If you’re not sure if your child is being bullied at school, it can help to get to know the warning signs and learn how to deal with bullying effectively. From there, you can support them and help them manage the situation.
As a parent or carer, it can be hard to know whether your child is being bullied at school. Unless they tell you directly, you may be left wondering and be understandably concerned about their welfare. It’s natural to be worried but remember that bullying is not a reflection of you or your child, and unfortunately happens to a lot of children.
What is bullying?
Bullying is when someone purposefully and repeatedly upsets, threatens, frightens or hurts someone else or their property, friendships or reputation.
The growth of social media has also given rise to bullying behaviour outside of school hours. Cyberbullying can now be done anonymously and occurs 24 hours a day. According to the Australian Government’s eSafety Commissioner, it’s worryingly common. One in five Australian young people have reported being socially excluded, threatened or abused online.
Why do some children bully other children?
There are many reasons why a child will bully another. While it’s never excusable or acceptable behaviour, understanding the reasons behind it can help you and your child remember that it’s not their fault – or yours.
Some children bully others because they regularly witness aggression at home or experience a lack of adequate parental presence or nurturing.
Research also suggests that some children who bully may themselves have been the target of similar behaviour in the past. Their past experiences, in addition to their family life, can sometimes manifest as low self-esteem or feeling powerless.
What are the warning signs of bullying?
It can be difficult to know whether your child is being bullied, as not every child will react in the same way. Some warning signs might not be immediately apparent, depending on the type of bullying. Physical aggression may result in visible signs like bruises, whereas verbal taunting or cyberbullying can leave no obvious trace at all.
Often children who are experiencing bullying will refuse to discuss it with their parents, and may experience unexpected mood swings, anxiety or crying. They may also be reluctant to get out of bed or go to school at all. Keep in mind these signs are not always due to bullying, and could be a sign of other issues, such as depression or anxiety.
Other signs your child may be being bullied are coming home with missing possessions or unexplained cuts or injuries. If they start to frequently come home hungry or start to ask for more food or lunch money to take to school, it could potentially be a sign that their food is being taken from them.
How to help your child handle bullying at school
If you have noticed some potential signs of bullying, the first step is to have an open and honest talk with your child and let them know you’re concerned about their safety and wellbeing at school.
Walk or drive them to school and back for a while if possible and let them know that there is lots of help available for them. You can also help them build support networks by organising play dates with their classmates.
If you suspect bullying, but your child is reluctant to open up, you might want to try to find less direct ways to raise the topic. For example, you might see a situation on a TV show and use it to start the conversation, asking, “What do you think of this?” or “What do you think that person should have done?”
This might lead to questions like: “Have you ever seen this happen?” or “Have you ever experienced this?” You could also talk to your child about any bullying experiences you or another family member had at that age.
You could also get a copy of their school’s anti-bullying policy, then speak to the school principal or year advisor about it. You can then enquire about how they are planning to follow the policy in this circumstance.
It’s also important to respectfully check in on your child’s online behaviour. Start a conversation about what social media platforms they use, and whether they have seen bullying online before. Ask if it has happened to them and spend some time discussing it. If your child has been affected by these issues, help them work out strategies for coping with cyberbullying, such as not responding to the comments directed to them online.
Remember to also take care of and be aware of your own feelings and emotions when helping your child. It’s helpful to get some support by talking to someone you can trust and seek professional help for yourself and family if you need it.