Responding to bullying - how can I support my child?
Tips for reporting bullying behaviour and how to support your child.
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Bullying has been compared to brainwashing, with the targets ending up believing that somehow they deserve to be bullied. They feel vulnerable and helpless. Their self-esteem may have been seriously damaged, especially if the bullying has been going on for some time.
It’s important to talk with your child if they are showing signs of being bullied. Take whatever your child says seriously and find out exactly what has been going on.
Children who are being bullied are often frightened to talk about what is happening, either because they have been threatened or because they fear adult interference will make things worse. Be prepared for your child to deny that there is anything wrong.
Encourage your child by saying that you are concerned and that you want to help and support them, whatever the problem, and that you can work together to solve this problem.
Reassure your child that the bullying is not their fault. Many children blame themselves and this may make them feel even worse.
Ask your child what they want to do about it and how you can help. An important part of your response is to avoid jumping in to solve the problem. While it is natural to want to protect your child, helping them to find their own solution is a better option. It helps them feel they have some power in the situation. Make time to sit down and talk - about your child’s ideas, feelings, solutions.
If you think your child is being bullied, the most important thing to do is to talk to them about it. Try to:
- Encourage your child to talk about what has been happening.
- Stay calm and positive.
- Take their problem seriously – let them know you’re happy they’ve told you.
- Listen to them and tell them you believe them.
- Explain that it’s not their fault and it’s never okay to be bullied.
- Ask them what they want you to do.
- Work with your child to come up with some solutions.
- Listen to your child and assure them that they have a right to be safe.
- Be clear on the facts. Make notes about what happened and when it happened.
- Help your child see that there is a difference between ‘narking’, ‘tattling’ or ‘telling’ and reporting. It takes courage to report. Reporting is done not to cause trouble for another student, but to protect all students.
- Make an appointment to talk to your child’s teacher, another staff member that your child trusts, or the principal or deputy-principal of the school.
- It may be difficult, but try to remain calm so that you can support your child and plan a course of action with them.
- Stay on track. Keep an eye on your child’s behaviour. If your meetings with school staff haven’t made the bullying stop, go back and talk to the principal. Follow-up on the steps that were agreed to at the meeting.
- Speak to your child’s trainer or coach if the bullying is taking place during after-school activities or sports events.
- Contact the Police if the bullying involves criminal behaviour, such as sexual assault or use of a weapon, or if the threat to your child’s safety is in the community rather than the school.
Online bullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology to transfer, send, post, publish or distribute content with the intention to harm a person or a group. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as mobile phones, computers and tablets, as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat and websites.
Remember: Single incidents or random inappropriate actions are not bullying.
If your child has been cyber-bullied, you should keep all evidence. Save bullying messages and images – these are useful if you report the bullying to the school or the police. If the cyber-bullying involves physical threats and you are worried about your child’s safety, contact the police immediately.
Each case of online bullying is different and each child will respond differently. There’s no definite way to tell if your child is being bullied online, but if you think they might be try asking them about it in a non-confrontational way.
Examples of online bullying include:
- Sending abusive or threatening text or email messages.
- Spreading rumours via email or posted on social networking sites.
- Posting unkind messages or inappropriate images.
- Sharing someone's personal or embarrassing information online.
- Imitating others online:
- someone stealing your child’s passwords or getting into their accounts and changing the information there;
- someone setting up fake profiles pretending to be your child, or posting messages or status updates from their accounts.
- Excluding others online:
- someone trying to stop your child from communicating with others.
Online bullying is different to bullying in person in the following ways:
- A lot of people can view or take part in it. Messages and images can be distributed quickly to a very wide audience – for example, rumours and images can be posted on public forums or sent to many people at once.
- It’s often done in secret with the bully hiding who they are by creating false profiles or names, or sending anonymous messages
- It can be persistent and difficult to escape – it can happen any time of the day or night.
- It’s difficult to remove as it’s shared online so it can be recorded and saved in different places.
- It’s hard for the person being bullied to escape if they use technology often.
Research suggests that many students who are bullied online are also bullied in person. If your child reports online bullying, it’s important to check further to get the full picture.
- Don’t take away their technology. Taking away your child’s laptop or mobile phone can separate them from their peers and their support network.
- Stay calm. Your child needs to be able to talk to you and know that you’ll be calm and helpful.
- Evaluate the situation. It’s important to know exactly what’s going on before you can work out what to do next. Is it just a few thoughtless remarks, or is it something more serious?
- Understand how your child is being affected. Every child is different, and behaviour that deeply affects one child may be water off a duck’s back to another. If your child is upset about a situation, let them know that you understand and it’s okay to be upset.
- Teach your child how to use the features available on most social networking sites. For example, blocking and ‘unfriending’ people, and updating privacy settings.
- Work through a plan together.
If your child is experiencing online bullying, you can contact Netsafe www.netsafe.org.nz (external link) for help and advice no matter what your situation is.
Netsafe’s service is free and confidential.
To report an online incident or to get advice, contact Netsafe by:
- calling toll-free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
- completing an online contact form
- emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Netsafe’s contact centre is available to help from 8am-8pm, Monday to Friday and 9am-5pm on weekends.
REMEMBER: Any incidents involving serious assault or child abuse must be referred to the New Zealand Police and/or the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki.
All children are capable of bullying at some time and it’s important for parents to respond in a calm and helpful manner. Sometimes children are unaware of the effects bullying behaviour can have on others.
Bullying is a relationship problem. Children who bully others need help and support to learn better ways of relating to others. Your relationship with your child can be part of the solution.
Discuss with your children positive ways to make friends and socialise with other children.
Talk about bullying with children and about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. For example, “Should we tease people because they look different?” Encourage your child to respect others and to accept people’s differences.
Many students engage in bullying for a short time only and then stop either because they realise it’s wrong or they are supported to learn more appropriate behaviour. A small group of students continue to bully others over many years.
Stay calm and learn more about your child’s behaviour so you can respond appropriately. Be aware that your child may deny they have taken part in bullying or they may make light of the part they played in it.
Try to understand why your child may be behaving in this way.
Ask them about what they think is going on, and why they are bullying someone else – remember not to criticise, blame or judge.
Ask them what they think might help them to stop bullying. Sometimes a student who bullies other children in one situation may themselves be bullied in another.
Think about any issues or problems your child might be experiencing at school that may be impacting on their behaviour.
Children who bully need help to understand how their behaviour affects others. They need support while learning to repair the harm they have caused. They need to develop their social and emotional skills.
Explain what bullying is and why it’s not acceptable. Talk about the other person’s feelings and help your child to understand what it is like for the person being bullied.
Tell your child that you do not support bullying, but that you do support them. Reassure them that you are ready to help and support them in putting a stop to bullying behaviour.
Your child may know someone who is being bullied or has seen it happening at school. Witnessing bullying can be distressing.
Roles children play when they witness bullying can include:
- Followers (kids who assist): These children may not start or lead the bullying, but may encourage or join in.
- Supporters (kids who reinforce): These children are not directly involved, but they provide an audience. They may laugh or support the children who are bullying. This may encourage the bullying to continue.
- Outsiders: These children remain separate from the bullying situation. They neither reinforce the bullying behaviour nor defend the child being bullied. Some may watch, but do not show they are on anyone’s side. These children often want to help, but don’t know how.
- Defenders: These children actively comfort the child being bullied and may come to the child’s defence when bullying occurs.
A child who witnesses or knows bullying is occurring needs support. Let your child know that you take the bullying seriously.
Encourage your child to talk about what happened. Children who see bullying sometimes want to talk about:
- Not knowing what to do or not wanting to make the situation worse.
- Feeling worried about their own safety if they intervene.
- Being anxious that they will be bullied as a result of stepping in.
- Not knowing if their actions will make a difference.
- Feeling worried about the impact on their friendship if they take action.
Let them know you understand their feelings and fears about what to do. Respect your child’s judgement about whether it is safe to say something. They are the ones who really know the situation. Respect their feelings and their assessment of the situation.
Ask your child what they want you to do. Don’t jump in to solve the problem.
Tell your child that reporting the bullying is okay because kids often need help from adults to stop it. Point out that if they don't do anything the bullying will probably continue.
Many bystanders to bullying feel anxious and distressed about seeing something they think is wrong. Students can also feel upset about not knowing what to do. Talk about how to be a supportive bystander:
IF THEY FEEL SAFE to do so, your child could:
- Walk away and tell a teacher right away.
- Tell the person who is bullying they will get a teacher if they don't stop.
- Encourage their friends to walk away or tell the person to stop.
- Tell the person bullying they don't think what they are doing is right or funny.
- Help the person who is being bullied to get away and go somewhere safe.
IF THEY DON’T THINK IT’S SAFE to say anything, there are other things they could do:
- Tell the person being bullied that it’s not okay and they didn't do anything wrong.
- Ask the person being bullied if they want help to get it stopped.
- Tell a school staff member about it.
- Try to make sure their friend is not alone when they might get bullied.
- Ask the person who is being bullied to join their group or game.
- Walk away - people who bully like others to watch.
It can be helpful to practise these approaches at home to help your child feel more confident.