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Settlement Guide: What can parents do to address bullying?

A sad and left-out ethnic high school student leans against a panel of lockers with her eyes closed, head down, and hands clasped to her knees.

Around one in four Australian children are affected by bullying at school. As a parent, it can be hard to know what to do if your child is a victim of bullying or if they're the bully themselves. SBS has contacted some experts about what parents can do to support their children and end bullying.

Bullying is when somebody causes harm intentionally and repeatedly to a person who has less power than them.

“Bullying can take forms that are physical like pushing or kicking. Bullying can be verbal such as threatening someone or teasing them in a nasty way. And bullying can be covert or social, so that includes spreading nasty rumours about someone or humiliating someone in a social situation. And of course, we know that bullying can be a problem online,” says Jessie Mitchell, Senior Advisor on bullying at the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

School bullying
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What to do if your child is a victim of bullying

“One of the challenges is that children sometimes don't want to tell parents that they're being bullied because the parent might take their device away if it's cyberbullying or the parent might go down to the school. So the really key thing, first of all, is to really listen to what's going on,” says Bully Zero CEO Andre Carvalho.

He recommends looking out for signs in your child's behaviour like changes in eating and sleeping patterns, frequent tears or anger, unexplained bruises and scratches and not wanting to go to school in the morning.

If your child says they're being bullied, it's important to stay calm and let them know they've done the right thing by telling you.

Ask them for the full story and explain that bullying is never ok and that's it's normal to feel upset.

Father sitting with serious teenage boy
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Jessie Mitchell recommends encouraging them to not get aggressive in response to bullying because it often makes things worse: “There's no magic way to stop bullying, but some children find it helpful to use avoidance or humour or to act bored or unimpressed or just let the person who's bullying them know in a clear way that their behaviour is stupid. And having friends who support you is also very helpful.”

She says that you should connect with your child's school to discuss the situation. Make an appointment and bring a list of the incidents mentioned by your child.

Every school in Australia has an anti-bullying policy (which you can often find on the school’s website) so prepare yourself by reading the document before your meeting.

The school and teachers will also want the bullying to stop so remember that you're on the same team.

What to do about cyberbullying

Bullying often takes place at and around schools. But more and more, it also happens online.

“For a lot of parents, when they were growing up, they might have experienced bullying at school, at social functions, that sort of thing. But when they got home, home would be their safe place where they wouldn't have to deal with that anymore. Yet, for young people, because they're always connected, the bullying, it can feel like it never stops. When they're at home, they might be receiving messages and seeing things online,” explains Kids Helpline Counsellor Belinda Beaumont.

girl in bed texting on smartphone
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If the bullying happens online, you can also report it to the website where it happens, like Instagram or Facebook.

If the content is not taken down, the eSafety commissioner has an online reporting tool where they have a 100% compliance rate.

What to do if your child is the bully

Your child could also be on the other side of this and be the bully. Once again, it's important to stay calm and take the situation seriously.

“You need to let your child know that this is serious and that you'll help make sure by providing help to your child that it will not continue. However, it's important that you don't lecture; a simple statement will really help you to get your point across better. 'I need you to know that bullying is unacceptable and that it must stop',” says Carvalho.

Two school girls (11-12) whispering and laughing at another girl (12-13), focus on front girl
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Try to understand the reason your child is behaving this way so you can get to the root of the problem. “Talking it over can be really helpful to find out if the child is upset, jealous, unhappy or perhaps is being bullied themselves,” adds Carvalho.

Make sure that the school is aware of what's going on, and work alongside them to fix the situation.

Helpful resources

Whether your child has been bullied or has bullied, it might be good for them to talk to a counsellor at school or through the Kids Helpline.

As a parent, you can also find more information on bullying via the Kids Helpline, Lifeline and Parentline, which can provide interpreters.

You can also find information about bullying in several languages on the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, Bullying No Way and Reach Out websites, as well as information on online safety on the eSafety Commissioner website.

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