Respect Me is Scotland's anti-bullying service. Here, communications manager, Pamela Graham, offers parents advice on what to do if you discover your child has been bullying others online or off
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 this isn’t always the case, and they need help to understand the effect their behaviour is having on someone else.
‘Many of us will have acted in a certain way that made someone feel hurt, frightened or left out’
It’s important when we deal with children who are bullying that we don’t label them. 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.
We talk about their behaviour and we talk about the impact that it has, we don’t label them as bullies.
You change the way people behave by telling them what they did, why it was wrong, and what you expect instead.
What should I do if my child is bullying?
Children and young people can become involved in bullying for a number of reasons. There is no such thing as ‘typical’ bullying behaviour. All behaviour communicates feelings, so it’s important that you explore the reasons behind their behaviour, which might include:
- They don’t recognise their behaviour as ‘bullying.’
- They are unaware of the impact their behaviour is having on other people.
- They feel challenged and are trying to regain control over a person or situation.
- They do not feel they will be identified or found out as they are posting online.
- They are being encouraged to join in as part of a group and they’re going along with it to save face.
- They have experienced bullying themselves and want to avoid being a target.
- They are trying to draw attention to problems they are experiencing themselves.
- They are in a culture where bullying behaviour is acceptable.
- They have ‘learned’ bullying behaviour from a role model or peer.
Take the time to discuss the issue and listen to your child’s explanation
It’s natural to be angry and upset if you discover your child is bullying someone, but it’s important that you remain calm. When you’ve established the reasons behind the 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.
Ask them to consider the impact that their actions are having on the other person or people involved.
How would they feel if they were being bullied; what if they were the one who was left feeling anxious, isolated and filled with fear when they left the house? If they dreaded logging on to their computer or looking at their phone because they were scared of what messages there might be?
Be prepared to deal with prejudiced attitudes
The behaviour behind the bullying might stem from racism, homophobia or ignorance about a different culture or religion. Addressing this can be difficult, challenging and emotive, but prejudiced attitudes must be explored and dealt with.
Agree what you’re going to do to stop the bullying
All behaviour carries consequences and your child has to realise that they are accountable for their actions. At school, this might mean finding a way forward that gives them the chance to make amends or repair relationships with the other person – but be crystal clear that their behaviour is unacceptable and clearly state how you expect them to behave.
Revisit the reasons for their behaviour and support them to change
You might also want to alert the parents of the other person involved to make sure they’re aware of what’s been happening and to ensure that their child gets any support they need. It might be helpful to get support for both families from a third party, such as a teacher.
It’s important when we deal with children who are bullying that 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 way that has made someone feel hurt, frightened or left out.
It’s much easier to change behaviour if you say, ‘when you did that, it was bullying’. You’re much more likely to get a better response then if you say, ‘because you did that, you are a bully’. 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.
Check in with them regularly
Keep the lines of communication open and see how they’re feeling. If they were unaware of the impact that their actions were having on the other person, they might not be feeling too good about themselves. You should also make sure that any underlying issues have been/are being dealt with.
Find out more about Respect Me here.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: June 2016
Updated: May 2018