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Bullying: a parent's guide

Published on 22/11/16

Respect Me is Scotland's anti-bullying service. Here, Respect Me's communications manager, Pamela Graham, offers parents advice on bullying: how to recognise it and how to help the children involved... 

How do I know if it’s bullying?

When we talk about bullying we are talking about something that is both behaviour and impact. Behaviour that can make people feel hurt, frightened, scared, left out or worried - and the impact of this behaviour leaves them feeling less in control of themselves.

We know that bullying takes something away from people; that is one of the things that makes it different from other behaviours. It takes away people’s ability to feel in control of themselves and to take effective action.  We call this our agency. Bullying strips away a person’s capacity for agency.

It’s important to remember this when we respond to bullying behaviour.  If we can accept that it takes something away from someone, our focus has to be on helping them to get it back; helping them get back that feeling of being in control and being themselves again. That’s why we have to involve young people in what they want to happen, what they would like to happen, and what they are worried about happening.  And sometimes we need to take a lead from them as to what pace we go at. If we can do that, we can help restore that feeling of being in control. 

What advice should I give?

There is never one, single, answer when it comes to bullying, it’s about knowing how to think about it and how to approach it.

Ask yourself: What’s the behaviour?  What’s the impact?  What do I need to do about it?

Sometimes you have to ask your child, ‘What do you want to happen?’ ‘Tell me what you have done so far?’ ‘What would you like me to do?’ ‘What do you think would happen if I was to go up to the school and talk to them about it?’

It’s about exploring options; thinking about what you can do and sometimes having to say, as a parent, ‘look if I’m worried and I don’t think you’re safe, I’m going to step in’, and explain why you are doing it.

We should always take a moment, pause and think, ‘how do I give my child back a sense of being in control?’, because it’s that sense of being in control that has been taken from them, and that has to focus your response.

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