Bullying: What Is It and What Can Be Done About It?

Are name-calling and teasing or posting private pictures on social media just a part of growing up, ‘a rite of Passage’ that all kids go through? Is it OK if there was no ‘intention’ to hurt? It was just a joke, a laugh even if it wasn’t funny at all for the victim. If not, then what can we be doing as parents, and encouraging our children and schools (clubs) to be doing about Bullying and preventing it from happening.

In a recent Passage, parent support group we discussed the theme of Bullying – what is it? what can we do? why does it happen? and how can we make a difference? This article is a short summary of the discussion with practical tips and useful links for anyone concerned about keeping young people safe.


What is Bullying?

A deliberately hurtful usually repetitive action (but not always) that happens over a period of time aimed at a particular person or group.

This can be in the form of:-

  •  Physical – threatening or intimidating, hitting, hair pulling, kicking, pushing about, taking belongings
  •  Verbal – name calling, teasing, insulting, putting someone down or humiliating them, making offensive remarks
  •  Indirect – spreading nasty stories or rumors about someone, or excluding them from social groups


Cyber-bullying (mobbing) – via the Internet, mobile phones or through other communication devices.

  •  Intentional behaviour to intimidate, belittle, create fear, discriminate and/or verbally abuse someone via the Internet or other social media
  •  The use of any kind of electronic communication to openly and deliberately cause harm, shame or humiliation to another human being
  •  Sending threatening or disturbing text messages
  •  Homophobia or racism or sexism
  •  Making silent, hoax or abusive calls
  •  Creating and sharing embarrassing images or videos
  •  ‘Trolling’ sending of menacing or upsetting messages on social networks/chat rooms
  •  Excluding children from online games, activities or friendship groups
  •  Setting up hate sites or groups
  •  Encouraging young people to ‘self harm’
  •  Voting for someone in a abusive poll
  •  Hijacking or stealing online identities
  •  Sending ‘Sexts’ to pressure a child onto sending their images or other activity – grooming




How can you tell if your child is being Bullied?

Your child may not tell you if she or he is being bullied because they are afraid of what you will do or even if you will believe them. However, you may notice some changes in their behaviour, including:

  •  Unwillingness to go to school or anywhere where bullying is taking place (child may complain of stomach ache or headache, become tearful or just refuse to go)
  •  Mood changes – signs of stress e.g. irritability, anxiety, quieter than normal (spending more time alone in their rooms), crying, aggression towards family members or bullying behaviour towards a younger sibling or friend
  •  A change in eating habits or avoidance of going to the toilet at school (needs to go as soon as they get home)
  •  Concern about using changing rooms for Physical Education
  •  More scratches and bruises than usual
  •  Torn clothes, missing belongings or lost money
  •  Waking at night, bed-wetting
  •  Change of behaviour in the classroom, acting up – getting into trouble or drop in academic results
  •  Outward distress after social media

If any of the above are happening to your child it is a good idea to take some quiet time when neither of you are stressed or busy to sit down and acknowledge that you have noticed these changes.


Why do Adults or Children bully others?

In his article ‘The Secret Life of Bullies’ – James Lehman (2009) writes:

“It solves their social problems – it gets them attention, or distracts from their own issues, it makes them feel bigger and better about themselves – more powerful!


If we think of every human interaction as exchanging energy. Some exchanges make us feel stronger, some make us feel weaker but generally the more ‘OK’ we feel about ourselves the more energy we have to give and the less we have to steal. Energy is power.

There are social rules that we learn as children about how to get on and respect other people. For various reasons Bullies don’t respect or learn these rules. It may be that they live in a bullying environment themselves, they may have an undiagnosed learning disability or they simply have a low self esteem. They use their bullying behavior as a way to get what they need. They may start to do it because they are jealous, or feel left out of a group themselves, or simply because the think it’s funny or clever. It gets them a laugh…


What can I do if I think my child is being bullied?

  •  Don’t ignore it – bullying unchecked can escalate and children begin to feel more isolated and less likely to talk about it.
  •  If they approach you – let them talk. This is what developing the skill of ‘active listening’ is all about.
  •  Avoid saying things like ‘What did you do to make them tease you?’ or’ What a rotten kid – don’t worry we’ll get him/her to pay’.
  •  Try to ask open questions like ‘What happened? How did that make you feel? Tell me more…’ – give you and your child space to explore his/her feelings.
  •  Involve your child – give them back some power. Ask them if there is a teacher or person who they would like to approach. Teach them that it is OK and important to tell. Tell them that it is your duty of care to tell the school. Make an appointment to see their teacher. However, you will need to speak to someone fairly quickly as it is important to address it with the child or children involved before the incident is forgotten altogether.
  •  Make it clear that it’s not their fault. Anyone can be a ‘target’ – wrong place/wrong time. Take this opportunity to help them to develop their own problem solving skills.
  •  Respect your own feelings – don’t over personalize it – give yourself time alone or with a trusted friend to talk about it.
  •  If your child is younger or has difficulty reading social situations you may want to let them draw their feelings or use puppets to act out what has been happening to them. This may also help if your child is particularly upset or too angry to talk.
  •  Keep a diary – encourage your child to keep a diary of bullying incidences (or keep one yourself). It is good to write things down as a process of letting go and a diary is useful evidence to give to school or authorities if needs be.


What as parents can we ask schools or clubs to do?

  •  Ask if they have a School Behaviour Policy (Anti-bullying policy) this is a legal requirement in some countries.
  •  Encourage them to have an Anti-bullying Code designed and written by young people that is made visible (e.g. in communal areas and class rooms in schools) This will help kids find the strength not to join in.
  •  Involve parents – run a programme of Parenting Talks – invite speakers to talk about these and other relevant issues.
  •  Encourage children to ‘tell’ – make it easier for children to approach teachers if they are being bullied or they think someone else is.
  •  For older children introduce an anonymous ‘worry box’ where children can post their concerns about themselves or other children. This will help alert the school to problems they may not be aware of.
  •  Set up a Buddy System for the playground.
  •  Hold awareness anti-bullying weeks. Bullying is a problem for all of us – so raising awareness will help children in their adult life too.
  •  Have organisations aimed at Anti-bullying or Cyber-bullying come into schools and talk about ‘bystander behaviour’ as well as Bullying itself.
  •  Include books on bullying in library and book corner of each classroom.
  •  Make it unacceptable ‘un-cool’ – encourage open discussion in circle time, assemblies and in personal/social health sessions or equivalent lessons.

What can we ask young people to do?

  •  It is well known in the field of psychology that the most effective way to get people to change their behaviour is to make it socially unacceptable i.e. ‘uncool’ to their peer group.
  •  Most kids who are teasing and putting down others are looking for approval from peers.
  •  Kids on the outside often join in because they don’t want to be left out or be teased themselves.
  •  Being open about this kind of behaviour and encouraging an anti-bullying code that is designed and written by young people and is made visible (e.g. in communal areas and class rooms in schools) will help kids find the strength not to join in.
  • Get them to read ‘Bullies, Bigmouths & So Called Friends’ (Jenny Alexander 2003) and other books about bullying and anti-social behaviour.




Further Information: Useful Links

Websites and Online Support

There are many organisations that specifically work with issues around Bullying and young people based in the UK or other countries. We have included a few that helped provide the information included in this discussion.

Kidscape.org.uk: Give useful information on bullying, and child safety issues for young people, parents, carers and professionals.

Bullying.co.uk: Are a similar national charity in the UK.

Childline.org.uk: Provide confidential online chat and young people can email a counsellor to talk about any concerns they are having.

empoweringparents.com: Weekly newsletter and archive of articles whose goal is to empower people who parent by providing useful problem-solving techniques to parents and children.


The Bully Project Bully full-length film now available on the Internet about a project set up in America to raise awareness of the consequences of bullying in schools. Be warned this is a very hard-hitting but well worth watching documentary.


Further Information: Recommended Reading

The Secret Life of Bullies: Why they do it – and how to stop them by James Lehman (2009)
Source: empoweringparents.com

Bullies, Bigmouths and so-called Friends by Jenny Alexander (2003)
Written for young people a recommended read for age 7+

The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside (2004)
Written for younger children encourages them to talk about their problems.

How to Talk so Kids will Listen, How to Listen so Kids will Talk by Faber & Mazlish (2004)
A book full of ideas to help your children find their voice and solve their own problems.


Further Information: Extra Ideas

We wanted to include some further ideas that were added during the discussion in the Parent Support Group around this subject.

  • Worry Dolls – the group discussed the use of Worry Dolls to help younger children and children with special needs when coping with problems at school and generally. Worry Dolls originated in Guatemala and other cultures – they were made of matchstick sized wood and woven with cloth. The child was encouraged to tell the doll their worries and put them under their pillow at night. Dolls were then removed by parents. Original dolls can be bought or made very easily and children can be easily held them in their pockets. For some children just having a small object or a special teddy they can talk to helps them feel less isolated. However, they should always be encouraged to tell an adult if they feel they are being threatened or bullied in any way.
  • Bad Day Trinkets – for children who are having a hard time integrating at school it can be difficult for them to keep talking or even verbalise at all that they have had a bad day. A positive idea was to give them a trinket or small plastic toy that they could leave in a designated place in the house (or even on the teachers desk) that’s a way of saying ‘I’ve had a bad day’ to their parents without needing to say anything. The child can then decide whether they want to talk about it and the parent can acknowledge their hurt non-verbally with a cuddle or some other activity they like to share.




Article by:  Lynn Frank who is a coordinator for Passage.

Last updated:  Wednesday 6th May, 2015