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School Bullying: Red Flags and Advice for Parents

We’ve all heard the horror stories. Every day brings another news story of an Australian child who has had their life impacted by bullying – the 13 year old girl who had a tooth knocked out by a classmate or the 7 year old boy who left a heartbreaking suicide note on his teacher’s desk. We see these stories and we fear for our children.

As a parent, there is nothing scarier than the thought of your child being bullied at school – and feeling powerless to make it stop. It’s important to know what the warning signs are, and what you can do to help your child if they are being targeted.

When “back to school” means “back to bullying”

Recent studies have shown that 1 in 4 Australian children have experienced bullying, and school bullying has been cited by researchers as a major threat to the mental and physical health of children and teens. We all know someone who has been bullied.

No child should ever feel unsafe at school, and as we start another school year, there’s no better time to talk about bullying: how to spot the warning signs and what we can do as parents to help them.

Warning signs that your child is being bullied

Every child will react differently to the experience of being bullied, but there are a number of common warning signs which may indicate that your child is being targeted. The following is a list of red flags that can alert parents to a potential bullying issue, kickstarting important conversations about your child’s wellbeing.

Warning Signs that Your Child May Experience Bullying

  1. School avoidance or excessive sick days
  2. Uncharacteristic mood swings, crying or anxiety
  3. Unexplained injuries, bruises or grazing
  4. Missing or damaged personal items
  5. Diminished academic performance
  6. Being socially withdrawn and isolated
  7. Loss of sleep or loss of appetite
  8. Exclusion from social activities

My child is being bullied. What can I do to help?

It’s can be very distressing to realise that your child is experiencing bullying, but there are a number of things you can do to help.

Talk openly and honestly with your child

Open communication is key. Warm and supportive parent relationships can buffer the emotional impact of bullying, so let them know they have your unconditional support. Make sure you listen to the whole story
without interrupting and show concern and support. Ask what they want to happen before you make any suggestions.

Take an interest in your child’s online behaviour

Talk to your child about the social media platforms their peer groups are using, and encourage them to talk about their online experiences with you.

Share your own experiences of being bullied

If you’ve ever experienced bullying it can be helpful to share your story, so your child knows that they are not alone and feel that you understand their situation.

Talk to your child’s teacher at school

It’s important to contact the school for a calm discussion if bullying is suspected. Schools have procedures in place for bullying, so you can work together for a resolution and agree a plan for dealing with the current situation and future bullying incidents.

Teach your child to say “stop” or to go find an adult

Spend time role-playing assertive responses at home with your child, and teach them to seek out help from a teacher or adult if the bully does not respond to an emphatic “no”.

Help your child build a strong social support system

Children who have friends are less likely to experience bullying, and having the support of friends can reduce the emotional impact of bullying. Organise those playdates! Help your child to develop positive strategies – such as assertively saying ‘leave me alone’, calmly walking away or avoiding situations that might expose them to
further bullying.

Encourage them to talk to a counsellor at Kids Helpline

Sometimes it’s best to call the experts. Gently encourage your child to call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 – their counsellors have a wealth of experience in this area.

What can I do if the bullying continues?

Sometimes bullying can continue despite the best attempts of parents and teachers to deal with the issue. Ongoing bullying is an unacceptable risk to any child, so in cases like these is it necessary to escalate the issue to higher education authorities or even to the police, if there is evidence of physical assault or cyberbullying.

In extreme cases, some parents may even consider moving their child to another school, when all other avenues have been exhausted. It’s really important not to underestimate the impact that ongoing abuse can have on a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing; thankfully we’ve moved past the idea that kids should just “toughen up”.

As concerned adults we all have a stake in this, because seven year olds should be having fun in the playground – not writing suicide notes to their teachers. Together we can make a difference.