Bullying at school: what to do if your child is struggling

Bullying at school can make some teenagers feel like they have no one to turn to. It can be especially difficult for teens to open up to their teachers about what is going on, as they may feel like they are dobbing. The good news is that parents are in a prime position to work with their child to get the issue resolved.

If you’re concerned that your child is being hassled and affected by someone else’s behaviour, it can be very upsetting. The parents of the other child involved in the conflict can also have some complicated feelings about what has happened as well. Bullying at school is a very sensitive issue for everyone, including the school. However, if you’re able to work together with your child to track everything that has happened in as much detail as you can, you’re providing a really strong case for the school to make sure the behaviour does not continue.

To help your teenager deal with bullying, it is really important to help them gather as much information as possible. Teachers want to help, but to mediate something like this they need to know exactly when, where and how things happened between your teenager and the other student.

Here are some practical ways that you can help your teen get the conversation started about bullying at school with their teachers so they can be supported and sort out the problem.

teacher talking to student in an office

What are some signs that my teenager is being bullied?

The stress of being bullied this can take a real toll on your child’s wellbeing. Everyone will deal with their situation differently, but here are a few things to look out for that may be a sign your child is being bullied:

  • Becoming more withdrawn; opting out of seeing friends and family

  • Difficulty sleeping, headaches or stomach aches

  • Wanting to avoid school or other activities they used to enjoy.

What can make handling bullying incidents difficult

Bullying is a major issue for teachers, parents and schools. Most schools put plenty of things in place to make it easier for teens to discuss their bullying experiences and for teachers to handle these situations. There are still some stumbling blocks to dealing with bullying, which include:

Personality: Not everybody hits it off, and that’s no different for students and teachers. If a student doesn’t click with a particular teacher, it can make it really hard to open up, and they might worry that their teacher won’t understand how they feel.

Peers: For most young people, there’s nothing worse than ‘dobbing’ on other students. Students might worry that their friends will find out they’ve talked a teacher about bullying at school, and things will just keep getting worse. Schools are small, close-knit communities, and news travels fast.

Access to information: Teachers need as much detail as possible about the bullying at school incident to discipline the student responsible for the problematic behaviour. Without this, it becomes far more difficult for the school to intervene. Working with your teen to capture this can clear a huge hurdle in getting this all sorted out.

Who can your teen talk to about bullying at school?

It’s important that someone at the school knows what’s going on—it will help your teen to trust the school and come up with a solution that will work better in the long run. Talking to a teacher about a school bullying incident might seem like a teen’s worst nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be.

Encourage your teen to choose a teacher or staff member that they can trust. School counsellors, year advisors or senior staff are probably the most obvious choices to talk to about bullying at school. But if your young person feels most comfortable with their woodwork teacher, then go with them first. The most important thing is that a young person feels like they can trust this teacher to help steer them in the right direction.

How can you support your young person?

Young people only need one bad experience, and it can make them afraid to ask for help again. With your support, they can work through any issues:

  • Writing up all the times that your teenager felt bullied is the critical first step in handling the issue. It can be an awkward thing to deal with and discuss, but if this is happening at school, it needs to be noted. Your teenager’s personality will affect how you do this, and it may take time for them to want to share everything. Go as slow as you need to. Gently remind them this is the best way to get it over and done with.

  • Research anti-bullying strategies together and use it as an opportunity to plan. Our bullying resources are a great place to start. Bullying at school can upset you and your child. But getting some ideas about really practical ways you can tackle the situation together can bring you closer.

  • Limiting eye contact can actually make those awkward moments between you a bit easier. Driving in the car or washing the dishes can be great opportunities for a more serious chat about what they’re going through at school.

  • Make a solid plan with your teen for when they will approach a teacher – after class, book a time during lunch? Discuss whether they want you to be there the first time they talk to the teacher, or would they prefer to do it alone?

  • Ask them to think about a time when a teacher was really helpful at school. What worked well? What did they find useful, or not?

  • If they’re worried about people at school finding out, suggest your teen talk to their teacher at a time they know is private, like after class. They should also let the teacher know that they’re worried and ask the teacher to keep things private.

  • Chat to your teenager about other adults in their life that they trust. Maybe they would prefer to talk to them about their bullying experience before approaching the school.

It can be confusing for parents and young people to know how to approach their school about a bullying issue. There are lots of different things to try, but the most important thing is that your teens know that they can trust you, and that you’ll be there to support them, no matter what’s going on at school.

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