My child has been accused of bullying – what should I do?
We’ve put together an article full of advice about the practical steps you can take in response to this.
1. When you get a call from the school that your child has been accused of bullying
Being called into school to be told your child has been accused of bullying can be devastating. But it is worth remembering that they are learning to navigate the complicated world of social relationships and that making mistakes is to be expected. Don’t assume your child is a bad egg. There is a chance they didn’t even realise how much they were hurting the other child. The problem shouldn’t get worse if you work with the school to tackle the situation.
2. You should particularly bear in mind the following points when dealing with the school:
- Don’t be defensive. Listen carefully to the teacher.
- Ask the teacher if he/she genuinely believes your child is a bully. You may find the situation is more complicated than it first appears.
- Ask for specific examples of the bullying and take notes so that you can ask your child about it later.
- Ask how the school plans to deal with the bullying. There should be a practical plan that doesn’t restrict your child too much.
- Don’t talk to the other child or their parents unless it is at a meeting arranged by the school. It simply won’t help.
3. How to talk to your child who has been accused of bullying
Don’t be aggressive. You want to find out exactly what is going on, and feeling attacked won’t encourage your child to tell you anything. Choose a quiet time and sit down with your child. Tell them exactly what the teacher has told you, without any accusations. Don’t imply that you are disappointed in your child or, for that matter, that you think the other child is in the wrong. Tell them that all you would like is to hear their side of the story so you can understand exactly what has happened.
What you are likely to find is that your child will have excuses and justifications for their behaviour. For instance, “I was only joking”, “I didn’t mean it”, “He hit me first” etc.
- Ask your child how they think they would feel if someone said something nasty to them at school.
- Explain that you understand your child might not have meant to upset anyone but that in reality their behaviour has been hurtful and needs to stop.
- At this point your child may reveal that someone else has been nasty to them and that the situation is more complex.
- It could be that there is a culture of nasty behaviour in the class, which is something that needs to be addressed with the school.
You may also find your child has been drawn into the bullying situation by another child and that they are participating to avoid being targeted themselves. This is a more complicated situation, and your child will need support to escape the unhealthy relationship with the bully.
4. Equip your child with the right social tools
As well as telling your child to desist from bullying, it is important to explain what constitutes the right behaviour. It is easy to assume a child knows automatically how to engage with others. However, for some children, this isn’t at all obvious. Bullying can arise because they know of no other way to interact. You need to work with your child to foster empathy so that they understand how their actions affect others.
5. Using role-play to help when your child has been accused of bullying
Set up a role-play situation in which you play the bullying victim. Ask your child what kind of things the victim says in a typical school situation – for instance, during lunchtime or PE. Play out one of these situations with your child, with you saying something the victim would say and your child giving their typical response. If your child says something rude or nasty then you should respond by saying: “Now I feel disappointed/upset/confused.” Discuss with your child why the victim might feel that way. Don’t tell your child off at any point – this is a learning exercise, not a punishment.
Ask what other way your child could deal with such a situation and give them some help if they are stuck. It could be that you advise them to say nothing or that you suggest they say something friendly, depending on how negative the interaction seems to be. Play out the same situation again, this time with your child engaging in the correct behaviour.
“My two boys were always quite mean to each other. I ignored it – I had a “Boys will be boys” sort of attitude. But then it emerged that the younger one was using the same sort of language with his friend, who was a much quieter child. One day the friend came out of school completely distraught because of what my son had said. I was mortified. When I tackled my son about it I realised he adored his friend but had no way to express that. I actually had to teach him how to say something nice. It felt really silly at first, but in the long run it also improved his relationship with his brother. They still call each other the foulest names, but they say the odd nice thing as well!”
6. What to do next
If your child’s behaviour is particularly troubling and doesn’t change, even in light of your intervention, it might be time to ask the school for help. A good school will recognise you have made an effort to improve things. They will work with you to find solutions that will support your child. If your school isn’t supportive then you can seek help from your GP. It might also be worth moving your child to another school.
Bullying is the product of a negative situation that has become entrenched over time. It needs to be tackled – not with further negativity but with constructive, positive solutions. Punishment may change behaviour in the short term, but it won’t tackle the underlying issue. Work with your school to understand exactly why the problem has developed and to allow both victim and bully to break out of the situation and move forward.
If your child is the one being bullied, our article on what to do if your child is being bullied can give you advice and support. If you would like further guidance, the NSPCC and the Anti-Bullying Alliance offer lots of resources and support about bullying.