What is bullying?
Bullying is common in Australia, and 10% of children say they are bullied on most days. Children should never be left to sort out bullying on their own. Helping children to protect themselves is more likely to be successful than trying to stop the bullies.
Bullying is a form of aggression. It happens when one child tries to abuse their power over another child.
Bullying can take many forms, such as teasing repeatedly to hurt someone’s feelings, leaving someone out of games and activities, and spreading gossip or hurtful stories about someone. It can also involve verbal abuse, insults and threats, and aggressive behaviour or physical attacks.
Cyberbullying is a growing problem. Cyberbullying occurs when someone is deliberately and repeatedly hurt or embarrassed using electronic means, such as the internet or a mobile phone. It is common, especially among children and teenagers, and includes abusive texts and emails and hurtful social media posts. You should always supervise young children when they are using electronic devices. Talk to them about how to keep safe when they are using the internet or mobile phones.
The eSafety Commissioner has tips on how to deal with cyberbullying.
How do I recognise if my child is being bullied?
Children react to being bullied in different ways. Signs to look out for include:
- physical injuries, such as bruises, scratches or bites
- poor sleeping patterns or wetting the bed
- repeatedly asking for money
- not wanting to go to school or preschool
- schoolwork or homework deteriorating suddenly
- wanting to sit alone, not taking part in activities
- anxiety, being unhappy or angry
How can the bullying be stopped?
When you realise your child is being bullied, it is natural to feel angry and to want to protect your child. But you are more likely to stop the bullying if you can help your child to stand up to the bullies.
Stay calm and listen to your child. Often children do not tell adults about bullying because they fear it will make the bullying worse. It is important to let your child know that you believe them and that they did the right thing by telling you.
Act quickly to find ways to stop the bullying. Tell your child you understand why they are upset. Talk to your child about strategies they can use next time they are bullied. Talk about what strategies your child has already used — what worked and what did not. Give your child ways to avoid the bullies, like saying 'leave me alone', walking away, avoiding situations where the bullying occurs, or finding friends to support them.
Work with your child’s school. The school may not know that your child is being bullied because it can be difficult to detect. If your child is being bullied at school, tell their teacher and the school principal as soon as possible. Ask for a meeting to work together on how to end the bullying.
Do not blame the bully. It is important not to blame the bully or speak negatively — focus on the positive things your child can do. Don’t try to have the bully punished. We know that this does not successfully stop the bullying.
Often bullying is not black and white. It is your child’s personal view of what is happening. You should help them with anything that makes them feel sad, frightened or left out.
Stopping bullying involves the community — parents, children, teachers and friends — all working together. If your child sees someone else being bullied, encourage them to speak up or tell a teacher.
What if your child is the bully?
Children bully for many reasons. They often have developmental, behavioural or emotional problems, or they may be being bullied themselves. Some children might not lead the bullying, but they join in once the bullying has started or they watch passively and do nothing.
Bullies are more likely to have lifelong issues such as depression or problems with aggression. But early treatment can prevent this from happening.
Stepping in early is the key to stopping your child from bullying. Talk to your child about their behaviour, explain to them that it is unacceptable, and try to help them see things from the other child’s point of view. Make sure you model appropriate behaviour yourself. Getting angry or punishing your child will only reinforce the bullying behaviour.
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse for advice and support.
The Trauma and Grief Network has fact sheets about dealing with bullying.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: March 2021