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Bul­ly­ing is an issue that is like­ly to affect every child, includ­ing yours. It is an ugly fea­ture of grow­ing up and can take many forms. It can also cause enor­mous stress to par­ents as well as to the child vic­tims and can lead to dis­as­trous consequences.

As a result, know­ing how to iden­ti­fy bul­ly­ing, how to approach your child and how to deal with the prob­lem is an enor­mous­ly use­ful tool for any par­ent to pos­sess. Bul­ly­ing can be dealt with and pre­vent­ed, and your child can move on from the expe­ri­ence to live a hap­py and ful­fill­ing life.

Par­ents first need to rec­og­nize that their child is like­ly to be bul­lied. Think back to your child­hood and ado­les­cence and remem­ber the way that oth­er chil­dren treat­ed you. Some of these actions could be classed as harm­less ban­ter or light-heart­ed teas­ing. Oth­er actions, how­ev­er, were acts of bullying.

What is bullying?

Bullying in kids l kids bullying l parent guide to bullying

Bul­ly­ing is a series of actions that are delib­er­ate, repeat­ed and occur with­in a pow­er imbal­ance. The bul­ly­ing can be phys­i­cal, men­tal or emo­tion­al, it can hap­pen in the real world or online, and it can be per­pe­trat­ed by any­one who has any form of pow­er over the victim.

Phys­i­cal bul­ly­ing includes pok­ing, hit­ting, kick­ing, push­ing and beat­ing up. Ver­bal bul­ly­ing encom­pass­es yelling, taunt­ing, name-call­ing, insult­ing and threats, while rela­tion­al bul­ly­ing refers to exclud­ing, spread­ing rumours and get­ting oth­ers to hurt someone.


Cyber­bul­ly­ing is bul­ly­ing that occurs online and is par­tic­u­lar­ly preva­lent on social media plat­forms where so many chil­dren now spend so much of their time.

How do I know my child is being bullied?

Bullying in kids l kids bullying l parent guide to bullying

Bul­ly­ing can be chal­leng­ing to iden­ti­fy first­ly because that is exact­ly what the vic­tims want. They don’t want any­one to know they are being bul­lied, because they feel bad about it, and because they fear that if any­one chal­lenges the bul­ly, it will only make the treat­ment worse. Fur­ther­more, bul­ly­ing often hurts on the inside, so there are no cuts or bruises.

In the case of cyber­bul­ly­ing, it is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult for par­ents, teach­ers or oth­er adults to know that a child is being bul­lied because chil­dren retreat to cyber­space to escape from adults.

Signs that your child is being bullied include:

  • Phys­i­cal scars, bruis­es, cuts, scratch­es or even severe injuries. These can include injuries from self-harm.
  • With­draw­al – chil­dren no longer engage in con­ver­sa­tion, dis­play less emo­tion, do not want to join in usu­al activities.
  • Mood swings – vic­tims feel angry and may release their anger and frus­tra­tion in ran­dom sit­u­a­tions. They may also cry more often or use bad lan­guage uncharacteristically.
  • He or she refus­es to go to school or wants to change class­es or opt-out of cer­tain activ­i­ties. Con­verse­ly, they do not want to walk or catch the bus to school.
  • Los­es their appetite, or seems hun­gri­er after school because some­one is tak­ing their lunch.
  • Clos­es up when you try to dis­cuss school or oth­er per­son­al issues.
  • Goes to the clin­ic at school or uses oth­er meth­ods to avoid going to class.
  • Their aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance drops, and they lose inter­est in school work.

Victim or bully?

  • As much as you may not want to admit it, there is a chance your child could be the bul­ly, and these signs may indi­cate that this is the case:
  • Your child dis­plays a lack of empa­thy and always needs to be in control.
  • They have under­de­vel­oped social and inter­per­son­al skills and seem to gain plea­sure from see­ing oth­ers suffer.
  • They attack before oth­ers can attack.
  • A par­ent, sib­ling or peer has bul­lied them.
  • They show con­tempt for chil­dren who are dif­fer­ent and refuse to asso­ciate with cer­tain children.
  • Per­sist with ugly behav­iour, even after admonition.
  • They are very con­scious of being pop­u­lar and taunt or tease oth­er children.
  • They enjoy reg­u­lar vio­lent video games and hurt animals.
  • Final­ly, a bul­ly can be iden­ti­fied if they are copy­ing the bul­ly­ing behav­iour of some­one else.

Boys and girls

Bullying in kids l kids bullying l parent guide to bullying

Is bul­ly­ing dif­fer­ent for boys and girls? The research, and the tales from vic­tims them­selves, would indi­cate that this is true.

Gen­er­al­ly, girls report that bul­ly­ing includes social iso­la­tion, name-call­ing, crit­i­cism of their physique and/or dress sense. Exclud­ing one girl from a social group is a com­mon form of bul­ly­ing among girls.

Boys, on the oth­er hand, are more like­ly to be bul­lied phys­i­cal­ly. Big­ger, stronger and more assertive boys will use their supe­ri­or phys­i­cal strength to dom­i­nate their vic­tim. Boys will also use name-call­ing, and it is still com­mon for boys to be bul­lied through the ques­tion­ing of their sexuality.

Of course, boys and girls can both suf­fer from any form of bullying.

How do I start the conversation?

Be proactive.

Talk to your child about the issue before it occurs (and hope­ful­ly, it nev­er will) Research children’s books of all ages which deal with the top­ic, and access oth­er resources online, through local libraries or schools.

Under­stand your child’s rights and their right to be free from bul­ly­ing, and arm your­self with this knowl­edge, espe­cial­ly if your child is more prone to bul­ly­ing because of their race, phys­i­cal abil­i­ty, sex­u­al­i­ty, reli­gion, gen­der or phys­i­cal appearance.

How should I treat the bully?

The fol­low­ing steps can be used with the bul­ly, even if your child is the bully:

  • Talk about what happened.
  • Show the child that their actions are wrong.
  • Cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for the bul­ly to do good.
  • Teach social and friend­ship skills.
  • Occu­py the child’s time con­struc­tive­ly and lim­it or remove oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to engage with destruc­tive con­tent online. This includes lim­it­ing their screen time.
  • Make the child take own­er­ship of the prob­lem and do not allow shift­ing of blame.
  • Have the child find a way to solve the prob­lem they created.

How can I help my child?

  • Lim­it their screen time.
  • Also, ask your­self, does my child need a smartphone?
  • If they need a phone for emer­gency con­tact and safe­ty, would a hand­held phone suf­fice? Most tech­nol­o­gy-based prob­lems, includ­ing cyber-bul­ly­ing, occur when chil­dren con­nect to the inter­net. They can still phone and text with a hand­held phone.
  • Instill in your child healthy self-esteem. Cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to chal­lenge them­selves and suc­ceed, and nur­ture their talents.
  • Coach your child on pos­i­tive self-talk.
  • Offer spe­cif­ic phras­es and teach chil­dren to learn from their mistakes.
  • Talk about, mod­el and role­play friend­ship skills.

How can I prevent my child from being bullied?

Ide­al­ly, you would like to ensure that your child is nev­er bul­lied again. You’ve seen the side effects of bul­ly­ing, and you don’t want your loved one to go through this expe­ri­ence again.

Create an identity.

Aaron says he was bul­lied at school. He recounts his experience:

I was bul­lied, but not severe­ly. It made me feel bad about myself and bad about the world but not as bad as some oth­er vic­tims of bullying.”

I went to an all-boys school, where rough sports and phys­i­cal­i­ty were impor­tant. I was fair­ly skin­ny and very, very shy, so it was easy for oth­er boys to pick on me. The bul­ly­ing made me feel pow­er­less and ruined my self-esteem, and I’m sure it affect­ed my grades.”

In the first few years of high school, the bul­ly­ing was phys­i­cal. Many boys would phys­i­cal­ly pick on me to prove their own strength and improve their sta­tus; I was an easy target.”

This began to change in the last three years of high school.”

It changed because I cre­at­ed an iden­ti­ty. I worked hard at sport (long-dis­tance run­ning), and I won a few races for the school – rep sport was a big deal at the school. I also got involved in some oth­er extra-cur­ric­u­lar activ­i­ties, and I made friends across dif­fer­ent social groups. More impor­tant­ly, though, I became known as ‘Aaron the run­ner.’ If any­one men­tioned my name, boys would reply;

He’s the run­ner” or “The White Kenyan” or refers to the name of a famous run­ner of the time. I was per­fect­ly hap­py with that.”

The punch­ing and push­ing stopped. I’d earned some respect. I was still shy and qui­et, but I am cer­tain that a lot of the bul­ly­ing stopped because I had cre­at­ed an iden­ti­ty for myself.”

In Aaron’s case, he cre­at­ed an iden­ti­ty, improved his self-esteem and made him­self a hard­er tar­get for the bul­lies at his school.

Experts also sug­gest train­ing your child to be assertive, includ­ing through role play. Encour­age them to nom­i­nate teach­ers or friends they can turn to if being bul­lied. Remind your child not to bul­ly back, to avoid show­ing the bul­ly any signs that they have suc­ceed­ed. Also, walk away and try to avoid being alone.

Final­ly, seek pro­fes­sion­al help before bul­ly­ing dom­i­nates your child’s life.

Last but not least

Bul­ly­ing is an unfor­tu­nate real­i­ty for many chil­dren, but it can be stopped. Teach your chil­dren how to avoid, cope with and report bul­ly­ing, and seek pro­fes­sion­al help to ensure that bul­ly­ing does not pre­vent your child from liv­ing a full and pros­per­ous life!


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