What is bullying?

Bullying is hurting someone, through words or actions, using repetitive and intentional behaviour resulting in a real or perceived imbalance of power. This could take the form of physical assault, threats, rumours, abuse, intimidation, teasing – in the real world or online as cyberbullying. As parents, we can disempower bullying by being proactive in our parenting approach.

  • The statistics are daunting:
  • 35% of school-going children are bullied
  • 64% don’t report it
  • Bullied students are more than twice as likely to think about suicide
  • Empowering your child can make a difference.

The effects of Bullying

The effects of bullying are significant. For those being bullied it could affect their academic performance; result in sleeping or eating issues; anxiety, mental and physical health issues; low self-esteem; depression and even suicide. Students engaging in bullying behaviour, also have an increased risk of academic problems, substance abuse as teens and even violent behaviour as they move from adolescence to adulthood. Ironically, the bully and the victim are in fact mirroring each other – both are traumatized in some way, both feel powerless in their lives. They are just reacting differently to it, the bully being the aggressor and the victim withdrawing passively.

As parents, we can empower our children, through guidance and coaching; helping them to learn to be assertive by building their self-esteem and confidence; and encouraging them to stand up for others, even to a bully.

Why is Bullying so prevalent?

There are many reasons for bullying but, fundamentally, some of the underlying factors include the highly competitive environment our children are growing up in and the resulting relentless performance pressure that places them under. There is also the now constant influence of technology (which has changed accessibility and the way people bully) and the fast pace of life. Other significant factors could be personal issues at home – maybe there are financial issues, a divorce, alcohol abuse, absent parents – and bullying may be a way to vent, to rid themselves of pent-up emotions they may be feeling, or to try to regain a measure of control they feel they have lost.

Signs of Bullying

Often our children don’t want to tell us they are being bullied. They might be afraid to tell someone or may feel helpless, maybe they are embarrassed, it is even possible that they may not trust you or fear further rejection if they speak up. There are, however, signs you can look out for, which may point to bullying in younger children:

  • Complaining that they are feeling sick – a headache, a tummy ache – especially when it may be time to go to school
  • Unexplained injuries like bruises, bumps and cuts
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • A sudden onset of nightmares
  • Lost clothing or damaged personal belongings
  • A decline in their school marks

In older children, you may observe that they have low self-esteem, are withdrawing and generally have a loss of interest in things around them. They may possibly even exhibit self-destructive behaviour like cutting, internet divorce services.

How can I support my child if they are being bullied?

There are various ways to support your child if they are being bullied and you may want to consider some of the following:
Talk to your child and check-in regularly. By staying close to them you will be able to pick up when something is out of place. What they aren’t telling you may be more important than what they are saying, so pay attention.
Never tell them to ignore the bully. Ignoring the problem is not the answer and this may cause your child to withdraw further, rather than to be more assertive.
Don’t blame them – no one ever deserves to be bullied.
Don’t encourage them to fight back. This can only make things worse and, if it should happen at school, they could be suspended or even expelled. Physical violence is never a solution to a problem.
Teach self-esteem. It truly is the most important life skill you can give your child.
Be positive and encourage a positive attitude in life.

Empowering your child against bullies

Bullies are everywhere – on the playground, in the classroom, on the sports field, in your circle of friends and even in the workplace. It is inevitable that a bully will cross paths with your child so, the best thing we can do for our children, is to teach them how to be resilient, to help them build a solid self-esteem and to think positively about life.

To help them build up their self-esteem, encourage them to be accepting of and confident in themselves, and to not compare their lives to those of others. Remind them that other people’s negative opinions don’t count and that just maybe, those people are breaking down others in an attempt to make them feel better and stronger, because they have their own set of problems. A bully must never have the power to define, in your child’s mind, who they are or who they become as a person.

So, empower your child by encouraging a positive attitude – it can help them overcome many of the challenges they will face in life. As with anything, a positive attitude can become a habit. Positivity and general optimism will also be a more natural, instinctive response for children, if it is a theme within the home. So remember to try to adopt a positive attitude yourself, especially when you are around your children. Spend positive time together, have fun, do things your child loves to do and which makes them feel good about themselves, watch funny movies and laugh, often.

Try to not make decisions for them. Guide and direct them, certainly yes, but let them be part of the decision making process. This will help them become more confident in their choices and decisions, and will help build up their assertiveness levels over time. Bullies prey on people they believe to be timid, easy targets. A little assertiveness from the intended victim can go a long way in making a bully think twice.


If your child is being bullied, don’t judge them – it will simply make them withdraw further and be less likely to confide in you. Support, love and guide them. If necessary, do intervene and either contact the school to assist, or the parents if it is outside of the school environment.

If you would like to learn more, have a look at our popular Life Talk book series, including Life Talk for Parents, Life Talk for a Son and Life Talk for a Daughter, each of which contains chapters on bullying.

Written by Nicoleen Davies


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