Helping Someone to Cope with Bullying
It can be heart-breaking as a parent to see your child being bullied and not know what to do to help them. This page provides advice about helping them to develop the skills to challenge and prevent bullying effectively, as well as how to support them to report and manage the problem if it occurs.
Although this page focuses on childhood bullying much of the information is also relevant to adults who are being bullied. Our page, Workplace Bullying, contains more specific information for providing effective support for a colleague who is struggling with this issue.
There is often no reason why someone is picked as a target for bullying. It is, however, also often true that those who appear vulnerable are more likely to become targets.
It is therefore helpful to teach children assertiveness.
Our pages on Assertiveness should help here.
It may also be helpful to practise bullying avoidance behaviours, such as walking away, or remaining calm under pressure.
Practice makes perfect, so it is a good idea to discuss and practise these behaviours over time, as part of your child’s general development.
- Encourage your child to ‘walk tall’, putting their head up, and shoulders back, striding out with confidence.
- Help your child to develop self-confidence and resilience.
- Discuss potentially threatening situations, and how to avoid them, for example, by using another route.
- Do not tolerate aggressive or unpleasant behaviour in your child, or any derogatory remarks about other people. Explain why this kind of behaviour or language is not acceptable, and that it makes other people unhappy, even if it was meant as a joke.
- Teach your child techniques (like the 'Trashcan' Technique) to help them to discard any unpleasantness aimed at them.
The ‘Trashcan’ Technique
This technique, used by Kidpower to combat bullying, is a strong visualisation technique.
When someone says something unpleasant to you, imagine screwing the words up into a little ball and throwing them in the bin. Then replace them with something positive instead.
If someone says “You’re stupid”, you can throw that away, and replace it with “I know I’m intelligent”.
If someone says “I’m not your friend anymore”, you can replace it with “I will find other friends”.
This is a variation on Neuro-Linguistic Programming and is very powerful.
- Teach your child effective social skills, to help them avoid exclusion from the group. For example, show them how to ask to join in with the group.
- Make sure that your children know that physical action such as hitting or kicking is unacceptable. A self-defence class may help them to understand the difference between aggression and defence, and show them how to defend themselves without being aggressive. This will help both in dealing with bullying, and in preventing your child from being seen as a bully.
Children and adults are often reluctant to admit that they are being bullied. Sometimes this is because they think that telling will make the situation worse, and sometimes it is because they think that it is somehow their fault.
The bottom line: Nobody asks or deserves to be bullied.
You can sometimes tell that someone is being bullied because of certain signs:
- Their behaviour may change, and they may become much more withdrawn and uncommunicative;
- They may go out less because they are being excluded from the group;
- They may seem to have less money because it is being stolen;
- They may become very anxious when they receive a text or email message, in case it is unpleasant;
- They may become worried about going to school, and even play truant. This may also manifest itself in headaches or other signs of illness on school days;
- They may start to do less well at school.
There are, however, many things other than bullying which can also cause children to become worried, and therefore display similar behaviours.
It goes without saying that you should always encourage your children to talk to you about anything that is bothering them. It may be helpful to create extra opportunities to talk, perhaps by doing things together like walking, or cooking.
You can even say
‘You seem very quiet. Is anything bothering you?’, or
‘I’ve noticed…. Is there something happening?’
If it is a colleague, you might engineer an opportunity to talk, such as a lunch date, and ask them if everything is all right.
Once you are aware of the problem, you can then help them to manage it.
Helping Someone to Cope with Bullying
If someone tells you that they are being bullied, it is important to listen carefully without judgement or an emotional response. Use questions to clarify, but be careful not to use ‘leading questions’.
See our pages on Questioning Skills for more.
Be aware of your own feelings, perhaps because of your childhood experiences. These will affect how you respond, and may be unhelpful. Make sure that you also apply logic and rational thinking to the situation, as well as emotion.
For more about this, you may find our page on Managing Emotions helpful.
Reassure the person involved that it is not their fault.
Ask them how they would like to take it forward, and what support they would like from you. Would they, for example, like you to come with them to go and talk to someone about it?
Encourage a display of self-confidence, for example, by showing them how to stand and walk confidently. Also encourage a lack of reaction to the bullying, while making clear that this is not about tolerating it, it’s about showing that you don’t care, so the bully gives up.
Encourage them to develop new skills or interests, to give them another outlet and something else to think about.
- Tell anyone to hit the bully, or call them names too;
- Dismiss the experience. Always discuss it sensitively, and help them to think through how to cope, even if you don’t feel that it’s ‘really’ bullying.
When (or if) you agree that the school/HR/managers should be approached:
- Help them to write down a timeline of what has happened. Ensure that they are as specific as possible as this will help any investigation;
- Make an appointment to see someone, don’t just turn up. This might be an HR professional, your child’s teacher, pastoral care teacher or head of year. Your child may have strong views about who they would like you to see, so be prepared to be flexible;
- Make it clear in discussions that you would like to work with the school or workplace to find a solution. It is important that they do not become defensive, and that you do not accuse them of anything;
- Remember that it will take time to find out what happened. Ask when you might hear from them, or arrange a follow-up meeting to discuss things further.
Make sure that they continue to keep a record of any further incidents (including date, time, what happened, and any witnesses), and pass this on to the person dealing with it. It may also be helpful to keep a record of their response.
If you are not satisfied with the response, you have several options for escalation. Check the website for the complaints procedures as well as the anti-bullying policy, and use this to take things further if necessary.
Parenting a Bully
You always hope that your well-brought-up little cherub would not dream of bullying anyone. But bullies have parents too.
If your child is accused of bullying, you need to take the accusation very seriously.
This DOES NOT mean rushing down to the school (or the other child’s parents) to confront them and accuse them of lying.
Instead, it means listening quietly and rationally to what is being said, and focusing on the evidence. You should, of course, ask your child for their side of the story.
Be prepared, however, to consider that your child may be lying to you, especially if the evidence is clear.
You will need to work with the school to develop a solution. The school will probably want to impose sanctions, and you may also wish to impose your own at home.
A Final Thought…
Bullying always evokes strong emotions, often linked to personal experiences. When you are helping someone to cope with bullying, or manage bullying, be aware of your own emotional responses as they may cloud your ability to offer sensible advice.
If necessary, seek support yourself.