Whether your child is the victim or the aggressor, our expert coach Lena Engel lays out strategies for parents to help.
Supporting your Children at Home
It is obviously upsetting for parents to see their children scared or unhappy, and to feel as if they are unable to help them. Similarly parents may feel shame and an element of guilt if they are told that their children have been bullying others.
When children are upset or behaving negatively parents may feel powerless to influence their children's behaviour. In these matters, remember you cannot change your children's behaviour directly, but you can change your response to them so that their behaviour changes in reaction to you, and you can also work closely with their school.
What can Bullying Feel Like for Children
- Children may feel insecure in places where they should expect to feel secure and frightened of going to school and staying away from home.
- They may feel weak in the face of aggression and angry with those they believe should protect them.
- They may feel lonely from feeling excluded from groups they want to belong to, and stupid because they are allowing it to happen.
- In some circumstances children who are blamed for bullying others may become aggressive and difficult to manage.
How Children May be Behaving at Home
Their fear may make them unable to explain themselves and verbalise their experience. They may therefore turn in on themselves and stay in their room or away from their usual friends. Physical outcomes may also include a lack of attention to homework and school, lack of sleep, appetite and an inability to exercise, together with anover-indulgence in food. High levels of anxiety may be driving them to lose control, shout, scream and abuse those closest to them.
Working with Schools
It is hard for parents to know what is going on at school unless you speak to the adults who work directly with your children.
- The first point of call is to talk with your child's teacher in a primary school (or the form tutor in a secondary school). They are the people who will know your child most and should be able to tell you what has been going on.
- Bringing the issue to their attention may help solve matters, especially as you can share with them your methods for increasing the child's resilience and self-confidence at home.
- Working proactively with schools to address bullying, is more likely to encourage children to resolve their difficulties.
- If issues cannot be resolved, engage the attention of the headteacher. If this is required, parents should first check the school's website to download the published policies for supporting children's health and well-being, and for addressing instances of bullying. These documents are scrutinised by school governors and assessed for their efficacy in Ofsted inspections to ensure that children attending the school have the best support from staff to feel secure and happy within school.
- Engage with the headteacher at a planned meeting, armed with these documents as well as information about what you believe has been going on for your child, and a list of questions and suggestions about what you would like to achieve. Be confident in the defence of your child, but listen and respond to what the headteacher has to say.
- The meeting should agree a list of objectives for the school to help improve the child's experience and emotional well-being. Agree a plan to monitor progress.
- In a very few cases, parents may have to approach school governors to seek suitable redress. It is really important for parents not to lose their focus or resolve.
Strategies for Empowering Children at Home
- Believe in yourselves as parents that you can make a difference to help your children, and be the best role models for behaving calmly, positively, and consistently - acting as an adult and not a child.
- Ensure that children feel they will be believed by you and create many opportunities for spending one to one time, walking and talking together, particularly on walks side by side. Also support social opportunities through meal times to talk and share ideas and views.
- Create family expectations for behaviour together and delegate authority to enable children to take responsibility for as many small decisions in their daily lives as possible. Emphasize an environment which is well-ordered and predictable, so children learn to value and respect each other's things and spaces.
- Help your children learn problem solving by teaching life-skills, enabling them to learn through doing and practicing, not being told. Always give them positive and constructive feedback. Support your children's ability to develop a positive self-image and pride in what they achieve by teaching them life skills and a love for learning new knowledge and skills.
Strategies for Supporting Children Accused of Bullying
- Try not to feel too angry or upset as your children are still learning how to behave.
- Encourage your child to put him/herself in the shoes of the other person and think about how he/she might feel.
- Make a plan together about how to put things right, such as a face to face apology or writing a letter.
- Consider consequences that will limit (if required) the use of and access to technology.
- Support the school if the staff are handling the situation with any aggrieved parents and explain what you will be doing at home to improve your child's behaviour.
- Consider how and why your child may be struggling with his/her self-worth, and then take action to review your responses to help the child behave sensibly in the future.
Children who are vulnerable to bullying usually have low self-esteem and cannot brush off the insults or aggressive behaviour of their peers. Unfortunately some of these children are more liable to copy this negative behaviour and become bullies themselves. Indeed parents need to be prepared for their children to be the victims of bullying or the perpetrators of such behaviour. For this reason it is crucial that to support the health and well-being of all our children, working proactively with the school and at home to stop it.