Anti-bullying week takes place this year between Monday 13th to Friday 17th November. The theme this year is ‘Make a Noise About Bullying.’ All too often, children and young people suffer in silence at the hands of bullying so here at The Youth Fairy, we are doing our bit to raise awareness with this week’s blog.
The topic of bullying can bring up a whole host of emotions for parents. It is something we all worry about happening to our children and perhaps it has even happened to you and so, it brings a different kind of anxiety. Perhaps even more devastating, is the news our child may be the one doing the bullying. Whatever the scenario, emotions are likely to be running high for all involved.
So, as parents, what is the best course of action to take? Read on to find our top tips.
What is bullying?
Bullying is defined by the anti-bullying alliance as “any situation where your child is being deliberately and repeatedly hurt by other people and they find it hard to defend themselves. This could be face to face or online, in school or in the community. It may be physical or it could be verbal or emotional.” This can range from physically hurting someone to more subtle behaviours, which can be harder to spot, such as deliberately leaving someone out.
A relatively new term that is often used to describe playful teasing amongst friends is ‘banter’ and, whilst this can be a great way of forming connections between friends, it is something that can easily cross over into bullying. It can often help children to spot the difference between the two by reminding them that a joke is only a joke when both parties find it funny.
What should I do if my child is being bullied?
Whilst it is inevitable that no one will be liked by everyone, it is a basic human right for every individual person to be treated with kindness and respect. It is devastating to find out your child is being bullied and natural to want to do everything in your power to put the situation right. Sometimes, however, in our rush to fix things for our children, particularly when emotions are running high, we can inadvertently make their situation worse. And as we know, the older our children are, the more reluctant they can be for a parent to step in to solve their problems for them.
So, what can we do in this difficult situation?
- Firstly, help your child to check the facts. It can be easy to react when we hear the word bullying and before we do anything, it can be helpful to define with your child what bullying is and the nature of what has been happening to them. This will help you to determine the best course of action to take. For example, arguments, falling out with friends and losing friendships can be a natural part of emotional and social development as children navigate how to manage conflicts. The Anti-bullying Alliance has a brilliant traffic light tool for parents to help you determine the extent of any bullying that may be happening and it can be found in their parent pack here: https://anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/anti-bullying-week-2023-make-noise-about-bullying/parents-and-carers
- Rehearse problem solving with your child. Explore with your child what they typically do as a result of these situations. Do they have positive strategies for dealing with conflict? For example, do they know who to go to for help, or do they ignore the behaviour and hope it will go away, or do they react back? Discuss with your child positive ways of handling conflict and disagreements amongst friends. It can be helpful for children to determine the things that are in their control and what lies out of their control. Whilst some things are out of their control, such as a friend wishing to end a friendship, it can be empowering for them to explore how they are still in control of how they react to this.
- Know when you need to take immediate action. Devastatingly, sometimes incidents of bullying are so severe that you need to take prompt action. This could mean your child has been seriously hurt or harmed or you are concerned about their lack of safety. This can be followed up with the Police or your council’s local safeguarding hub. We would always recommend arranging a meeting with your child’s school, even if the bullying is happening out in the community. Staff in school spend most of the day with your child and can sometimes be the ones to spot any changes in their personality which may indicate a problem. Sometimes, a child may be targeted for being seen as ‘different’ – whether this be due to race, religion, gender or disability. It is so important for parents to raise these issues with schools so they can seek to create a more inclusive ethos on a school-wide level and address the importance of inclusivity and equality.
What if my child is the one doing the bullying?
Similar to being bullied, it is simply devastating to find out your child is the one doing the bullying.
- More often than not, a child who is doing the bullying is not in a good place themselves and it is important to find out what is going on for them that could be contributing to this behaviour.
- Sometimes, bullying behaviour evolves from wanting to fit in and not feeling strong enough to intervene when they notice others engaged in bullying behaviours. Whilst this is never OK, it can be helpful to explore with your child the idea of saying ‘no’ to others and the importance of not always doing what feels easy, but doing what we know is right. It is so important for children and young people to understand the impact of their actions on others.
- Change happens when we have developed the empathy to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Take time to explore the actions of others and the impact this has had on them. You could even find ways for your child to get involved in charitable activities in the community to help them develop a sense of giving to others and to acknowledge other’s differences.
Before bullying ever becomes a problem, there are things you can do to proactively help your child to develop the skills of friendship and resolving conflict in a positive way:
- Help your child to develop a sense of who ‘their people’ are. Talk to your child about what makes a good friend. There might be a peer or person your child wants to remain friends with but encourage them to reflect on how that person makes them feel when they are around them. A friend who makes us feel good is one to keep! Similarly, discuss with your child ways they can help others to feel good about themselves.
- Set healthy boundaries. Allow your child the opportunity to practise saying ‘no’ sometimes when appropriate. Give them the opportunity to make choices about little things where you can. For example, what clothes they choose to wear, what hairstyle they would like today. This helps a child to develop a secure sense of self, and being able to identify their likes and dislikes is the foundation for being able to make healthy choices, set boundaries and say no to something that doesn’t feel good for them.
- Extend this to others too. Just as it is important for children to feel confident to say ‘no’ to something that does not feel good for them, it is so important we help our child to develop their ability to stand up for others too in a healthy way so that they do not become a bystander to bullying. Talk to your child openly about bullying and discuss ways we can help others who need it. This does not mean they need to get directly involved in bullying situations but knowing who they can go to for help and how to help someone in need can give them the confidence they need if they are ever faced with a buying situation.
- Try something new. Trying something new can be a great way of building confidence. Joining a new club can be a great way of helping your child to push themselves out of their comfort zone. It can help them to develop their friendship skills and develop a new social circle. Particularly from the age of seven, children are exploring their identity away from their main caregivers and so this can really support a child to develop a strong sense of self.
- Model it! As we know, children watch every thing we do and often our actions speak far louder than our words to our children. Model being respectful and kind to others and celebrate other’s differences. When we model accepting and celebrating the differences of others, our children understand this as an important quality in a person too.
If you are concerned about your child, more information and guidance can be found at https://anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/anti-bullying-week-2023-make-noise-about-bullying/parents-and-carers
You can also contact your nearest Youth Fairy for support at https://www.theyouthfairy.com/fairies/