How much of a problem is bullying?
All children can be impacted by bullying. Research from Ditch the Label (2019) with over 2000 12–20-year-olds, found 22% had been bullied and 27% had witnessed bullying. When asked how it impacted them, 45% said it made them depressed and 41% anxious. Of those who were bullied, 72% told someone. Those who didn’t said they were scared of being labelled ‘a snitch’, or it getting worse. So, how does a dad deal with their child being bullied?
How can you stop your child being bullied?
The chances are your child has either been bullied, seen people bullying others or been involved in bullying behaviour. There is no legal definition of bullying in the UK, but it is understood in research as behaviour that is intended to harm, is repeated and where there is an imbalance of power.
Bullying can be one on one but is often a group behaviour. Bullying behaviour tends to peak around age 11-13 years old and impacts both boys and girls. There are groups who are more likely to be bullied. These include disabled children and those with additional needs, ethnic groups including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and children of mixed heritage, young carers, children with care experience, children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (or are perceived to be). You can’t stop your child being bullied, but you can prepare them, and take positive action in a bullying situation.
How do you prepare your child?
Teach your children about positive relationships. A good start is the Kidscape A Parent’s Guide to Friendship, written by parents for parents. The reality is that they will not get on with everyone. They will need your help to know what a positive, healthy relationship looks and feels like. You have a role to play in modelling healthy relationships with others and showing what it means to have boundaries. For instance, being assertive with people if they overstep the mark, are too familiar, or make you feel uncomfortable. You can help your child practice these skills. For example, learning to say ‘No,’and ‘stop’ in a firm, clear voice, or practicing entering a room with confident body language that shows you are friendly and approachable but also cannot be pushedaround.
It’s also important for your child to know their values andto have confidence and esteem that is not dependant on others. Help them see their strengths and seek out others who help them grow and be their best selves. All children will benefit from being part of a wider community beyond the school gates. This could be a faith group, or sports, arts, and culture.
Help your child understand, explore, and name their feelings. This is vital for good emotional health and can help them identify when a situation or relationship doesn’t feel safe. It is important to start this from a young age and story books and films can be a great conversation starter (see MFF recommends: Sophie Says It’s Okay Not to Be Okay (musicfootballfatherhood.com).
How will I know my child if my child is being bullied?
You know your child best. Look out for any behaviour that is out of the ordinary for them. For children that will include becoming more withdrawn, for others it might be acting out and hurting others. Some children may become anxious and depressed. Others will show physical symptoms such as unexplained stomach upsets and headaches. Children who are being bullied are also more likely to avoid school and social situations. There could be many reasons for their behaviour so don’t make assumptions. Create a safe, non-confrontational space and wait until they are ready to talk. Experience says this is often around bedtimes, on car journeys and when you are taking time to do things together without any distractions. Put down your phone and be ready.
Shouldn’t I just tell my child to hit back harder?
This is a common response from parents but there can be consequences. Encouraging your child to hit back may let the other children off the hook because your child then looks like the problem (severely bullied children are the most likely to be excluded from school). It also suggests that most bullying is physical when it is just as likely to be verbal and/or emotional. It may also mean your child will be afraid to tell you they are being bullied in case you think they are ‘weak’ or unable to defend themselves. Yes, teach your child to be assertive and to be able to hold their ground. But don’t make them feel they are ever at fault for being the target of someone else’s aggression.
So, what works?
As a Dad your first job is to stay calm. As much as a situation may make you angry or confused, your child needs you to be the grown up. Listen, feedback what they have shared, and asked what you can do to help. The less you overreact, the more likely they are to come to you with their problems and challenges. Keep a diary of events and the impact it is having on your child (see Kidscape bullying log). If it would help to talk the situation through, contact the Kidscape Parent Advice Line. If you decide to contact the school, it is vital to go prepared. Again keep calm and focus on what they can do to help resolve the situation (see Kidscape talking to schools about bullying). All your child wants is for the bullying to stop, so keep that as your primary focus.
What about if the bullying is online?
Schools have powers to discipline for bullying outside of school. This includes bullying online, and there is an expectation that schools will take action to prevent and respond to cyberbullying. Most online bullying takes place on social messaging apps and gaming platforms, most of which have their own report functions. If your child has experienced hate crime, threats of violence, or indecent images have circulated, seek support from the police. You may also find it helpful to access Report Harmful Content.
Help! My child is called the bully!
Children are learning and developing and will make mistakes. This includes being caught up in bullying behaviour. Again, the key is to remain calm and to create a safe, non-confrontational space to explore what has happened, and why your child has used that behaviour towards others. Explain why it is not acceptable, agree what needs to change, and consider actions they can take to make amends. It may be that your child needs support to build positive relationships with others, or that they are facing their own challenges.
How can you help other children and families going through a bullying situation?
Be a listening ear. Help them to stay calm and to gain perspective. Let them know you are there for them and that any situation can be resolved with the right support. Finally, tell them about Kidscape who can give practical support to children and families impacted by bullying, and provide anti-bullying training to schools, sports clubs, and other providers.
By Lauren Seager-Smith, CEO of Kidscape