How to empower your child against bullying

November 05, 2021

In time for anti-bullying week, we’re sharing some ideas on how to empower your child against bullying and support them in spreading kindness.

One of the first forms of defence against any threat is to have a strong understanding of it. Bullying sadly is a threat that comes in many forms and can affect people throughout their lives. Through raising awareness of it and discussing it with our children from an early age we hope to reduce and break the cycle of bullying behaviours. 

We hope to prevent our children from being bullied and becoming bullies themselves. Bullying can have the most devastating effects on people and so each year organisations and educators around the country send out a strong message.

Everyone is unique, special and should be treated with kindness.

Children smiling around a table in the playground

Types of bullying

The anti-bullying alliance defines bullying as “the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online.”

  • Bullying is repeated unwanted, aggressive behaviour
  • Power is used to cause harm
  • Power might be physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity

Bullying includes anything from spreading rumours, isolating others and name-calling to physical aggression, posting abuse and coercion. It is not simply being rude or unkind once.


Bullying at school

Research from the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that, in the UK, 1 in 4 children aged 7-15 reported being bullied a lot or always. Disabled children and those with SEN were more likely to be bullied and in turn, bully others. 

Bullying may take place at school, on the way to and from school or via social media. You might wonder why a child would do this to someone else? Well, the answer relates to hurt and power. If a child is hurting – if they have been humiliated or threatened – they can be left feeling powerless. One way to feel powerful is to humiliate, threaten or hurt someone else. 

Sadly there is a cycle to bullying – children who are hurting often seek to hurt others.


Physical bullying

Physical bullying is using violence, power or force to cause physical harm. Pushing, poking, kicking, hitting, biting, pinching can all be forms of physical bullying. It is classed as bullying when it’s done with the intent to cause harm and happens repeatedly.


Verbal bullying

Verbal bullying is using words to cause emotional harm. The following are examples of behaviour that done intentionally and repeatedly are classed as verbal bullying – name calling, sarcasm, spreading rumours, threats, teasing, belittling.


Social bullying

Social bullying refers to using power to damage someone’s reputation or relationships. This could be by spreading rumours or telling others to ignore or exclude someone from their group. It can happen in person and increasingly online through social media.


Cyber bullying

Cyberbullying is any form of bullying which takes place online or through smartphones and tablets. There are many ways that bullying can happen online.

Children most commonly are affected by harassment and exclusion. They may receive offensive or insulting messages, or have nasty comments made on posts or photos. In other situations, they may be intentionally left out of group messages or an online game.


An upset bullied child sitting outside a classroom

Signs a child is being bullied

It would be wonderful if you could ensure your child was never bullied. Sadly there’s no easy way of protecting them from others seeking to cause harm, however having a loving, respectful relationship with regular opportunities to communicate will hopefully ensure that your child can open up to you if anything goes wrong. 

Sometimes though bullying can make your child feel so embarrassed or lacking in self-esteem that they hide it from you. In these circumstances, it’s vital to be on the lookout for any signs that all is not well.

Use the ‘Signs of bullying’ checklist below to support you in identifying areas of concern. Remember though, there may be a number of reasons why your child has altered their behaviour, so think about any other changes going on in your child’s life that might be affecting them. Try to create a space and time when your child can open up. 


Spot the signs of bullying infographic


Effects bullying has on child development

Being bullied can have a long term impact on your child. Research has shown that if you’re bullied as a young person, you are twice as likely to use mental health services as an adult. 

Some victims of bullying find it hard to ever feel safe in anything they do. It can wear away at their self-esteem and make them feel worthless. They may feel embarrassed, angry, scared, sad or overwhelmed. These are big, difficult emotions and will often have an impact on both a child’s physical and mental health. 

Your child may stop eating properly, have difficulty sleeping or disrupted sleep from nightmares. They may experience high levels of stress and the physical effects of anxiety such as fast breathing, extreme tiredness, stomach aches and sickness.

Bullying disrupts a child’s normal development and can get in the way of them building happy friendships, experiencing new things and performing well at school.


What to do if your child is being bullied

Here’s the important thing to know – you can make a difference. Whilst you can’t stop bullying, you can give your child the love, support and skills they need to stand up to bullying behaviours, build self-love and resilience whilst preventing them from becoming a bully themselves.

Try following these steps:

  1. Make a time to sit with your child without distractions – other siblings, music, technology etc. Encourage them to talk about what has been happening to them. Listen.
  2. Don’t interrupt your child or try to jump in with solutions straight away. Listen and allow moments of silence. Your child may still be trying to put into words all of their feelings and experiences.
  3. When you feel your child has finished, ask them if there’s anything else they still want to say. Then try and repeat the exact words that your child has said. “So you’ve told me that … is that right?”
  4. Include your child in the problem solving. Let them know that you are there for them and can help find a way to stop this situation. Ask them what they would like you to do and together make a plan. This might involve speaking to their teacher or school counsellor.
  5. Let your child know how proud you are of them for speaking to you about this. Remind them that the person who is doing the bullying must be very unhappy and that is why they feel the need to treat other people so unkindly. Let them know that you will help them to find ways of standing up to bullying behaviour.


Things to avoid:

  1. Don’t try to contact the bully or the bullies parents without your child’s involvement. This could make the bullying worse and stop your child from talking to you about situations in the future.
  2. Never tell your child to hit or shout names in retaliation. This action will further exacerbate the situation. In many cases, bullies act the way they do in the hope of getting a reaction. If your child can give them to the impression that they are not affected and walk away, bullying behaviour is more likely to stop.
  3. Never dismiss their experience. If after using much courage to speak to you, your child is faced with a response such as ‘You’re fine’, ‘I shouldn’t worry about it’, ‘You’ll get over it’. They may not confide in you again and their feelings of low self-esteem and loneliness may build even further.
  4. Don’t tell your child to ‘ignore’ the bullying. Bullying is not something to be tolerated. If we use the word ignore it is as though everyone is pretending it isn’t happening. There is an important difference between ‘ignoring’ and ‘appearing to be unaffected’ which we will look at in more detail now.


Father comforting son after being bullied

Empowering your child against bullying 

Body language and tone of voice

Teaching your child to stand tall and use a strong voice in bullying scenarios can be as powerful as the words they choose to use. Role play the scenarios together and practise not simply what to say but how to say it. 

  • You can try naming the behaviour and telling the bully to stop: “You are making fun of me. Stop it.”
  • You can try questioning the insult: “Why would you say that?”
  • You could shock the bully by agreeing with them: “You’re right. Thanks so much for telling me.”
  • You can appear to be unaffected. You could walk away without looking at them. Quickly look at something else and laugh as though you hadn’t heard them. Start having a conversation with someone else. Smile at them and look uninterested.

Find the response that your child feels most comfortable with. Practise their ‘tall’ body language and strong voice. Drama or self defence clubs can be a great way of building this confidence if it doesn’t come naturally. 

Let them know that they should always tell you about any incidents and how they feel. You are not sending them out to deal with it by themselves.


Getting support from school when dealing with bullying

Be prepared

Before approaching your child’s school make a list of everything that has happened:

  • Who was involved
  • When it occurred
  • Who witnessed it
  • How often has it happened


Check the school’s ‘anti-bullying policy’

This will be on their website. It will tell you what support you can expect from the school in these instances.


Speak to a teacher

Make an appointment with the teacher you feel most empowered to deal with the problem. E.g. Class teacher or Head of year. 


Seek the school’s help in finding the solution

Avoid accusing the school.


Agree a plan and allow the school time to find a solution

However, agree on a point of contact, discuss how you will update the school of any further events and make a follow up meeting in what you both agree is a reasonable amount of time.


If events continue to occur it’s really important to keep a log of every incident. Remember bullying is a repetitive, intentional hurting of your child.


Example incident log

  • Date
  • What happened (include photos if your child was hurt)
  • Who did it
  • Who saw it
  • How your child has been affected
  • Anyone your child has told (include if you have seen your doctor)
  • What they said or did


The school will need evidence to help them decide what action is most appropriate to take. They may also provide an ELSA (Emotional Learning Support Assistant) or guidance counsellor for your child to discuss their feelings with.

Be persistent, factual and clear.


Finding your own support

As a parent you can feel a huge burden and responsibility for your child being bullied. It may surface feelings from your own childhood especially if you have been a victim yourself. It’s important that you find a way of managing your feelings so that you can offer your child the love and support they need without burdening them with your own fears. 


Building your child’s resilience

Learning problem solving skills is key to building resilience. Knowing when to seek out help, when to try something new or when to let your mind work on it for a while are all vital skills to strengthening your child’s mental well being. 

At Explore Learning we focus on developing confidence and resilience alongside maths and English tuition. It is all about learning and growing. Creative writing can be a powerful form of expression and releasing emotions whilst  extra maths and English tuition can provide a boost to classroom confidence.

Encouraging curiosity in all aspects of a child’s life can help them nourish their mind, develop confidence and self-esteem. Find out more about Explore Learning here. 

Three boys playing in the woods

What is Anti-bullying week?

The 15th -19th November 2021 is anti-bullying week in the UK. It’s become an annual event to raise awareness of bullying and to highlight ways of preventing and responding to it. It kicks off with Odd socks day where schools throughout the country encourage young people to wear odd socks as a way of recognising that everyone is unique and different, and that we all need kindness and respect.


Helpful resources

There are many organisations in the UK available to offer information on bullying prevention, guidance and support:

BullyingUk – provide a wealth of resources, a helpline and chat groups to offer you support.

Build resilience with this helpful infographic from Family Lives.

The National Bullying helpline offers support for both adults and children.

The anti-bullying alliance provides free online training and support.

Young minds and the NSPCC have resources tailored to your child.

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