Parents and carers – responding to bullying

This blog contains some of the supporting advice we have given to parents and carers about how you actually respond to bullying – the processes we need to go through and to include children and young people going forward to help them regain a sense of control ands influence over their lives.

How do I know if it’s bullying?

When we talk about bullying we are talking about something that is both behaviour and impact. Behaviour that can make people feel hurt, frightened, scared, left out or worried – and the impact of this behaviour leaves them feeling less in control of themselves.

We know that bullying takes something away from people; that is one of the things that makes it different from other behaviours. It takes away people’s ability to feel in control of themselves and to take effective action.  We callthis our agency. Bullying strips away a person’s capacity for agency.

It’s important to remember this when we respond to bullying behaviour.  If we can accept that it takes something away from someone, our focus has to be on helping them to get it back; helping them get back that feeling of being in control and being themselves again. That’s why we have to involve young people in what they want to happen, what they would like to happen, and what they are worried about happening. 
And sometimes we need to take a lead from them as to what pace we go at. If we can do that, we can help restore that feeling of being in control. 

We are teaching children very important life skills.  We are teaching them to negotiate difficult relationships and that’s a factor of life for everyone.  It’s a skill we all need as adults, to learn how to get on with people and to learn how to dislike someone in a respectful manner.  That’s how we approach bullying.

What advice should I give?

Hearing that your child is being bullied brings out an understandably emotional response. It’s difficult for parents and carers to hear.  It’s difficult because you feel so strongly about it and when you hear your child is being bullied, you are not always at your best.

Sometimes the advice we give children and young people at this time isn’t necessarily the best advice. Being told to hit someone back if you are being bullied is actually a common response; children and young people have told us this is something they hear. We know it exists as an option to use but we know, by and large, it’s not necessarily the best or safest option to take.

It doesn’t take into account people that can’t or won’t hit back; people that have mobility problems or who are too scared, or people who won’t like the thought of violence.  So there always has to be an alternative to it. We don’t go through life answering challenges and relationship difficulties by resorting to violence, yet we tend to tell children if they are being bullied they should hit back – whether they are being physically bullied or bullied online, that’s the advice we tend to give.

There is never one, single, answer when it comes to bullying, it’s about knowing how to think about it and how to approach it.

Sometimes you have to ask your child, ‘what do you want to happen?’
‘tell me what you have done so far?’
‘what would you like me to do?’
‘what do you think would happen if, say, I was to go up to the school and talk to them about it?’.

If they are worried that you would make it worse, you might have to try something else because most children want bullying to stop with the minimum of fuss.
‘What do you think would happen if I spoke to someone’s mum?’ or
‘is there someone else you can talk to?’

It’s about exploring options; thinking about what you can do and sometimes having to say, as a parent, ‘look if I’m worried and I don’t think you’re safe, I’m going to step in’, and explain why you are doing it.

This process of exploring what you can both do role models a way of thinking and the aim is to agree a way forward – a plan you can agree to and agree to review if it’s not working. You will have a positive impact on their anxiety levels as they can discuss things with you and they can see your desire to help rather than you being angry or upset. It is not about as a parent or carer having all the answers – it is about asking each other questions, talking and most importantly listening, to get closer to an answer together.

Listening isn’t always easy – especially if we are emotional but the one thing children and young people have told me consistently over the years is that they want listened to when they are being bullied.

The temptation to run off and solve it is an understandable one, but we should always take a moment, pause and think, ‘how do I give my child back a sense of being in control?’ because it’s that sense of being in control that has been taken from them, and that has to focus your response. Sometimes your child might ask you not to do anything straight away – to give then the chance to go back into school and see how things are.

What if my child is bullying someone else?

If your child has been accused of bullying or you suspect your child is bullying, you have to address their behaviour and the impact that it has had. Children who are bullying others need help to repair relationships; they need help to understand that what they’ve done is wrong. Sometimes they know the impact of what their behaviour is; that’s why they’re doing it, but sometimes they need help to understand the effect their behaviour is having on someone else.

It’s important when we deal with children who are bullying that we don’t label them.  We talk about their behaviour and we talk about the impact that it has, we don’t label them as bullies. There isn’t any one stereotypical ‘bully’.  Bullying is behaviour that makes people feel a certain way – and many of us will have acted in a certain way that made someone feel hurt, frightened or left out. It’s much easier to change your behaviour if I say, ‘when you did that to him, that was bullying’. I’m much more likely to get a better response then if I say, ‘because you did that, you are a bully’.

People won’t recognise that label, parents will object to that label and you don’t change behaviour by labelling people. You change behaviour by telling people what they did, why it was wrong, and what you expect instead.

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