Bullying… A guide for parents and carers

If your child tells you they are being bullied, there are a number of things you can do to help them feel in control again.


Dealing with bullying behaviour

Very often, children and young people are reluctant to tell adults that they are being bullied. They might be:

  • scared of an over-reaction.
  • worried about burdening their parents.
  • embarrassed.
  • worried that telling someone might make the situation worse.

With this in mind, there are a number of potential signs to look out for if you are concerned your child is being bullied. A child or young person may:

  • become withdrawn.
  • have unexplained scratches and bruises.
  • have trouble with school work or not want to go to school.
  • change their route to school.
  • not want to go out or play with their friends.
  • change their use of online and/or mobile technology.
  • complain of headaches, stomach aches and other pains.
  • become easily upset, tearful, ill-tempered or display other out-of-character behaviour.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, and the presence of the above symptoms does not necessarily indicate that your child is being bullied, however, as a parent or carer you may be in the best position to recognise an unexplained change in behaviour that needs to be explored.


What should you do?

Bullying takes away a person’s ability to feel in control and to take effective action: what we call our agency.

Responses to bullying must focus on helping a person to regain their feelings of being in control and to feel themselves again. Children and young people can feel powerless in bullying situations, so it is important that they are given the opportunity to inform the response. This allows us to find out what they want to happen, what they are worried about happening, and what pace they would like the response to go at.


Effective listening helps us understand how young people are being affected and what we can do to help. We must listen carefully to what children and young people are saying and how they are saying it. You can learn a lot by paying attention to body language and facial expressions.

Pay attention to changing behaviour

‘Active’ listening is also about responding appropriately to what your child is communicating. They may be reluctant to verbally tell you that they are being bullied but might display subtle cues, such as becoming withdrawn. Noticing this change and taking time to ask your child how they are can make it easier for them to tell you about the bullying.

Things to remember

Don’t panic
Remaining calm supports good listening and is reassuring for your child.

Give them your full attention
This shows a child or young person that you are taking them seriously.

Be clear in your response
Clearly explain the reasons for your concern and feed back sensitively what you have noticed. This will allow your child to see more clearly how the bullying is impacting on them.

Talk to them about online safety
Establish a clear understanding of the platforms they use, how they access them and the safety precautions they can put in place to control their own online environment.

Ask them what they want you to do
Exploring this will make your child feel valued and will help you to understand what support they need.

Keep listening
If they are reluctant to talk straight away, remind them that you are always available to listen and they can talk to you at any time.


How to explore options together

When a parent or carer hears that their child is being bullied, it can evoke an understandably emotional response and sometimes the advice we give at this time is not necessarily the best advice.

Children and young people tell us that being told to ‘hit them back’ is a common response. This is not necessarily the safest option and does not take into account those who are unable to do so.

There is not one uniform answer when it comes to bullying. You should ask your child what they want to happen, what, if anything, they have tried so far, and what the consequences of potential solutions might be. For example, ‘What would happen if I spoke to the school?’ or ‘What do you think would happen if I spoke to someone’s mum?’.

Exploring different options may tease out the best solution. If your discussions do not come up with a satisfactory solution, explain to your child why you are worried, why you are going to take a specific response, and how they can work with you during it.


How to help young people cope

Help your child to think about some realistic options to address the behaviour. Some may be able to react to bullying behaviour by using a clever comeback, some may prefer to write things down to process their feelings, others will feel better simply for having told someone.

Children and young people can be reluctant to worry a parent or carer, and may not want to risk an over-reaction. However, it is important they know they have someone to talk to. If you are concerned about bullying, remind your child of their network of support – brothers, cousins, aunties, teachers etc. They can also call Childline on 0800 1111 to speak to someone in confidence.

Things to remember

Consider your child's input.
It can be tempting to takeover the situation, but we should always pause to think ‘How do I give my child back a sense of being in control?’.

A child may feel bullied even if they haven’t been.
For example, they may not have been invited to a party because the numbers were limited. We should still respond to how they feel, even if the situation does not need ‘a solution’.

A child may experience bullying behaviour but not feel bullied themselves.
For example, someone shouts a homophobic slur but the recipient is not bothered. This behaviour is still unacceptable and needs to be addressed.

You might find it useful to direct children and young people to further information and advice.


Sharing your concerns around bullying

Approaching a school or other organisation about a bullying incident can be daunting, but remember it is in their best interests to help you resolve the situation.

Make an appointment to speak to the head teacher, senior youth worker or another adult your child feels comfortable with.

Calmly explain to them what has been happening - this will be made easier if you have details of when the incidents have taken place – then discuss what you would like to happen next and how you can proceed together.

A school or organisation should not suggest that the bullying is your child’s fault. They should not suggest changing classes or moving schools as a solution, nor should they claim that the bullying is not their responsibility because it happened online.

Children and young people open up to those they believe can or will help them. Adults in school or youth work settings must respond in a supportive way.

Don’t expect the situation to be fully resolved at the first meeting.

Schools and other organisations often employ a variety of methods to prevent and tackle bullying; some will have an immediate effect, others may take longer. They will also need time to investigate the incident(s).

Don’t expect the person(s) involved to be automatically excluded.

Exclusion alone will rarely change bullying behaviour and schools are likely to employ other options.

Agree a plan of action.

At the first meeting, agree a plan of action going forward and set a date to meet again to review the situation. It can be helpful to keep in touch with the school or organisation, but important to remember that keeping the relationship positive will be more beneficial to all parties in the long run.

Ask for a copy of their anti-bullying policy.

All schools and local authorities should have one, so you should ask to see both. Individual services and youth groups should also have one, as should the organisation they belong to.

Familiarise yourself with the national policy.

Scotland’s national anti-bullying policy, 'Respect for All' sets out the approach people across Scotland should be taking to anti-bullying work and how bullying behaviour will be dealt with if it occurs.

If you have time, it would be useful to get a copy of the policy before your initial meeting with a school or organisation so you can familiarise yourself with these practices.

Be tactful and careful when talking to others.

If the bullying is happening in the community, you may need to talk to a neighbour or parent. It is important to keep the channels of communication open and remember your child will probably want the situation to be resolved with minimum fuss.