There are no two ways around it, bullying is very distressing. No one wants their child to be bullied and no one wants their child to be a bully, hence it’s something we need to keep talking about.

Children need to know they have our support, no matter what. Sometimes a victim of bullying can be afraid to tell anyone else what is going on in case they get into more trouble with the bully. Every child needs to know they have a safe person on their side who will take them seriously. Lots of open and honest conversation in general will help our kids know they can talk to us about anything and everything. But we get it, some conversations can be tricky!

When it comes to bullying, how can we have conversations that help our kids head out each day with important tools to look after themselves, as well as bucket loads of resilience, empathy and kindness? Good question!

Be a great listener

This may be an article talking, but when it comes to conversations about bullying, the key is actually listening.

Most parents find this one hard as they go straight into problem-solving, questioning, advising, comparing, sympathising or lecturing. These techniques tend to shut communication down rather than open it up. Simply nodding and saying, “Mmm” or, “That sounds like it was hard,” communicates that we care and are more interested what our child is telling us, than putting our spin on it.

Sensitive listening helps a child feel heard, which communicates love and support.

The biggest challenge is to not offer anything else at this stage. Sensitive listening helps a child feel heard, which communicates love and support. A child will also feel that because we are not offering a range of solutions, we believe in their ability to come up with a solution. Please note – there are times to listen and absolutely there are times to act upon a child’s concerns.

Explain what might be going on inside a bully

An important facet of any conversation about bullying is helping our kids imagine what could be going on in the world of a bully. Package this in age-appropriate language and context – basically we’re helping our kids understand that a bully’s behaviour says more about them than it does about the victim. In other words, if a child is getting bullied, it’s not their fault.

Bullies often don’t feel very good about themselves and the only way they know how to feel better is to make others feel bad. Their self-esteem may be shaky so they try to make friends by dominating them or keeping them away from other friends. Bullying is often simply a way to impress onlookers. The bully wants to show that they are part of the group and so they pick on someone who is different from the group – older, younger, shorter, taller, different looking, different sounding, different anything! Sometimes there will something about the victim that sets them apart from the bully’s group. The bully thinks the more I pick on the victim, the more I prove I am part of the in-group.

Help your child identify the qualities of a good friend

A good friend is honest, keeps their word, and is not so exclusive that no one else can join the group. They are someone who can share their opinions without insisting that everyone else has to have the same line of thought. They are fun to be with and let others be themselves. It might not be the first thing we think of, but another step to countering bullying is helping our kids recognise what a good friend looks like, and also how to be a good friend.

Give your child some words to ‘bounce off' unkindness

Instead of taking things personally and feeling wounded and hurt, a child can learn to resist unkind words by having their own internal dialogue. Give them some phrases to tuck away in their toolkit – something like, “I’ve got slippery shoulders,” and this means that unkind words slide right off.

You can practise 'bouncing off' unkindness, even doing some role play so your child sees they have the potential to stay in a position of power rather than be left in a position of weakness. Some children feel confident enough to shrug off the teasing with a, “So what?” or, “Who cares.”

Help them build assertiveness skills

For some, assertiveness skills come naturally, but for others they have to be learned with some coaching. Every child needs to know how to enter a group of other children by having a line to use like, “Hi, this looks fun. Can I join in?”  They also need to know how to exit a group they are not comfortable in, with a line like, “This isn’t my idea of fun” or, “I am keen to play something else right now.” You can use role play to help your child feel comfortable with using new words and phrases because at first, it can feel very unnatural.

When we demonstrate calm and effective ways to deal with conflict and tension, our kids get to see how it is done.

Practically speaking

And there are some practical tools we can use too, to support our kids in the face of bullying.

Firstly, role modelling. You know those moments of conflict and tension in our own adult lives? Yes, they do actually serve a purpose! When we demonstrate calm and effective ways to deal with conflict and tension, our kids get to see how it is done. There are times to stand up for ourselves and this can be done respectfully so that we remain dignified and in control.

Secondly, making some sort of daily debrief into a family ritual is another way for us parents to share real-life struggles and strategies, as well providing us with some insights into our kids’ world. Take a little bit of time each day to debrief, maybe around the dinner table or at bedtime, and ask two important questions: “What was the high of your day?” and, “What was the low of your day?” Everyone gets to share the best part of their day and the hardest or worst part. This gives parents a valuable window into what is going on inside their children.

Take a little bit of time each day to debrief and ask two important questions: “What was the high of your day?” and, “What was the low of your day?”

Thirdly, take any concerns around bullying seriously

Visit your child’s teacher and find out what they have noticed. A lot of bullying takes place ‘under the radar’, especially with girls. The teacher can address the issue broadly at first and then more specifically. If no progress is made, it is important to see the principal.

Bullying can also happen online so it’s important to keep a close eye on your children's online activity and talk to them about messages they are receiving or sending. Children should not be left to cope with bullying on their own. If your child is struggling or overwhelmed, it’s time to act.

Parenting square

Parenting Place

For over 25 years, Parenting Place has been here offering support and advice to New Zealand parents. We think that with the right support, parenting any age and stage can be a relatively stress-free and fun experience. You're doing great!

Recommended Content

Get relatable parenting advice and inspo for your family, direct to your inbox

Subscribe now