bullying?

Strategies to build a child’s resilience include encouraging them to pursue activities they enjoy and are good at, fostering strong friendships and social connections, teaching them assertiveness skills, and promoting a positive self-image and self-confidence.

What role does communication play in preventing and addressing bullying?

Communication is crucial in preventing and addressing bullying. Open, honest, and regular communication helps children feel safe to share their experiences. It also enables parents to be aware of potential issues early and to intervene promptly.

How can parents support their child emotionally if they are being bullied?

Parents can support their child emotionally by providing a safe and loving environment at home, listening to their concerns without judgement, offering comfort and reassurance, and helping them develop coping strategies to manage their emotions and reactions.

Why is it important for parents to model positive behaviour when dealing with bullying?

It is important for parents to model positive behaviour because children learn how to handle conflicts and challenges by observing their parents. Demonstrating calmness, empathy, and constructive problem-solving sets a positive example for children to follow.

What can parents do if the bullying does not stop despite intervention?

If the bullying does not stop despite intervention, parents may need to escalate the issue by involving higher authorities within the school, such as the headteacher or school board. In severe cases, seeking advice from external professionals such as child psychologists or legal advisors might be necessary.

How can schools and parents work together to create a safe environment for all students?

Schools and parents can work together by maintaining open lines of communication, participating in school anti-bullying programmes, reinforcing consistent messages about respect and kindness, and actively supporting policies and initiatives that promote a safe and inclusive school environment.

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