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What to do about bullying at school


Becky Goddard-Hill

Bullying at school is really common. Young Minds says it affects over 1 million young people a year. This DOES NOT ever make it okay though or mean that it should be tolerated.

It is not to be accepted or expected that because you are a child and at school that bullying is something you just have to suck up and get on with.

You absolutely have the right to be protected from it and adults have a responsibility to help make it stop.

Here is how you can identify bullying and what to do about it.

What is bullying?

According to the NSPCC:

Bullying is behaviour that hurts someone else. It includes name calling, hitting, pushing, spreading rumours, threatening or undermining someone. It can happen anywhere – at school, at home or online. It's usually repeated over a long period of time and can hurt both physically and emotionally.

Bullying that continues without intervention can cause long term problems with confidence and self-esteem, social skills and physical and mental health. It is really important it stops quickly.

How to explain bullying to your child

  • Bullying can happen to anyone

  • It is NEVER your child’s fault

  • Bullying does not always just go away if you ignore it

  • You should get help straight away if you feel intimidated. You don’t need to wait and see if the behaviour is repeated for it to be considered unacceptable.

What if they ask why they’re being bullied?

People get bullied because the BULLY has a problem. 

Bullies may have an issue with your appearance, race, size, gender, disability, sexual orientation. The may bully you because they have low self-esteem and need to feel powerful. They may pick on you because they think it makes them looks strong and clever.

The problem is with them.

Sometimes other people join in with the main bully because they are scared if they don’t they might be the next one to get bullied. 

You are NOT the problem here.

What can they do to stop bullying?

Not reacting, taking it lightly, being assertive, using humour and avoiding the bully all have their merits, but these things don’t always work, and they are not always easy to do. 

If standing up for yourself feels unsafe and you are hurting there is no weakness or shame in getting help and guidance. In fact, it is a very, very smart thing to do.

You stop bullying by getting people in a position of power to help you. And you ask and ask until that happens. 

  • Think of people you really trust who you know will support you – this could be your parents/older sibling/ a teacher at school/ a sports coach, etc. Tell them what is happening and ask for their help to make it stop. Also, ask them to help you make a plan to make sure you are safe in the meantime.

  • You do NOT need to handle this by yourself.

  • If the first adult you talk to does not help you then go to someone else until you are helped. Don’t give up – you are WAY too important for that.

  • You need to be clear about what has happened make a diary of when it happened.

What else can help?

Having a supportive group of friends can help prevent bullying and provide a great support network. If you have a good group of friends already then do tell them what’s going on and ask for their support.

If you don’t have a strong friendship group this is a good thing to work on. Can you join in social clubs like scouts or drama and maybe a few lunchtime clubs at school? 

To have a good friend you need to be one. So, be a good listener, cheer people on and suggest meeting up... Making new friends is not always the easy bit but it’s always worth it.

How to deal with a frenemy

Do you have a friend or friends who you think pick on you and bully you? Coping with a bully who calls themselves a “friend” but is actually an ‘enemy’ can be really tricky. Let’s call these people ‘frenemies’.

Friends make you feel good, they boost you up, cheer you on and are kind and fun to be with. If your “friend” puts you down, makes you feel bad about yourself, excludes you, jokes at your expense a lot and pushes you around then alarm bells should be ringing because they are NOT a friend.

Here is what you can do:

  • Tell them how they make you feel – they might finally ‘get it’ and apologise to you for treating you that way. Sometimes they can be showing off to the rest of your friendship group and then might change their ways.

  • If that doesn’t work, then move from this friendship and invest your energy into new ones. You can judge a healthy friendship entirely on how it makes you feel and if you’re not happy and don’t look forward to being around them then they are not for you.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is another form of bullying which takes place online or through technology like tablets or phones. Cyberbullying is just as real and just as horrible as face to face bullying and needs to be taken just as seriously.

It could include: 

  • Abusive comments

  • Pretending to be someone else in order to humiliate them

  • Creating nasty websites about people or spreading rumours 

  • Pressurising someone to do something they do not want to such as sending a sexually explicit image

  • Threats via text or via social media

  • Cruel memes

This is NOT just a bit of fun. Digital content spreads very quickly and be hard to erase. It must be reported and stopped if you or a friend have had this happen to you.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is another form of bullying which takes place online or through technology like tablets or phones. Cyberbullying is just as real and just as horrible as face to face bullying and needs to be taken just as seriously.

What can you do to stop cyberbullying?

Embarrassing as it might be you need to enlist help - your parents or guardian can contact your phone service provider and your school for you. In extreme cases then it may be necessary to call the police if there is a threat of some kind. The quicker it is stopped the less far reaching any damage is.

Have a look here for good advice on how to manage your safety settings to keep yourself safe. There is a lot you can do to protect your online safety from the start when using social media.

Going back to school where you were previously bullied

If you have to return to a school where you were previously bullied, you will understandably feel nervous. It is important you go back with a plan in place to ensure this does not happen again. Ensure your parents and school and you meet to discuss and put a plan in place. You may have to really insist this happens and that your worries are heard but it will be worth it.

Arranging to walk/meet up with friends, having a defined group to hang out with at break time, a keyworker you can check in with or maybe a change of class will all help. Having a support plan will reassure you things will be different in the new school year and if they aren’t? Well, you will have named people to check in with from the offset.

What to do if your friend is being bullied

It is really tempting when you see a friend being bullied to get involved and defend them, that’s a natural instinct and shows your loyalty to your friend. It could, however put you at risk of getting hurt and could make the problem worse.

Let’s looks at what you can do:

  • You can be a listening ear to your friend and let them tell you how they feel and what action they are going to take. Encourage them to problem solve and identify trusted adults they can approach. Try and help them identify more than one... Really impress on them the need to get help.

  • If your friend does not access help and is struggling or if you feel overwhelmed and helpless it is important that you can confide in a trusted adult so the responsibility can be taken off your shoulders and the bullying can be tackled.

What to do if your child is being bullied

If your child is being bullied, you are not powerless. Here is what you can do:

  • Listen to them and offer comfort and support – create space and time for them to talk to you and open up. Avoid down playing the bullying or telling them to ‘hit back.’

  • Make a plan with your child about how best to support them.

  • Access help from school / social group staff where the bullying is occurring, ask to see higher staff if you are not listened too.

  • Contact the police if the bullying behaviour is illegal (e.g. violent, intimidating, or a hate crime.

  • Help your child re-build their confidence and self-esteem perhaps by joining groups that help them feel good about themselves and where they will build new friendships.

  • Accept help for yourself – it can be frightening and upsetting when your child is being bullied so make sure to have someone to talk to and guide you. See below for specialist support services.

There is a lot that can be done towards stopping bullying. We each have a role to play in the process to ensure it stops and is no longer seen as ‘just something that most kids go through’. 

Taking it seriously and adopting a solution focussed approach is really key to solving the bullying issue that affects so many kids.


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