• Bullying is the targeted and repeated actions of a person or group of people who intend to cause harm or distress (physical or psychological) to someone who feels helpless to respond. Bullying often continues if no steps are taken to stop it. All forms of bullying can have long-term effects on children involved, including bystanders.

    Bullying behaviours can be grouped into four types:

    • Physical: e.g. kicking, tripping, damaging property
    • Verbal: e.g. insults, teasing, intimidation
    • Indirect/social: e.g repeatedly leaving someone out on purpose, spreading rumours, encouraging others to socially exclude someone
    • Cyber: e.g. sending abusive or hurtful messages via social media, spreading gossip or rumours, excluding others online.

    Behaviours that are not considered to be bullying:

    • a single random act of aggression, violence or intimidation
    • disliking someone
    • arguments or disagreements between children where there is no power imbalance
    • one-off acts of social rejection, nastiness or spite.

    Signs and symptoms of bullying

    The way children deal with bullying behaviours can vary, which makes it difficult to know if your child is being bullied. However, you may see some changes in your child that can indicate they are being bullied.

    Psychological/behavioural signs:

    • changes in sleeping pattern (e.g. difficulty falling asleep, frequent nightmares)
    • changes in eating habits (e.g. skipping meals)
    • mood swings, frequent tears, anger or anxiety
    • becoming withdrawn
    • refusal to talk about what’s bothering them
    • aggressive or unreasonable behaviour.

    Physical signs:

    • unexplained injuries, including cuts, scratches or bruises
    • frequent headaches or stomach aches
    • coming home with lost or destroyed belongings
    • coming home hungry because they didn’t eat lunch.

    Other signs:

    • not wanting to get out of bed
    • not wanting to go to school
    • loss of interest in schoolwork or decline in grades at school
    • often alone or excluded from friendship groups at school.

    Signs of cyberbullying:

    In addition to the signs above, if bullying is happening online your child may show the following signs:

    • being secretive or upset during or following online communication
    • suddenly avoiding online communication
    • becoming increasingly obsessed or anxious about online communication.

    How you can help

    As a parent or carer, you have an important role to play in keeping your child healthy and safe, and this includes their mental health. Talking to children regularly about their friendships and relationships with other children is helpful, and you are more likely to know early on if your child is being bullied.

    You should have a conversation with your child at least once a school term about what they can do if they are bullied or what they can do if they see someone being bullied.

    Many children have their own social media accounts, and most have access to a mobile or other electronic device they can use to communicate with friends online. It’s a good idea to have regular conversations with your child about privacy, protecting passwords and image sharing.

    If you are concerned that your child is being bullied, the first step is to talk to your child - ask questions and listen to what they say. Encourage your child to tell you what they are experiencing and try to find out as much as you can about what is happening.

    Ask your child what they would like you to do to help, and give them some guidance about ways they can try to stop the bullying.

    Some things your child can try What parents can do 
    • Ignore the bully.
    • Tell the bully to stop and then walk away, using assertive statements, e.g ‘I want you to stop that’.
    • Act unimpressed or pretend you don’t care, e.g. say ‘OK’ or ‘whatever’ and walk away.
    • Fogging (acting as though you agree with the bully in a neutral way without showing emotion).
    • Leave to find somewhere safe.
    • Ask your friends to speak up for you.
    • Tell a teacher.
    • Encourage your child to stand up to the child/children doing the bullying.
    • Speak to the principal, teacher or wellbeing coordinator at your child’s school.
    • Encourage your child to tell an adult or teacher if they witness bullying.
    • Block or defriend the bully online.
    • Collect screenshots of online bullying behaviour.
    • Speak to a psychologist or counsellor outside the school.
    • Arrange opportunities for your child to play with other children away from the bullying environment.

    Practice some strategies at home with your child so they feel prepared and confident to try them the next time the bullying behaviour happens. Talk about how your child can act so that the bully doesn’t get the reaction they’re after.

    Strategies to avoid

    Sometimes, parents or carers want to confront the bully themselves and take matters in to their own hands. Other parents or carers may think that their child can work it out for themselves. These actions can actually aggravate bullying situations, making the child more likely to experience bullying behaviour.

    • Don’t leave your child to work it out themselves. Children need to be given support and help.
    • Don’t encourage physical violence. This can cause more problems.
    • As the parent or carer, it’s best not to approach the child doing the bullying, or their parents or carers. It’s best to talk to a teacher or the school, who can contact the parent or carer of the child involved.
    • It’s best not to allow your child to stay home from school to have a break from the bullying.  Avoiding school may seem like a solution in the short term, but keeping your child away from their peers makes it harder for them to make and keep friends.
    • Avoid taking away mobiles and other devices if the bullying occurs online. This can lead to children seeking online communication elsewhere, and they will be reluctant to tell you about it. It is better to keep channels of communication open so that your child tells you about what they are experiencing online and you can support them as needed.

    Getting help from school

    Seek help from your child’s school early. Bullying is best tackled and prevented when children, parents and schools all work together. You can start by speaking to the classroom teacher, wellbeing coordinator or assistant/deputy principal.

    Contact the school and speak to your child’s teacher. Ask if they are aware of the bullying and work with them to support your child.

    Talk to the school about how best to support your child to keep attending. Discuss ways to make sure your child is safe at school and can seek help easily from a teacher if needed.

    All schools should have a bullying policy, which you should be able to access on the school website. The bullying policy may outline the school’s preferred ways to deal with bullying incidents and provide advice on how the school can help you and your child. You can get an idea of how the school will deal with your child’s bullying situation and how it may escalate if needed.

    If speaking with staff at the school has not helped and the bullying is ongoing, it may be helpful to seek additional advice and support elsewhere. Options for extra help include your GP or a counsellor, who can help you to liaise with your school. The Education Department in your State or Territory can also help you. If the bullying is happening online, you can contact the eSafety Commissioner’s office via their website.

    Key points to remember

    • Bullying is targeted and repeated behaviour intended to harm another person – it does not include single random acts.
    • You have an important role to play if your child is being bullied, and you can practice strategies with your child at home.
    • By talking regularly with your child about how to build positive friendships, both on and offline, you can help to prevent bullying from happening.
    • It is important to contact your child’s school early so it is aware of the bullying and can help to implement strategies to stop the behaviour.
    • Support from external groups or organisations can be helpful if bullying is ongoing.

    For more information

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Community Information. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Developed June 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.


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