Three things you can do right now to help your kids in the fight against bullying

Categories: Social Wellbeing / Friendship

Has your kid been coming home from school full of tales about bullies and how they should be dealt with? Do their plans involve epic playground battles and themselves as superhero vigilantes? 

Around this time of year, a lot of schools up the ante when it comes to discussions about bullying. It’s great for kids to learn what bullying behaviours are, and a collective agreement to oppose these behaviours as a community can be empowering for everyone. But, even though your child might have the anti-bullying rhetoric down, until they’ve actually experienced genuine bullying, they could be a bit gung-ho about how they’d handle it…

Now, don’t get us wrong – we hope your child never experiences bullying, in any way. And, if they do, we hope they tell someone about it early on and receive the help they need. But, in reality, kids might not tell an adult about bullying for a long time, and the feelings they experience in the meantime could be devastating. ‘One of the biggest reasons children don’t tell anyone they’re being bullied is because they feel ashamed. They feel like the reason they’re being targeted is something that they own,’ says Rachel Downie, ParentTV expert. And, even if they’re not directly involved, they may still suffer vicarious stress and anxiety as a bystander. 

Here are some facts about bullying in Australian schools:

  • Approximately one in four Year 4 to Year 9 Australian students (27%) reported being bullied every few weeks or more often
  • In 87% of bullying interactions, peers are present as onlookers, and play a central role in the bullying process
  • Hurtful teasing was the most common bullying behaviour reported, followed by having hurtful lies told about them
  • 72% of schools reported managing at least one incident of online bullying in the previous year
  • 84% of students who were bullied online were also bullied in person
  • Approximately one in five young school students reported experiencing online bullying in any one year. (Source)

So, with the help of some fantastic insights from Rachel Downie, ParentTV expert, eSafety and Anti-Bullying Educator (and 2020 Queensland Australian of the Year!), we’ve compiled this list of three things you can do right now to help your kids in the fight against bullying. This way, if they do encounter bullying behaviours, they’ll be prepared to respond in a way that minimises the harm those behaviours cause, both to them and others.

Teach them it’s okay to dob

‘Dibber-dobbers wear nappies.’

Do you remember saying this to someone when you were a kid, or someone saying this to you? It’s actually a pretty confusing statement for kids to get their head around, when you think about it. When we’re teaching children to be responsible members of a community (especially their school community), they’re asked to abide by the rules for the good of the group. They’re often encouraged to report other kids who aren’t complying with the rules, in the interests of the group. But then, there’s conflicting statements in our media and social commentary about not tattling, not being a ‘snitch’ or betraying a confidence from a friend. ‘In Australia, we have a culture of not ‘dobbing,’ and this actually means that kids can end up enabling really bad behaviour in their friends,’ says Rachel. Talk to your kids about why it’s important to seek help from an adult, even if it feels like dobbing. Rachel has also created a website called Stymie, where kids can anonymously submit notifications about other students who have experienced a harmful incident. This empowers them to speak up for their peers without fearing the repercussions. Make sure your kids have heard about it, and know how easy it is to use.

WATCH: Why children don’t tell anyone they’re being bullied

Respond appropriately when they tell you about bullying

‘The first thing we teach children to do when they’re being bullied is to be calm, and we need parents to be calm too,’ says Rachel. It’s a great thing if they’ve felt able to come to you, whether they’re disclosing about themselves or someone else being bullied, and you don’t want to compromise that. ‘If you explode when you find out what’s happening, they’ll be less likely to come and tell you in the future,’ Rachel points out. If it’s them that’s being bullied, your parental protective instincts will probably make you want to kick and scream yourself, but it’s vital that you role-model a measured and thoughtful response, no matter how hard it is. Then, when you’ve got yourself in check, you may want to protect them from any further harm by handling the response to the situation yourself, but this could be a missed opportunity, says Rachel. ‘When your child has been bullied, it’s really important that you don’t exclude them from the solution. Involving them will empower them to get back their own sense of worth.’

WATCH: How do I know if my child is being cyberbullied and what should I do if they are?

Teach them to use comebacks rather than insults if they’re being bullied

‘One of the reasons that bullies keep bullying behaviours going is that they get a reaction,’ says Rachel. ‘As parents, one of the things you can do to help your kids is teach them how to respond in a disarming way.’ This is one of those things that we’ve probably all heard, but it can be hard to understand how it works in practice. Essentially, it’s about surprising the person who’s bullying, and throwing them off balance, says Rachel. ‘When someone goes to bully another person, they’ve actually uploaded a whole vocabulary in their head that they want to use and it can be quite automatic. If you can interrupt that flow with some kind words, it can really disarm them.’ To see how this plays out, watch Rachel and ParentTV founder, Sam Jockel, having a verbal stoush in the video below.

WATCH: How to teach your child to deal with bullying using comebacks, not insults

Bullying is complex and so are the impacts. But, if kids are empowered to respond effectively to bullying when they see it, this will help make school communities a safer place for everyone.

If you’d like to learn more about bullying, how it happens and how to address it, you can see more videos on the ParentTV site here.

If your child is experiencing bullying and you want to seek help for them, check out the Australian Government website, Bullying. No Way! The section for parents and carers about responding to bullying can be found here.

Kids Helpline is also an excellent resource for kids. Ph: 1800 55 1800.

Bullying Education videos on ParentTV