If your child is being bullied, it can be hard to know what to do. We’ve got tips on preventing and stopping bullying, talking about it, and the support available for you as a parent.
We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. And we all have a part to play in working together to move beyond bullying - parents, carers, teachers, students, managers, employees and the community.
Be a role model
First of all, teachers, parents and carers should encourage young people to treat others fairly, and model positive behaviour.
Talk about bullying
Many people with a learning disability find it hard to understand what bullying is or if it is happening to them.
Finding someone who will listen and give them the right support can also be a challenge, and this in turn can seriously damage their self-esteem. It is important that they are listened to.
Proactively talking about bullying is a great way to tackle bullying behaviour, because you might be able to stop it early on or prevent it altogether.
Talk to your child about bullying so that they know what it is and they can feel comfortable telling you about any experience that could be bullying.
You can also help them be more prepared if they experience bullying behaviour so that they can respond in the best way and try to stop it early.
Talking about bullying with someone with communication difficulties
We all show our feelings differently, and there are many ways we can communicate if we are being bullied. If your child has difficulty communicating, you can encourage them to explore different ways of letting you know you how they feel:
- Writing it down in a letter to you.
- Using toys or teddies to re-enact experiences they've had.
- Drawing what has happened to them.
- Pointing to an emotion chart or using emotion flash cards. You can make these, download them or buy them online. Your child can point to a smiley face, a sad face, an angry face or other visuals that help show how they are feeling.
How to react as a parent
Hearing that someone you love and care for is being bullied is very hard to hear. You might be upset or angry, but it’s important to stay calm and listen to the full story. Here are five steps you can take to handle the situation:
- Talk openly about bullying so your child knows how to recognise it and that they can trust you and talk to you about their feelings. People don’t want to make their parents feel angry or sad - if they think you will respond like this, they might not talk to you about their bullying experiences.
- Respond calmly and with empathy - listen, offer a hug and ask them how this made them feel.
- Find out the details, and calmly reassure them that it’s not their fault and they did the right thing speaking to you about it.
- Be sympathetic and ask questions to get details. You can write down what has happened, the dates and times, places where the bullying took place, and if anyone else was around to see it. These details are important, because they will help you explain what has happened to a teacher and take steps to resolve the issue.
- Talk through the situation and help them form a plan of what to do next - empower them to take control and feel safe.
Working with the school to resolve the issue
If your child has told you that they are being bullied at school, here are some steps you can take to resolve the issue:
- Talk to the bully: If your child feels that they can talk to the bully and ask them to stop, that is the first place to start. If they feel uncomfortable or unable to do so, speak to their teacher.
- Talk to a teacher: Your child may prefer to talk to their teacher themselves, or they may prefer you to talk to their teacher for them. Make sure you keep talking to your child for updates about how the situation is being dealt with. If you speak to their teacher, stay calm and polite, and explain the details of the situation. The teacher should listen and deal with the situation sensitively.
- If the teacher doesn't take it seriously: It can be frustrating when you speak to the school about a bullying incident and they don't take it seriously or take steps to resolve the issue. Schools should have an anti-bullying policy. Find out what it is and have a calm conversation with them to make sure that they are following their own policy.
- Write a diary: write down dates, times, any witnesses, who is involved and other details that can help you record what is happening and convince the school to act on it.
- If the bullying continues: If the bullying continues or you think it is harassment, you can report the abuse to the police. See mate and hate crime.
- Support from your local council: Many communities provide local resources to help tackle bullying. The more we become aware of bullying at school, the more likely they’ll take steps to tackle it. Your local council website should have information about anti-bullying schemes.
What you can do to improve your school’s response to bullying
- Share with the school the government's guidance on tackling and preventing bullying.
- Ask your teacher to arrange for a professional speaker to talk to the whole school about bullying.
- Report ineffective school response to bullying to a local newspaper. School administrators will be quick to change their attitudes if they think they might look bad in the news.
- Write to the school chair of governors.
After the bullying ends
It is important to get the right support to stop the bullying behaviour and then to manage any lasting effects of the bullying if needed.
- Focus on looking after the person who has been bullied.
- If things don’t improve, see if a friend, family member or counsellor can offer the right support. You may need support as well as your child, so finding someone you can talk to is also important.
- If the person you support is anxious or depressed take them to see a doctor and get professional support for them.
- Try to be proactive and keep busy, focusing on positive activities like making things and seeing friends.
- Have patience - it can take time for someone to process what they have been through, get their confidence back and be around people again.
If you have concerns for someone's wellbeing or safety call Mencap's helpline on 0808 808 1111.
The Learning Disability Helpline is our free help and advice line.
Our team can offer advice, information and discuss what support Mencap can offer tailored to your needs, in your area.