Ways to respond

A child’s experience will be directly affected by the response they get from the adult. We need to listen and get it right. It’s about the personal touch, and we should always be mindful of this.


When a child or young person tells you they are being bullied, whether it’s happening face to face or online, your reaction is vitally important. Children and young people will have often been through a lot of upset before they actually tell someone, and their experience will be directly affected by the response they get. It’s not just about the environment, the anti-bullying policy, or the measures that are in place to deal with bullying, we need to listen and get our responses right. It’s about the personal touch, and we should always be mindful of this.

Our responses must be child-centred and underpinned by the values of fairness, equality and inclusion. We should ask ourselves; Is this fair and equal? Is what I am doing ensuring marginalised children are represented, included and not ignored? Am I meeting my needs as an adult or responding to what this child needs now? These are all questions that will help us frame an effective response. Every situation is unique so we need to have a way of thinking about bullying that let’s us consider different responses, rather than one fixed way of doing things.

Listen – give the child your full attention

They may have chosen to tell you at a less than convenient moment. If you cannot speak to them there and then, it is important to still acknowledge how they are feeling. Reassure them that they have done the right thing by coming to you and arrange a time when you will speak to them about it further. Find a safe and comfortable place where there will be no interruptions. Let the child know that they have done the best thing by coming to speak to you, that bullying is never acceptable and that they deserve to feel safe in their environment.

Active listening skills are key; be reflective and communicate that you are listening effectively – this can be a challenge. Children and young people are often concerned that no one will take them seriously if they tell that they are being bullied. You have to show them that you believe them and that you are taking them seriously. Gently encourage them to talk, find out what happened, who was involved, where and when. You may have to do some probing, but find out as much as you can.

Let them speak, without interruption as far as possible, but don’t be afraid to ask questions when they have finished. If you feel you need to take notes then explain to them why you are doing that and what will happen with the notes. Be mindful that some children may not be open straight away and may test you to see if you are listening or paying attention before sharing their concerns.

Listen - what do they want you to do?

Children and young people often feel that bullying has ‘taken something away from them’, what we define as their ‘agency’. The role of the adult helping is to work with them to help restore their feeling of being in control of themselves and their ability to affect what happens. Your challenge lies in how you work with them to acknowledge what has been happening and to help them regain their sense of self, balance and control.

Once they have told you their story you need to find out what they need you to do. Many young people will tell you that they don’t want you to do anything, but if they feel they have some sort of control over the situation then they are more likely to admit that they want the bullying to stop. To help make this happen, it is vital that their views are taken into account when planning how to deal with the allegations. Keep them involved at all times and update them on progress.

Tell them that you are really glad they came to you to talk about the bullying and that you are always there to listen. Promise to check back to make sure that whatever agreements you have made are happening - and make sure you do it!

Bullying can have long-term impacts on children and young people. You need to be aware that even if the behaviour stops, the impact can still be felt and the process of moving on from what may have been a traumatic event will need ongoing monitoring and support.

There isn’t any single approach when responding to bullying, and what works for one child or situation, may not work for another. Children and young people value choices. If you are unsure of how to respond or are not sure what will work, explore options, ask what they think would happen if you follow a certain course of action, explore alternatives. The more they talk to you, the more their stress levels should reduce and they will feel listened to and included. These are necessary steps to help someone deal with what has happened to them.

Don’t get too hung up on whether an incident is bullying or not. The most effective way to structure your response to bullying to is to ask yourself these questions:

  • What was the behaviour?
  • What Impact did it have?
  • What does the child or young person want to happen?
  • What do I need to do about it?

    Children who bully others

    Children and young people who are bullying will need help and support to:

  • Identify the feelings that cause them to act this way
  • Develop alternative ways of responding to these feelings
  • Repair relationships

  • Again, listen to what they have to say. Use your active listening skills and take time to uncover the bigger picture for this person and what shapes them. Do not label them a ‘bully’. We can help children and young people to change by telling them that their behaviour is bullying, rather than labelling them. Clearly outline what their behaviour was, why it was wrong and the natural consequences they face if it continues. This allows you to be clear about the behaviour that needs to change and to state the behaviour that you would like to see instead. It provides clarity, makes it easier to address negative behaviour and, importantly, rewards positive behaviour.

    Be prepared to address prejudiced attitudes that may be behind the behaviour. Bullying behaviour can often be rooted in prejudice due to difference or perceived difference. It’s important to address what’s happening behind the behaviour, even when they bullying has stopped.

    Help and further guidance can be sought form a range of partners who can provide information and support around prejudice and protected characteristics. You may deal with the name calling or threats and have strategies in place to respond but we must also respond to the prejudice. Threatening or prejudice -based language or behaviour must always be challenged even if there is no impact on the person or group it is aimed at.

    You might also find these videos useful.


    Resilience can be described as: ‘The process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances.’

    Children and young people will react to bullying in different ways. For some, bullying behaviour won’t have any impact, but for others the impact might be quite severe. Children and young people can be more resilient than we give them credit for. But bullying and trauma can strip away at resilience, making it hard for them to talk about it, look for help and cope with the impacts.

    Children and young people need secure relationships around them, as well as adults who set boundaries, provide guidance and role model positive behaviour. They need love, praise and recognition to build their self-belief, optimism, active engagement and sense of purpose. Through this they will learn how to socialise, be emotionally aware and develop friendships in and out of school. These qualities give them the ability and support they need to cope with difficulties and make decisions – things that promote mental wellbeing and provide them with skills they will use and value all of their lives. Traumatic events undermine resilience, secure attachments facilitate resilience.

    We can help children and young people find sources of resilience by promoting:

  • A positive and safe climate within the setting
  • A sense of belonging and connectedness
  • Involvement in decision making generally, including anti-bullying policy and practice
  • Opportunities for challenge and success
  • Recognition of achievement