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How to spot signs of bullying at school

How to spot signs of bullying at school

Worried your child is being bullied and not sure how to tackle it? Use our action checklist to spot the signs of bullying and help beat it.

Teasing and taunts

What were the most common taunts when you were young? “Four-eyes”, “freckle-face”, “tubby”? Most of the names we remember being called as kids are related to looks. 

Sadly, not much has changed. A UK Government study by Ofsted called No Place for Bullying🔗 found that today’s pupils most commonly experience bullying related to appearance. In primary schools, bullies focus on physical traits such as red hair, or being tall or small, or “fat” or “skinny”. In secondary schools, other aspects of appearance come under attack – clothes, hairstyles and accessories that don't conform to the latest trends.

Girls and boys often disagree, fight, tease and banter with their friends. But bullying is different. According to the US Government’s Stopbullying website, it is “unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumours, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

What are the signs of bullying? 

How can you tell if your child is being bullied? Parents should be aware of the following indicators:

  • Change in behaviour or emotional state – are they suddenly more withdrawn or aggressive than usual?
  • Physical signs – such as cuts, bruises or damaged clothes
  • Avoiding school – making excuses and feigning illness
  • Lack of interest – especially in the things your child normally enjoys

Some signs may indicate bullying specifically about looks. For example, your child:

  • Changing the way they dress or look – maybe trying a drastically different hairstyle or stopping wearing glasses
  • Attempting to cover up their size – perhaps by wearing baggy, shapeless clothes

These signs can be just a normal part of growing up though. So instead of jumping to conclusions, encourage your child to open up to you.

Talking to your child about being bullied

If you're agonising over the best way to talk to your child it’s best to approach them honestly. “You don’t have to mention bullying to start with,” she advises. “Instead, try something like: ‘I’m worried about you, I think you’re unhappy.’”

Or you could start a conversation in a more neutral way by asking questions about you child's day. For example, “What was one good thing that happened to you today? Any bad things happen? Did you sit with friends at lunch?”

Let your child know you’re there to help – but be clear that you can only do so if you know what’s happening. If they insist nothing's going on, don’t push the issue, but treat it as a warning flag to keep looking for signs.

From talking to taking action 

Dealing with bullying can take time, so be patient and understanding. Show your child you’re there to support them, and offer reassurance that there's no need to change their appearance. Find a way to tackle the bullying together using the action checklist below.

  • 1

    Offer reassurance

    Reassure your child that there's nothing wrong with the way they look and you admire what makes them individual

  • 2

    Talk about your own experiences

    Maybe you were teased about a particular feature growing up, but now recognise it’s part of what makes you special

  • 3

    Work together

    Help your child understand the reasons why people bully, and work out a strategy together for dealing with the behaviour. Make sure you're in agreement about the steps you plan to take

  • 4

    Make a change

    If the bullying is coming from people within your child's immediate circle of friends, encourage them to find a new group

  • 5

    Spot the patterns

    Find out where and when the bullying is taking place. If it's always at certain times or in particular places, get your child to avoid these or ask their friends to accompany them

  • 6

    Seek support

    If the bullying is happening at school, encourage your child to talk to a teacher about it. It’s best to approach a class teacher first, and work up from there if need be

  • 7

    Talk to the school

    If your child isn’t happy talking to their teacher alone, consider approaching them yourself. Most schools have an anti-bullying strategy and will take steps to deal with the situation

  • 8

    Get help with cyberbullying

    If the bullying is happening online, there's more specific advice in dealing with cyberbullying

  • 9

    Get back-up

    If there's a serious problem and talking to your child is difficult, then look at reputable anti-bullying sites such as Stopbullying🔗. They offer youngsters support and coping strategies provided by people their own age or counsellors

next steps

  • Share the Sticks and Stones video with your child to help them understand how and why bullying occurs
  • Keep the lines of conversation open so your child can talk about their feelings. Have friends or classmates had a similar experience? How did they deal with it?
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