Talking about bullying


Children and young people who know what bullying is, and know what to do about it if it happens, also know they are not alone in dealing with it.

They know that parents and teachers will be willing to help if needed.

Don't wait for bullying to happen to talk about it.


Use opportunities in conversation

Parents can use the many opportunities that arise to talk with their child about how people behave in various social situations and how people get on with each other.

If your child tells you about things at school or you see things in public that involve conflict or bullying, and if it is appropriate, take the opportunity to talk about what bullying is.

Talk about what bullying is before it happens so children can recognise it and know what to do.

First, make sure you have a clear idea yourself by checking out the formal definition of bullying at understanding bullying. You can also find ways to describe bullying that are suitable for children of various ages.

Point out that bullying is not just when someone is mean to you once, but it happens over and over and makes you feel like you can't stop it. If you want, you could use some of these questions:

  • What do you think 'bullying' is?
  • Have you seen bullying happening? What did you do? How did you feel?
  • Why do you think some people bully other kids?
  • Who are the adults you would talk to when it comes to things like bullying?
  • Have you ever felt scared to go to school because you were afraid of someone bullying you?
  • Has someone tried to bully you? What ways have you tried to change it?
  • What do you think parents can do to help stop bullying?
  • Have you or your friends left other kids out on purpose? Do you think that was bullying? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever tried to help someone who is being bullied? What happened? What would you do if it happens again?

Tell children that bullying can happen to anyone but it is never okay. Talk about how to respond to bullying safely. Make sure children know what to do if it happens to them or they see it happening to someone else.

Most importantly, let children know how to get help if bullying happens.

Encourage them to speak to an adult if it happens, and to keep on asking for help if the bullying doesn't stop. Read more about what to say at responding to bullying.

Talk with students about how they might handle other challenging social situations as well.

Parents and carers have an important role to help children and young people learn how to manage their own feelings and to work out how to argue or disagree with other people in appropriate ways. Everyday activities and issues can be valuable learning opportunities.

Words to avoid

Avoid describing a child as a 'bully' or a 'victim'. Although these words are often used in research and in the media, they are not very helpful for finding positive and lasting solutions.

Talk about bullying with the understanding that children and young people are growing and still learning how to be effective members of the community.

When you talk about bullying, focus on more appropriate ways to act with others and positive ways to get on with other people.

Children can change the way they behave with support from parents and teachers. If the labels of 'bully' or 'victim' stick, it can make it harder for them to change. Using these words can suggest that bullying and being bullied are due to unchangeable things about the children involved.

The labels of 'bully' or 'victim' can also cause further harm if a child accepts them as part of their social identity.

Keep communication open

Children and young people will ask for advice and help with problems if they think parents and caregivers are interested in them and their concerns.

When parents and carers spend some time each day asking about what happened during the day, and show genuine interest in their feelings and experiences, children will know that they can talk to their parents if they have a problem.

Check in with kids often. Listen to them. Know their friends, ask about school, and understand their concerns. Ask them about issues they tell you about, but don't jump in to solve their problems. Ask them what they think they can do about it.

Be alert too that children sometimes 'shut down' and become reluctant to talk if they are experiencing bullying and don't know what to do. Be alert to the signs of bullying. Sensitive and caring conversations about what is happening for your child can make a difference.

Read more about what to say and do if your child tells you about bullying.

Last updated 10 September 2020