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Young children and bullying

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Bullying is a form of aggressive or violent behaviour that happens when one child tries to abuse their power over another child.
  • Helping children to protect themselves is more likely to be successful than trying to stop the bullies.
  • Signs of bullying to look out for include physical injuries, poor sleeping patterns and not wanting to go to school or preschool.
  • If your child tells you that they are being bullied, reassure them that you believe them and that they did the right thing by telling you.
  • If your child is being bullied, help them create a practical plan with steps and strategies of how to prevent it from happening again.

What is bullying?

Bullying is common in Australia, and 1 in 10 children say they are bullied often. Children should never be left to sort out bullying on their own. Helping children to protect themselves from a bully is more likely to be successful than trying to stop the bullies.

Bullying is a form of aggressive or violent behaviour. 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
  • spreading gossip or hurtful stories about someone

Bullying can also involve verbal abuse, insults and threats, aggressive behaviour or physical attacks.

Cyberbullying is a growing problem. Cyberbullying is when someone hurts or embarrasses another person using electronic media, such as on social media or by mobile phone. It is common, especially among children and teenagers, and includes abusive texts and hurtful online social media posts. Try to 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 sleep patterns or starting to wetting the bed, if your child was previously dry at night
  • asking for extra money or food
  • not wanting to go to school or preschool
  • lower quality schoolwork or homework
  • wanting to sit alone and not taking part in activities
  • anxiety, having mood swings, being unhappy or angry

How can the bullying be stopped?

When you find out your child is being bullied, it is natural to feel angry and to want to protect your child. You are more likely to stop the bullying if you can help your child to stand up to the bully, and here are 5 steps that can help:

1. 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.

2. 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 and about what strategies your child has already used — what worked and what did not.

3. Create a plan to deal with the bullying. Try to write down a practical plan with steps and strategies, such as people they can turn to for help, ways to avoid difficult situations and what to do when the bullying is happening.

Help your child find ways to avoid the bullies, such as:

  • saying "leave me alone"
  • walking away
  • avoiding situations where the bullying occurs
  • finding friends to support your child

4. Work with your child's school. The school may not know that your child is being bullied. If your child is being bullied at school, tell their teacher, wellbeing co-ordinator or school principal as soon as possible. Ask for a meeting to work together on how to stop the bullying.

5. 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, as usually this does not help stop the bullying.

Often bullying is not a case of 'right' or 'wrong', and every child will have their own view of what is happening. You can try to help your child manage the things 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. For tips on how to help children take action and stand up to bullying visit the bully project.

What if your child is doing the bullying?

Children bully for many reasons. Bullies sometimes have developmental, behavioural or emotional challenges, and other times, they may also be bullied themselves. Some children might not lead the bullying, but they join in once the bullying has started or they watch from the side and do nothing.

Bullies are more likely to have long term effects such as depression or problems with aggression. Early management of bullying behaviours can prevent this from happening.

If your child is bullying another person, don't ignore it — take action as soon as you can. Talk to your child about their behaviour, explain to them that it is not OK, and try to help them see things from the other child's point of view. It is important to make sure that you are modeling appropriate behaviour, as. Getting angry or punishing your child will only reinforce the bullying behaviour.

Resources and support

The Trauma and Grief Network has fact sheets about dealing with bullying.

eSafety has information about dealing with and reporting cyberbullying, and a factsheet about responding to bulling and cyberbullying.

Bullying. No way! has helpful tips for parents on how to respond to bullying.

If your child is being bullied, or if your child is doing the bullying, consider seeking help from a mental health professional to help them work through their feelings. To find a counsellor, psychologist or other mental health professional near you, ask your GP or use the healthdirect Service Finder tool.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023

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Need more information?

Cyberbullying: signs & how to help | Raising Children Network

Children who are being cyberbullied need help. Cyberbullying signs include mood and behaviour changes. Use the G.E.T.R.I.D. steps to handle cyberbullying.

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