As pupils in the UK go back to school this week, many of them might be worried about having to face their bullies again and wondering how they are going to deal with it. They might be feeling anxious, unable to sleep on a night and dreading the thought of going to school.
Parents may also be concerned about their children being bullied and the impact this can have on their learning, social skills and mental health. Although parents might want to help, it can be difficult to know exactly what to do and how to deal with it effectively, particularly if parents feel particularly angry or upset by the bullying. For some parents, when their child is being bullied, it may bring back personal memories of being victimised.
Here is some advice to help parents deal with bullying when it is experienced by their child:
Understand the problem
In order to deal with the bullies in school it would be helpful to speak to your child first and find out more about their bullying. Find out from your child who is bullying them, what they think bullies are like, and why they think they might be engaging in bullying. It is useful to know children’s motivations for engaging in bullying so that interventions can be targeted to dealing with this. One of the main reasons why children engage in bullying is to be popular and gain ‘respect’ and admiration from their peers. Speak to your child regularly about bullying in school. You could ask questions such as, ‘what kinds of bullying do children experience in school’ and ‘how is bullying being dealt with’.
Ask your child how they want their bullying to be dealt with and if there are any specific teachers in the school who you could inform who could be helpful. Read the school’s anti-bullying policy and follow the school’s procedure for reporting bullying. By knowing the school’s anti-bullying policy you can check whether the school is following it correctly. If the school is not dealing with the bullying then write to the governors. You could also see if you could get involved in campaigns which aim to combat bullying in your child’s school. It is also helpful to check with your child that their bullying has not reoccurred when it has been dealt with.
Practise responses with your child
It might be tempting to encourage your child to retaliate but many children who retaliate to being victims get in trouble by their teachers for bullying. Instead, work with your child to develop possible responses to dealing with the bullying. You could also practise role-play with your child, and they could take on the role of the bully, and you could take on their role to rehearse and discuss possible responses to the bullying. You could focus on thinking about what they might say and do when they feel they are being bullied.
Boost your child’s self-esteem
Another way to challenge bullying is about how children interpret their bullying. Work with your child to challenge any negative things that the bully has said to them which they might have started to believe about themselves. Getting through school can be very difficult for victimised children and take particular time to listen to them to help them through these difficulties. Focus on how you can help boost their self-esteem, for example, by encouraging them to get more involved with their hobbies and interests.
Use research-informed approaches
I have given children diaries to use as an emotional outlet for their bullying. My book, The Teacher’s Guide to Resolving School Bullying focuses specifically on how schools can develop interventions to tackle bullying through child-centred approaches and how schools can deal with bullies. I have developed a mentoring programme for schools to implement with children who persistently engage in bullying. This book might also be of interest to parents who want to learn about school bullying and how to tackle it.
Dr Elizabeth Nassem is a lecturer in Special Educational Needs, Disabilities and Mental Health at Leeds Trinity University. Elizabeth has developed interventions to resolve bullying based on her doctoral and post-doctoral research, including tailoring strategies to the specific experiences children have.