How To Handle Schoolyard Bullying

©Jan Andersen 2002

(This article was written in the year that my eldest son, Kristian, tragically took his own life. He was a victim of bullying and although he was 20 at the time of his suicide, there is no doubt that these past bullying incidents impacted his self-esteem and affected his ability to cope with certain situations he faced in life.)


It is estimated that as many as 50% of all children experience some form of bullying during their school years. According to ¹Bully Online, "Each year, at least 16 children kill themselves in the UK because they are being bullied at school and no-one in authority is doing anything to tackle the bullying."

Discovering that your child is being bullied

There are many situations that parents dread and one of their biggest nightmares must be discovering that their child is, or has been, the victim of bullying.  Bullies are not just other children who are openly obnoxious.  Sometimes they can come into your child's life masquerading as a friend, or sometimes it can even be a teacher.  

There is a difference between everyday childish disputes and playful "ribbing" between friends and genuine bullying.  A child may come home and grumble about being having been thumped or called names by another child who, most of the time, would be considered a close friend.  This type of situation is often short-lived, does not have any traumatic or psychological impact on the child and, often, as most parents know, will blow over as quickly as it began.  Children will often embellish and fabricate stories for effect, but most parents will be able to differentiate between a harmless tiff and true bullying. 

Signs that your child may be a victim of bullying

When a child is being exposed to persistent unwelcome behaviour, either mentally or physically, and is genuinely disturbed by what is happening, then it is crucial to listen to them, believe them and take positive action.  However, not all children will admit to being bullied, but there will be signs, some subtle and some obvious, that your child is the victim of bullying.  These include feigning illness to avoid having to go to school, a decline in subject grades, reluctance to participate in extra-curricular activities, inexplicably losing money or personal property, or (in older children) taking longer than usual to walk to and from school because they have taken a different route in order to avoid the bully or bullies. Physical signs of bullying might include torn clothes, or unexplained scratches, cuts or bruises and your child may be begin suffering nightmares, bedwetting or mood swings.

How do you define bullying?

Some children don't mention anything to their parents because they may not believe that what they are being subjected to constitutes bullying.  Many children associate bullying with physical attacks, but mental cruelty and isolation can be just as devastating and damaging.   Other children may be afraid that they will be called "sissies" for reporting bullying incidents, or for not defending themselves and this applies particularly to boys, who are often expected to be tough.

Bullying can be defined as any continual, spiteful behaviour targeted at a person or persons that causes distress, anguish or pain.  This includes, but is not limited to, unjustified criticism, exclusion from playground activities and groups, name-calling, being constantly criticised, belittled, humiliated, threatened, verbally abused, blackmailed emotionally or attacked physically.  

More and more children are being exposed to "digital bullying", which involves sending malicious text or mobile phone messages.  This issue has also been highlighted in the national news recently, which demonstrates that bullying can follow more sinister paths and does not necessarily mean face-to-face confrontation. Digital bullying can be more frightening in that it can often protect the anonymity of the bully and, hence, the victim becomes distrustful of everybody.

Types of bullying

Bullying takes on many forms and there are several different types of bully. However, they all have the same result; they cause misery to the victim, which can lead to stress-related illnesses to their victims. 

The following are examples of types of bullying:

·  Physical bullying 

·  Direct Verbal Bullying (Taunts, name-calling and verbal threats to the victim's face)

·  Indirect Verbal Bullying (Cruel comments behind the victim's back intended for the victim to overhear, unkind notes, letters, graffiti. comments on social networking sites)

·  Exclusion & Isolation Bullying (Deliberate exclusion from playground activities and friendship groups, or total ignorance of the victim.  Often stands or sits alone at playtimes and is avoided in the classroom)

·  Racial/Disability Bullying (This can encompass all the other types of bullying and the victim is targeted because of his or her race or disability.  Verbal attacks usually make reference and fun of the child's ethnic origin)

· Digital Bullying (Text messaging, mobile phone calls, messages on social networking sites, e-mail)

Bullies are weak

Bullying is not a sign of strength, but a sign of emotional weakness.  In order to be able to handle bullies, we have to understand why they victimise others.

People who bully may well have been bullied themselves or else they feel powerless in some other area of their lives.   Alternatively, they may have been exposed to abnormal amounts and types of TV violence, in which instance the parents have not taken responsibility to censor certain types of viewing.  Some fathers may even encourage their children to engage in bullying behaviour by play fighting, which may seem harmless, but in the extreme can teach children that this is an acceptable way to behave.  

People who bully others do so to give themselves power or control over something. Consequently, they generally prey on the weak, on those whom they feel confident will not fight back.  However, in some instances a bully who is challenged can in turn become even more vicious, stooping to unscrupulous methods of retaliation.  

Bullies will focus on any chink in somebody's armour or any perceived difference that they regard to be a weakness.  Whether their victim is of a different ethnic orientation, has a visible flaw or disability, does not conform to a popular image, or is in another minority for whatever reason, their differences are viewed by the bully as a valid excuse to ridicule them.

Victimisation of others is a way of masking the bully's own insecurities or inadequacies.  Bullies are often unable, or unwilling, to recognise or acknowledge the devastating effects that the bullying has upon their victims.

What should you do as the parent of a bullied child?

·  Reassuring your child that it is not his fault is one of the most important steps a parent can take.  Teach your child be proud of himself and any differences about which he may feel conscious.  It's OK to be different.  Many of the world's successful people did not get where they are by being the same as everyone else 

·  It is natural for you to feel angry and your initial reaction might be to confront the bully yourself, or to approach the parents of the bully.  This could create more problems for your child and yourself.  If the bully is aggravated, it may fuel his or her intent to further harm your child.   If the bully comes from a violent home, you too could find yourself on the receiving end of some unwanted harassment yourself.  Let the school take the responsibility of contacting the parent(s) of the bully

·  Assess the seriousness of the situation.  Sometimes a harmless tiff can be blown out of proportion and when the sparring children are friends again, the parents are still at war with each other

·  Inform your child's school, but firstly ask your child whether she would prefer to speak to her form tutor or principal herself.  If necessary, ask the school to protect your anonymity. Sometimes the best way to expose a bully is for the teachers to catch him or her red-handed

·  Find out what the school's current bullying policy is and how the school intends to monitor the situation

·  Teach your child strategies for dealing with the bullying.  Tell your child to stay in a group when at all possible and to let you know exactly where he is going and with who at all times.  Enrol him in a self-defence class, not as a method of harming the bully, but as a means of defending himself.  If the bullying is verbal, tell your child to confront the bully by saying, "Please don't call me that again.  It's cruel and hurtful."

·  Encourage your child to feel comfortable talking to you, a teacher or a counsellor and to confidently report every incident of bullying

·  Ask your child to keep a dated diary of events that you can share, or make your own record of incidents, including any mood swings or emotional and physical effects that you notice in your child that you may think is attributed to the bullying

·  If the school appears to be ignoring the situation, or taking no constructive action, write a formal letter to the head expressing your grievances and copy the letter to the local education authority.  If you still do not feel that the school is being supportive, threaten to remove your child from the system until positive action is taken, or even consider seeking legal advice

What should you do if your child is the bully?

It sometimes comes as a shock to learn that your child is a bully, but it is important to remain as calm as possible. You may feel like yelling at your child and coming out with a string of negative insults, but doing this could ultimately make the situation worse and exacerbate the bullying behaviour.  

Some parents may not want to believe that their child is capable of such behaviour and may continue to live in denial, but it is crucial to find out as much as you can about the nature of the bullying from the complainant or the school.  Trying to identify a motive can be difficult, but it is imperative that you sit down with you child and discuss the situation with him.  You need to establish whether something is upsetting him and, most importantly, explain that bullying is not, and never will be, acceptable behaviour.

Advice to children who are being bullied

·  Bullying should never be ignored.  Ignoring the bully who taunts and makes unkind comments can sometimes cause them to turn their attentions to someone else.  This may solve the problem for you, but only by transferring the misery to the bully's next victim.  Tell to someone he you can trust; either your parents, a close friend or a teacher.  Never keep it to yourself

·  Keep a diary of dates, times, places and detailed accounts of bullying incidents, including the names of any witnesses present.  A bully will often lie and cheat, but over a period of time they are bound to trip up, so recording events, accusations, criticisms and conversations as they occur can serve as evidence in the future

·  Learn to appear confident because bullies have a tendency to pick on socially awkward children.  When the bully realises that he or she can't dominate you, you are one step closer to solving the problem

·  If you do not feel comfortable talking to family or friends, contact a bully support line 

·  Make the bully your friend.  This is a difficult one, especially when you are dealing with negative feelings such as anger and mistrust.  However, when you make an attempt to empathise and understand the reasons behind the bullying, you gain empowerment and no longer feel so threatened by their behaviour


Never assume that because you child refuses to admit she is being bullied that she isn't. I have read some stories so harrowing, they would make you sob.  Here are just a few of them:

In Canada, a bright and diligent 14-year-old student leapt to his death from a bridge. He left a seven-page suicide note saying he was killing himself because his classmates tormented him by calling him "gay" or "faggot".  Tragically, he never told his mother he was being bullied.  Shortly afterwards, a 14-year-old girl hanged herself in her bedroom with a dog leash.  She left a note that read, "If I try to get help, it will get worse. They are always looking for a new person to beat up, and they are the toughest girls."

More recently, the mother of a 13-year-old schoolgirl found her hanging from a strip of cloth in her bedroom at their home near Cardiff.  Before her death, she had complained about being bullied at school.

Finally, read this brief, but distressing excerpt from the book, ²"Bullycide  Death at Playtime".

From chapter 2: Little flowers

I shall remember forever and will never forget.
Monday: my money was taken.
Tuesday: names called.
Wednesday: my uniform torn.
Thursday: my body pouring with blood.
Friday: it's ended.
Saturday: freedom.

The final diary pages of 13-year-old Vijay Singh. He was found hanging from the banister rail at his home.

Please don't let it happen to your child.


BeatBullying  BeatBullying is all about young people helping and supporting each other online.

Cyberbullying  What is cyberbullying and how to stop it.

MindFull  MindFull is a brilliant new service for 11-17 year olds. It provides support, information and advice about mental health and emotional wellbeing, helping you to overcome life's ups and downs and helping you feel confident and happy about who you are. Best of all, because MindFull is online, you can get the help you need whenever you want it, wherever you are.

Text Messaging Harassment and Cyberbullying Resources:  Cyberbullying is when one person is bothered or harassed by another person through a form of technology. It can be through a phone, text message, or the Internet. Cyberbullying has been on the rise in the recent years as technology has advanced. This site lists useful resources to help tackle cyberbullying.

“I will no longer let the fear of vicious comments or replies stop me from speaking what I believe to be right. I will also never give a message that everybody will agree with. I know that even my most faithful followers will never agree 100% with what I say. I also know that they know that and are fine with it.

I am done letting the bullies win. They won’t anymore. Not here.” 

Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

“If I could give one message to the bullied, it would be this: You are not alone. You are strong. You have a voice. You are beautiful. You are intelligent. There are many kids who want to speak up for you, but they don’t because they are afraid of becoming bullied themselves. There are many of us in the world who love you. I love you. You have the power to end this now. That power is in your voice. Find it. Once you use your voice, bullies want no part of you. If you feel that you lack the courage, fake it until you do. Finally, I know it’s hard to see a life that exists beyond high school. It is there, and it is beautiful.” 

Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

“What if the kid you bullied at school, grew up, and turned out to be the only surgeon who could save your life?” 

Lynette Mather

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Part of this copy has been used, with my permission, for the anti-bullying advice and support page on Swindon Borough Council's Local Offer website.
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