What to Do if Your Child Is Being Bullied at School

Father and daughter sitting with their dog in the

A recent study found that 31% of Irish primary school students and 16% of secondary school students have been bullied at some time. If you were bullied yourself or your child is being bullied, you’ll know the impact it can have. Ahead of the new school term, we spoke to Siobhán Leijen, Centre Manager for Pieta Midlands, on how you can help your child if they’re being bullied at school.

How to Talk to Your Child If You Suspect They’re Being Bullied

It can be hard to know how to bring up a difficult subject like bullying with your child. Siobhán suggests keeping things as unintimidating as possible. “Sit side-by-side, not face-to-face when you’re talking to them,” she advises. “The car is a great place to talk so find any excuse to go on a long drive.”

Depending on your child, you may not have to broach the subject, they might open up to you themselves. This is a really brave step so make sure you give them your full attention. “Even though we’re all really busy with work, I’d like to encourage all parents to take a moment to listen,” Siobhán notes. “If a child starts to talk to you about something like that, stop what you’re doing and give them the time.”

How to React If Your Child Tells You They’re Being Bullied

Although you might feel really angry at the situation, Siobhán advises not to fly off the handle. “Try to stay calm,” she notes, “quite often our natural reaction is say something like, ‘Wait until I see her Mother!’” Unfortunately, that kind of reaction can prevent a child from opening up further. “What makes a lot of children withdraw and not tell their parents is that they’re scared of their parent’s reaction.” Remember, the bully might have said something like, ‘If you tell anyone I’ll kill you’ and those threats are very real to a child.

Instead, Siobhán suggests that you offer understanding first. “Remain calm and empathise with your child and try to elicit solutions from them,” she notes. This is especially important if they are in their teens. “Work with your child and find out what they think is the best course of action.”

Strategies to Help Cope

Mother talking to teenage daughter

As a parent, it can be hard to know how to advise your child when they’re being bullied. Siobhán recommends first seeing what your child has tried themselves to resolve the issue. “More often than not, the child has tried various things already - and they know the bully,” she notes. “So, you can brainstorm with them, saying something like ‘Well what would it be like if you tried X instead.’” Try to empower your child to manage the situation themselves initially but if it gets too serious and your child is in danger you should speak with the school principal.

Going Back to School After Being Bullied

Primary school children walking in school corridor

If your child has been bullied in the past, then going back to school can be really tough for them. “Often, they’re not going to want to go back to school - who’d want to go back to an unpleasant environment?” To help get them in a more positive frame of mind about returning, she recommends giving your children lots of opportunities to make new friends and boost their confidence over the summer – summer camps are great for this and they can draw on those positive experiences when they go back to school. “Arrange for them to meet up with school friends in the days and weeks before they go back,” Siobhán advises. “It’s an excellent way of weaning them back into school.”