What to do when your child gets bullied in primary school

No parent wants their child to be bullied. And when it happens, we want our children to tell us, so we can help them deal with it. On the other hand, as parents, we need to be able to read the signs of bullying and know how to act when it happens. 

There are lots of aspects to bullying and there are many different types – verbal, physical, emotional, social, and cyberbullying. And not every argument, disagreement, little fight or act of aggression is bullying. According to Bullyingnoway, bullying has three main features:

• it involves a misuse of power in a relationship

• it is ongoing and repeated

• it involves behaviours that can cause harm

The statistics are appalling. Approximately one in four Year 4 to Year 9 Australian students reported being bullied every few weeks or more often. 84% of students who were bullied online were also bullied in person. Bullying can have a severe impact on the mental health and well-being of your child, let alone the simple childhood happiness they deserve. Frighteningly, bullying can sometimes lead to the situation where a child doesn’t want to live anymore. An unbelievable and horrific thought for any parent!

One of the most important steps to take for children, is to discuss the bullying situation at home or with a trusted adult. However, this can also be one of the hardest steps for children, as they might feel ashamed or at fault. Therefore, it is important for caretakers and educators to tune into any changes in behaviour and body language children might display.

My grade three daughter got bullied at primary school recently. At first, I tried to assess how much of this harassment she could solve herself. As a mental toughness coach, I believe it is important for my children to learn how to navigate these situations, as they will come back later in life. However, the verbal and physical harassment kept going for multiple terms. When it started to impact her happy self and she started crying on our walk home from school, I acted.

I informed her teacher and formalised a complaint in a letter to the principal, curiously asking what their bullying policy entails. This was what I learned during the research into my latest picture book about bullying. The mother of a bully victim told me that one thing she would have done differently is to write a letter to the school to formalise her daughter’s bullying situation. Formalising a bullying complaint means the school must document it, report on it and take action to solve it.

I quickly noticed an increased focus to solve the bullying problem at my daughter’s primary school. The teachers pro-actively started to update me about the situation. My daughter and her bully had weekly catchups with the principal. The bully was disciplined when a teacher overheard his verbal harassment in the schoolyard. The principal called the parents of the bully to discuss the situation. The school is on top of it now and the situation is being managed. This wouldn’t necessarily have happened without a formal complaint.

I keep on top of it too, as the bully is still in her classroom and teachers admit they can’t see or hear everything that happens in the schoolyard. We discuss it openly at home and I’m positive we can manage it from here. If you find yourself in a serious bullying situation with your child, make it your first action to formalise a complaint, so that the school must log it and act. However, also continue the conversation at home and find ways to mitigate the direct impact:

• Tell them you love them and discuss their many great traits

• Explore together why bullies do what they do and what drives them

• Discuss how your child can stand up for herself in a constructive non-violent way

• Help them to have play days and friendships outside the bully circle

• Ask others to keep an eye out in the schoolyard to keep your child safe

• Make sure your child keeps active and enjoy their hobbies

There is no silver bullet to stop a bullying situation when your child is the victim. Having an open conversation at home, whilst working on your child’s self-worth, confidence, health, proper self-defence and emotional resilience, is surely of essence to manage the severity of the impact.

More importantly, by doing this, we help them develop skills and traits that can last a lifetime. Because as adults we know that bullying is an unfortunate part of life and doesn’t just stop after primary school.

Niels Van Hove is an author, mental toughness coach and founder of www.mentaltoughness.online. Niels lives in Melbourne with his wife and two daughters. His latest book; How I Beat My Bully, is available in Kindle version and paperback from Amazon and hardcover from Booktopia.

For more information about Niels or his books visit www.mentaltoughness.online