Bullying is a serious and distressing experience. Many children and young people carry the effects of bullying into their adult lives.
Children and young people have a right to feel safe and secure. It’s important that as adults, we listen to children and young people and help them find the support they need. So it's important that you have good information to support you when dealing with anything to do with bullying.
What can I do if my child is being bullied?
Bullying is unacceptable in any form. It is not a normal part of growing up.
Schools must treat bullying seriously. Schools must provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students.
Talk to your school to agree on a plan to support your child and take appropriate action.
- What is bullying?
- What to do if you think your child is involved in bullying
- Signs of bullying behaviour
- What to do if you think your child is involved in bullying
- If your child is initiating the bullying
- Talking and working with your school or kura
- Can I lodge a complaint with the police?
Bullying behaviour is serious and complex. It is a form of aggressive behaviour.
Most widely accepted definitions of bullying behaviour are based around the following four things:
- Bullying is deliberate - harming another person intentionally.
- Bullying involves a misuse of power in a relationships – there is real or perceived imbalance that may be based on physical size, age, gender, social status, or digital capability and access.
- Bullying is usually not a one-off but is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated over time. It is when one student (or group of students) keep picking on another student again and again to make them feel bad.
- Bullying involves behaviour that can be harmful –it is not a normal part of growing up.
Bullying is a word sometimes used to describe a lot of things that are not actually bullying.
These other behaviours are just as serious and upsetting, but may need to be sorted out in a different way.
Sometimes there may be a fight or argument between students. If this happens once, or with a friend and they can sort it out, it is not bullying. Not liking someone, a one-off mean or spiteful act, or isolated incident of aggression are not bullying.
Bullying can happen to anyone, anywhere, and in lots of different ways. It could be in a physical place, such as a playground, classroom, bus, or park, or online, on social media, or by text messages.
Bullying behaviour is complex. It can be physical, verbal or social bullying. It can be obvious or hidden.
- Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions, such as hitting, kicking, tripping, shoving, taking or damaging belongings, rude hand gestures, or being made afraid of getting hurt.
- Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things, such as threats, discriminatory remarks, name calling, making fun of someone, hurtful comments, emails, texts, anonymous comments or postings online
- Social bulling involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships, such as spreading rumours or personal information, excluding from groups or activities, telling lies about someone, posting negative material online.
Bullying is when these things happen (or have the potential to happen) again and again. Verbal and social bullying can be as harmful as physical bullying.
Bullying can be easy to see, such as punching or name calling. Or it can be hidden and hard for others to see, such as threatening looks, whispering, excluding, or restricting where someone sits and who they can talk to. Most bullying is hidden from adults.
Bullying can happen in person or online. Children who are bullied online are often also bullied in person. This means that when dealing with online bullying it is important to look at other situations as well.
Most of the time other students are there when bullying happens at school. Usually there are three parties –initiators (those doing the bullying), targets (those being bullied), and bystanders (those who witness the bullying).
It’s common for children to have different roles at different times. Some children are both bullied and bully others, and at other times they may witness bullying (helping the initiator or defending the target). Every situation is different.
Bullying behaviour can impact initiators, targets and bystanders.
Most bullying behaviour is hidden from adults’ view. Talk to your child about school if you are concerned and ask general questions about how things are going. Take all allegations seriously.
If your child is involved in bullying they may:
- seem anxious or negative about school or kura
- be frightened of going to and from school, want to change their route, or ask to be driven to school
- be unwilling to go to school, feel ill in the mornings
- begin doing poorly in schoolwork
- be reluctant to join in certain activities
- regularly come home hungry (someone has taken their lunch or lunch money) or with belongings damaged or missing
- have bruises, cuts or scratches they can’t explain
- be submissive or withdrawn with other children, spend more time alone, or have a sudden loss of friends
- seem unhappy or insecure, with low self-esteem or self confidence
- say things like 'nobody likes me' or 'I haven’t got any friends'
- talk about wanting to hurt someone or get back at someone
- anxious about using their computer or mobile phone, visibly upset after using it, or suddenly avoiding it
- close the screen or hide their mobile when others enter the room
- seem nervous receiving a text message or email, or receive suspicious texts, emails or packages
- refuse to say what’s wrong (too frightened of the bully).
It’s important to try and act as early as you can. Children and young people don’t tell adults for many reasons, and not all children ask for help.
Supporting your child
It’s important to talk with your child – take whatever they say seriously and find out exactly what has been going on. Listen to your child and stay calm. Be clear of the facts and make notes about what happened and when it happened.
Children who are being bullied are often frightened to talk about what is happening – be prepared for our child to deny that there is anything worrying.
Encourage your child be saying you are concerned and you want to help and support them. Reassure your child that the bullying is not their fault and they have a right to be safe. Let them know that talking takes courage and that they have done the right thing by talking about it.
Ask your child what they want to do about it and how you can help – reassure them that you can work together to solve this problem.
An important part of your response is to avoid jumping in to solve the problem. While it is natural to want to protect your child, helping them to find their own solution is a better option. It helps them feel they have some power in the situation.
Agree on a plan with your child
Having a plan will help your child feel more comfortable, give them confidence and assure them you are taking the bullying seriously. Be mindful that they may not want you to make a fuss and put them in the spotlight.
Together, plan what your child will do if they get bullied again. The most important thing is to let your child know how to get help if bullying happens.
Encourage them to speak to an adult if it happens, and to keep on asking for help if the bullying doesn’t stop. Regularly check in with your child to see how they are doing.
Here are some ideas:
- List some immediate things your child can do when the bullying happens. For example: first, ignore the bullying behaviour. If that doesn’t work, tell the person to stop. If the bullying continues, walk away. Tell someone.
- Decide and name who they will tell when they have been involved in a bullying situation so they can get help.
- Encourage your child to tell friends about the bullying – a united peer group can help avoid bullying behaviour.
- If bullying happens in certain places, discuss how these areas can be avoided.
- Encourage them to stick with their friends, in and out of school or kura. Often bullying happens when there is no one else around.Support your child’s activities and friendships. Let your child spend more time doing things they enjoy in a safe environment, try new activities, and encourage them to bring friends home.
Books for younger children
For younger children, there are a number of books on bullying you can get from your local library that you can read together.
- Te Taniwha i te Kura by Tim Tipene
- Taming the Taniwha by Tim Tipene
- Back Off Bully by Mark Dobson
- Marvin and the Mean Words by Suzy Kline
- Words are Not for Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick
- Oat the Goat(external link) — online story that helps children learn the power of kindness
WHAT'S UP counselling support for older children
Older children can get support from WHAT'S UP, a free counselling service just for kids. Phone 0800 942 8787 between 1 pm and 11 pm any day, or go to the WHAT'S UP website.
If your child has been cyberbullied, you should keep all evidence by saving bullying messages and images. These are useful if you report the bullying to the school or the police. If the cyberbullying involves physical threats, and you’re worried about your child’s safety, contact the police immediately.
You can lodge a complaint with the initiator's social networking site or mobile phone provider. The initiator may get a warning from the provider or be excluded from the site, or mobile access taken away.
Netsafe’s website helps young people, parents and/or carers and teachers to take steps to prevent cyberbullying.
Netsafe can also help with reporting abuse on websites including Facebook and bullying on mobile phones.
All children are capable of bullying at some time and it’s important to respond in a calm and helpful manner.
Many students engage in bullying for a short time only and then stop either because they realise it’s wrong or they are supported to learn more appropriate behaviour. A small group of students continue to bully others over many years.
Children who bully others need help and support to learn better ways of relating to others. If you think your child might be bullying others, here's what you can do.
Find out what’s going on for them
Try to understand why your child may be behaving in this way. Ask them about what they think is going on and why they are bullying someone else – remember not to criticise, blame or judge.
Think about any issues or problems you child might be experiencing that may be impacting on their behaviour. Your child may be having social or emotional problems they find hard to handle. They might feel pressured to take part in bullying to be accepted or so they don’t get bullied themselves.
Ask them what they think might help them to stop bullying. Sometimes a student who bullies others children in one situation may be bullied themselves in another.
Be clear about what you expect
Calmly explain what bullying is and why it’s not acceptable. Talk about the other person’s feelings and help your child to understand what it is like for the person being bullied.
Talk to them about what is acceptable behaviour. Discuss school rules and how you expect your child to behave at school and home.
Tell your child that you do not support bullying, but that you do support them. Reassure them that you are ready to help and support them in putting a stop to bullying behaviour.
Talk to your child about better ways to handle situations where they may act aggressively. For example, asking for help if they get frustrated, walking away to cool down, respecting others and being tolerant of people who are different from them.
Regularly check in with your child to see how they are doing.
Praise appropriate behaviour
When you see your child getting on well with others, or keeping calm when they don't like something, let them know how well they are doing. You might have to look really closely at first, but recognising and praising good behaviour is important.
Talk to the school or kura
Talk to your child’s teacher about the problem and ask them how they can help. When you and the school work together, you are much more likely to be able to resolve the problem.
Contact your school or kura and meet or speak to your child’s class teacher or the principal. The school must provide a safe, positive physical and emotional bullying-free learning environment.
When talking to schools staff about bullying be calm and constructive. Be as clear as possible about what happened and refer to any notes you have made.
Ask what steps will be taken and if a plan is to be developed with strategies for school and home. Write notes of the discussions with your child’s teacher or other staff. Stay in touch with the teacher and let them know if problems continue or something new happens.
Recognise that investigating the situation at school will take time. Write down when you contacted the school, who you spoke with, and anything that was agreed.
Questions to ask your school or kura
- Do they have a bullying prevention policy?
- What procedures are there for dealing with bullying behaviour?
- What support is available for students who are involved in bullying?
- Who should my child report bullying to?
What you can expect from the school or kura
Schools and kura must provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students. They should also have a self-review process to identify and address risks.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has made recommendations about how schools and kura should respond to reports of bullying. Parents and/or carers and students should expect:
- to be heard and responded to sensitively and not to be dismissed
- to be told that the report will be investigated and that there will be a response
- to receive feedback on the situation and to have the incident responded to in an appropriate way
- to be protected from negative consequences of their reporting
- that the school or kura will intervene and support initiators, targets and bystanders that are involved in bullying behaviour.
After your meeting with the school or kura, keep them informed of changes and developments.
What if I'm not happy with the school’s response?
If you’re not happy about the way the school or kura has responded to a bullying complaint, you can make a written complaint to the board of trustees. You can ask to attend the meeting at which the complaint will be addressed, and you can speak at that meeting if you get permission from the chairperson. It may help to take along a support person who is used to dealing with these sorts of complaints.
If you’re unhappy with the way the board of trustees dealt with you or the situation, there are several bodies you can take your complaint to:
- Your local Ministry of Education office(external link)
- The Office of the Children’s Commissioner(external link)
As well as alerting the school or kura, in some circumstances you can take complaints to the police.
Whether they prosecute will depend on a number of things such as evidence, the age of the initiator of the bullying behaviour and how severe the actions are.
Be aware that if a complaint is lodged with the police and they decide to press charges, you won’t be able to retract your statement.
If you want to find out if the bullying behaviour is a criminal offence, call the Parents Legal Information Line toll free on 0800 499 488 or go to the community law website.
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