Do children usually tell someone if they are being bullied?

All parents hope that their child will tell them as soon as there is a problem. But unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. About half of all children who are bullied do not tell anyone. It may be because the child feels confused, they feel it is their own fault, or they are worried about how their parents will react. In addition, children often think that talking about a bullying situation is like ‘dobbing’ on one another. If this is the case, remind your child that

  • ‘dobbing’ is when a person tries to get attention or to get someone else into trouble
  • ‘asking for help’ is when someone feels a situation is out of their control and they are unable to deal with it alone

Because children are sometimes reluctant to communicate that they have been bullied, it is important that parents think about how best to approach their child when they suspect bullying has occurred.

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What are some signs of that my child is being bullied?

The following list shows common signs of bullying. Please note that many children may show these behaviours at times, but it may be a sign of bullying if you see these things happening often.

  • decreased interest in school
  • reluctance to go to school or absenteeism from school
  • poorer school performance
  • frequent complaints of headaches or stomach aches
  • wanting to be taken to and from school or to go a new route
  • frequent damage or loss of items such as clothing, property or school work
  • frequent injuries such as bruises or cuts
  • withdrawal and a reluctance to say why
  • difficulty sleeping, wetting the bed or having nightmares
  • coming home hungry
  • asking for extra lunch or pocket money, or money missing from the house
  • appearing generally unhappy, miserable, moody or irritable
  • reluctance to eat or play properly
  • threats or attempts to harm self
  • having no friends to share free time with
  • rarely invited to parties or other social activities with peers

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How do I talk with my child about being bullied?

Talking with your child about being bullied can often be very difficult and it helps to be aware of your child’s needs and feelings. Keep in mind that a child needs to:

  • feel heard and believed perceptions
  • talk openly about what is going on
  • develop trust that the adult he or she tells will help
  • feel that there is some hope things will get better
  • feel some control over the situation
  • learn self-protective and assertive behaviours
  • build or maintain confidence and self-esteem

One way to encourage your child to open up in a bullying situation is to establish an everyday climate of trust and communication. When your children talk to you about day-to-day things, where possible, stop what you are doing and listen. Be supportive and encourage them to talk. If you talk with your children about daily topics, there will be a greater chance they will talk about more difficult issues such as bullying. The following are tips for encouraging open communication:

  • Show your children you enjoy talking with them.
  • Let your children know that it is not just when they are in trouble or having problems that you want to know what is going on in their lives.
  • Arrange opportunities to share time with your children when you can talk while doing an activity together: for instance cooking, craft or going to the football together.
  • Ask your children their opinion on events, issues and general daily occurrences, so they feel that their opinion is valued.
  • Praise your children – not just when they have had success but also when they have had a go, even if they make mistakes.
  • Encourage and model positive language. For example:
  • ‘I really like the way you asked your brother if you could play his game.’
  • ‘It is great to see you treating your friends in such a caring way.’

Let’s talk

Try this communication activity together.

  • Find a quiet place with just you and your child.
  • Start with the first question.
  • Listen to the response and try restating your child’s answer in your own words: ‘You are saying …’
  • Encourage your child to talk more by giving plenty of time for answers.

Questions (use your own questions if you wish):

  • If you saw your friend being teased how would you feel?
  • What could you do?
  • If your friend asked you to help bully another child, how would this make you feel?
  • What could you do?
  • Who would you talk to if you were bullied?
  • What would you do if you were bullied? Why/why not?

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How should I respond if my child says they are being bullied?

If your child tells you about being bullied:

  • Believe your child, because it is important that your child feels confident to talk to you about problems. Please remember that this is your child’s perception of the situation and it’s important to find out all sides of the story before making any judgements about others who are involved.
  • Take the child’s concerns seriously without being overprotective.
  • Listen to your child. Show you understood that they are upset by the bullying.
  • Encourage your child to talk about the situation.
  • Tell your child that bullying is wrong and remind them that they have the right to feel safe and happy.
  • Keep in mind that there may be other factors involved in the situation that you may not be aware of, such as other people that have been involved or other things that have happened in the past.
  • Be aware of your own responses and react in a calm, helpful and supportive manner.
  • Make sure your child knows how to get help and support at school.
  • Help your child enhance their friendship skills. Having more than one good friend has been shown to reduce the likelihood or impact of bullying.
  • Encourage your child to participate in activities other than those related to the school so they have other friendship groups.
  • Help your child reflect on what has been done to resolve the situation so far.
  • Help your child work out a plan of what they could do to help make the situation better.

Listen to your children to find out how they are feeling and what is going on in their lives. Sometimes a child may not tell you that they are being bullied, but by listening to them you can tell if they are happy or if something is bothering them. Parents can also teach children how to listen well by demonstrating good listening skills. Try the following techniques:

  • Look at the person who is talking and occasionally nod or say ‘yes’ or do something that signals you have understood.
  • Stand or sit still while you are listening.
  • Pay attention and think about what is being said carefully.
  • When the other person stops speaking show that you have really listened by asking a good question based on what they have just said.

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How can I help my child seek support for bullying situations?

Many children do not seek out support, but struggle to deal with bullying situations by themselves. If they do ask for help, younger children usually go to parents and teachers for help. Older children are more likely to turn to their friends for support.

Help your children develop a group of people they feel comfortable talking with and turning to for help. At school, children are encouraged to identify and talk with people in their support group. This generally includes the following people:

  • parents
  • classroom teacher
  • teacher on duty at recess or lunchtimes
  • other school staff members
  • school friends
  • family friends
  • other people they can trust

Give your children practice identifying what they could say if they approached these people about a bullying problem.

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How can I help my child to deal with arguments?

We all have arguments and disagreements every now and then. Children who learn skills to deal with these situations improve their chances of being able to work and play cooperatively and liked by other children.

Explain that arguments happen to everyone at some time, and that having an argument doesn’t necessarily mean the end of friendships or that you don’t like the people you have argued with. Point out that in arguments both people think they are right.

You can give children these tips to help them deal with arguments:

  • Try to stay calm and talk through the problem using a normal voice.
  • If either person is getting too angry or upset, say, ‘We are getting too angry/upset. Let’s talk about this later’. Then walk away.
  • Make sure you do talk about it later, when you have both calmed down.
  • Point out your view and talk about your feelings. For example, ‘I felt bad when you told the rest of the team I was useless at baseball’.
  • Let the other person explain their point of view. Listen without interrupting.
  • Apologise if necessary and try to find a way to be friends.

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How can I help my child to be assertive?

Being assertive is about saying what you think, feel and want in a confident way. It means saying what you want without shouting, glaring, being angry or putting others down. It also means saying what you want without backing down, putting yourself down or letting others make you feel bad. Assertive children:

  • can express their feelings calmly and are able to work out when it is the right time to do this
  • can accept feedback from another child
  • are able to protect themselves, without being hurtful to other children
  • are able to ask for help when they have difficulty dealing with a situation themselves
  • act with self-respect and confidence
  • realise that they have to take risks and stand up for themselves

Assertiveness training has been shown to increase self-esteem and confidence in a person being bullied. A person who has good self-esteem and confidence is less likely to be bullied. Explain to your child that speaking assertively is deciding what you want to do and saying clearly what you want to happen.

  • speak in a firm but friendly way
  • stand tall, make eye contact
  • stand up for yourself politely
  • smile or look calm
  • feel happy, confident and in control
  • feel okay about yourself

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