You may find that at some time during your child's school life the subject of bullying comes up. It is a serious and distressing topic so it's important that you have good information to support you when dealing with anything to do with bullying.

What is bullying?

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 characteristics:

  1. Bullying is deliberate - there is an intention to cause physical and/or psychological pain or discomfort to another person
  2. Bullying involves a power imbalance – there is an actual or perceived unequal relationship between the person doing the bullying and the person being bullied that may be based on physical size, age, gender, social status or digital capability and access
  3. Bullying has an element of repetition – bullying behaviour is not usually one off. It is repeated over time, with the threat of further incidents leading to fear and anxiety. Repeated acts of bullying may involve single acts on a person, as well as multiple acts on the same person
  4. Bullying is harmful – there is short or long-term physical or psychological harm to the person being bullied.

What might bullying behaviour look like?

Bullying behaviour is complex. It can take many forms, including physical, verbal or social bullying. It can take place in the physical or online world, and causes damage and harm. Verbal and social bullying can be as harmful as physical bullying.

  • physical, such as stand over behaviour, holding or hitting a person, defacing a webpage or profile page
  • verbal, such as threats, discriminatory remarks, name calling, emails, texts, anonymous comments or postings online
  • social, such as spreading rumours or personal information, excluding from groups or activities, posting negative material online.

What are the signs?

Bullying behaviour can impact initiators (those who are doing the bullying), targets (those being bullied) and bystanders (those who witness the bullying).

Most bullying behaviour is hidden from adults’ view so all allegations need to be taken seriously.

If your child is involved in bullying they may:

  • seem anxious or negative about school or kura
  • be reluctant to join in certain activities
  • have bruises they don’t explain
  • be submissive or withdrawn with other children
  • 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
  • find it hard to be assertive or stand up for themselves.

What should I do if I think my child is involved in bullying?

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. 

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 can I expect from the school or kura?

Under the National Administration Guidelines 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.

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How can I support my child?

It’s important to try and stay calm and work out how you will deal with the situation together. The Ministry recommends you take these steps:

  • talk with your child, reassure them that they have done the right thing in talking to you
  • agree on a plan of behaviour for your child
  • support your child’s activities and friendships
  • regularly check in with your child to see how they are doing

Talk with your child

It's really important to talk with your child and reassure them that they have done the right thing talking to you. Find out the facts such as, what bullying behaviour they have been in, when and how? Ask them how they are feeling at break and lunch times. Use relevant points from these conversations to form your child’s support plan. Your child may not want to talk, which maybe a sign they are being bullied. Help them understand why it happens and what to do by telling them:

  • most people are a target, initiator or bystander to bullying at some time during their school life
  • people may initiate bullying behaviour for all kinds of reasons
  • some children who bully feel pressure to take part in bullying behaviour to fit in with their friends or to avoid being bullied themselves
  • telling a parent or school or kura staff member about bullying means they can help to stop it.

Agree on a plan of support for 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. 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 on else around.

Support your child’s activities and friendships

Let your child spend more time doing things they enjoy in a safe environment. Encourage them to spend time with friends or if they don’t have friends support them to try new activities where they might make new friends, and encourage them to bring friends home.

For younger children, there are a number of books on bullying you can get from your local library that you can read together. Check out:

  • 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, and
  • Words are Not for Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick.

Older children can get support from WHATSUP, a free counselling service just for kids. Phone 0800 942 8787 between 1pm and 11pm any day, or go to the WHATSUP website.

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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:

How do I deal with cyberbullying?

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.

For most social networking websites and all New Zealand mobile phone providers, bullying is a breach of their terms of use. 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 cyberbullying 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.

Can I lodge a complaint with the police?

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. Police may ask children aged 10 to 14 to attend a Family Group Conference with their families. Young people over 14 years of age may be brought before the Youth Court, while those who have turned 17 may face a criminal charge in the District Court.

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.

What if my child is initiating the bullying behaviour?

If you think your child might be bullying others, here's what you can do.

Know the signs

Here are some of the signs that your child might be involved in bullying others.

  • Are they in trouble for fighting (verbally or physically) with others at school?
  • Are they defiant or confrontational?
  • Do they use negative terms such as “stupid” to describe others, or say others “deserve” bad things to happen to them.
  • Are they dominant and aggressive and become easily frustrated when they don’t get their way?
  • Do they show little concern for others who are in bad situations?
  • Are they accused of being a bully at school or kura or other places?

If you suspect your child is bullying others, you can take these steps to help stop them.

Find out what’s going on for them

If your child has been accused of bullying, talk to them and get their point of view. Ask questions. What have they been accused of doing? What do they admit to doing? Find out what's been going on and their reasons.

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.

Be clear about what you expect

Avoid approaching your child in an accusatory or confrontational way. Calmly explain that bullying behaviour is not acceptable. Explain how bullying affects others such as victims, bystanders and the school environment.

Talk to them about what is acceptable behaviour. Discuss school rules and how you expect your child to behave at school and home.

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.

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