What To Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

What parents can do to support their child when faced with a bully who is supposedly a “friend"?

Many parents live in fear of their child being targeted by the playground bully; stealing their lunch money, calling them names and generally making life at school difficult.

But what if the person bullying your child isn’t an enemy, but someone they consider a friend? Someone they confide in, and come face-to-face with every day out of choice.

Siobhan Freegard, founder of ChannelMum, said: “A recent study [by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction centre] found 30% of youngsters have been bullied by friends. But many of the usual tactics to end bullying aren’t effective when it is happening between friends.”

So for Anti-Bullying Week, HuffPost UK has spoken to four experts about what parents can do to support their child when faced with a bully who is supposedly a “friend” rather than a stranger.

1. Keep Your Cool

Finding out that the very people you thought were closest to your child, are actually the ones upsetting them, can be distressing. But Chris Cloke, head of safeguarding in communities at NSPCC, says it is important not to let this cloud your judgement.

“However hard it is, try to stay calm and don’t jump to conclusions,” he advises. “If you react strongly you could worry your child further.”

2. Talk To Your Child About Being A Good Friend

Martha Evans, national coordinator at the Anti-Bullying Alliance, explains that a lot of bullying between friends is based on ‘false friendships’ where children manipulate the power the relationship gives them. And this can be hard for adults on the outside to identify.

“Talk to your child about what it is to be a good friend,” she advises.

“For example, a good friend is kind and makes you feel good about yourself. This will help to highlight where there may be false friendships,

“Some children are more likely to have false friendships, for example disabled children, it is especially important that disabled children understand what makes a good friend.”

3. Establish The Difference Between Banter And Bullying

Part of your child understanding the role of a good friend, is knowing when the jokes in a group cross the line and become hurtful and manipulative.

“Banter is playful where both parties find it funny. Bullying is repetitive and hurtful,” Evans explains.

“It also involves a power imbalance. Tell your child that if someone constantly puts them down they are not a real friend.”

4. Do Not Ignore It

Freegard said: “Lots of conventional anti-bullying advice tells you to simply ignore the bully, but you can’t - and shouldn’t - do this between friends.

“Don’t laugh it off either. Bullying is nasty and destructive.”

Advise your child to call them out by asking if they are their friend (to which they will presumably say yes), and then explain that the way they are making them feel isn’t what friends should do.

“It will normally stop a bully in their tracks and make them consider their own actions,” says Freegard.

“If the bullying starts up again, remind them of the conversation.”

5. Encourage Them To Move Into New Circles

One of the hardest parts about being bullied by people who are supposed to be your friends is that you don’t have people at school to support you when you’re trying to avoid the perpetrator.

Lauren Seager-Smith, CEO at anti-bullying charity, Kidscape, explains: “BFFs (best friends forever) don’t always last and it can really hurt when friendships fail.

“It is important to encourage your child to have a wide circle of friends - both inside and outside of school so if things go wrong they have a safety net.”

Encourage your child to broaden their horizons, take extra curricular activities, or move offline if that is where their friends are targeting them.

Freegard adds: “Encourage your child to develop their healthy friendships and move offline and into the real world.

“It’s harder to be negative face-to-face than online, as online you cannot always connect the consequences to your actions.”

6. Encourage Them To Speak To Parents

Of course, if the bullying is happening at school bring it to the attention of your child’s teacher and see what support systems they have in place. Most schools have mediation and robust anti-bullying policies.

Cloke added: “Your child may be afraid to ask for help if they are being bullied so make sure they know they can always talk to you or another trusted adult such as a teacher if they are worried or upset.”

Bullying UK - For advice on bullying at work, school and cyberbullying call 0808 800 2222.
Visit the Anti-Bullying Alliance’s interactive anti-bullying tool for parents.