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Bullying - The What, Why, and How to Be Supportive

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Let’s talk about bullying.

We know. It's not a topic anyone really enjoys.

We don't blame you: it's a widespread issue that can leave even the most resolute of us feeling powerless, frustrated, and seriously done with humanity as a whole.

As parents and carers, what we would like is (of course) for the bullying to stop. But anyone who has had to deal with bullying knows it’s rarely that quick or simple. Every school, after-school club, teacher, and family can have different understandings of bullying and various degrees of willingness to recognise the problem, and perhaps limited resources to deal with it.

Acknowledging that reality, we have put together some tips on how you can support your child while they are experiencing bullying and in the aftermath with the aim of reducing the impact it has on your child’s life. This short and accessible resource draws upon research into bullying, trauma, empowerment, and on our team's experience as self-defence professionals.

What is bullying?

Bullying is one of those things that can be very difficult to pin down; in fact, there isn’t actually a legal definition of ‘bullying’ as a phenomenon. Regardless, GOV.UK offers a fairly accessible description that more or less covers it:

Bullying is: repeated, intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally often aimed at certain groups (for example because of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation).

It takes many forms and can include: physical assault, teasing, making threats, name calling, cyberbullying - bullying via mobile phone or online (for example email, social networks and instant messenger).

Additionally, the time of uncertainty and anxiety between bullying incidents can be just as gruelling as the bullying itself. It takes away our feelings of safety, our ability to relax, and instead leaves us constantly self-screening and self-censoring in attempts to avoid provocation. This can result in long-term mental health issues like anxiety, low self-confidence, and even PTSD.

So how can we protect our children against a problem that's so difficult to pin down?

What Not to Do: Victim Shaming

Did you say anything to provoke them? * What were you wearing? * Why were you on your own? * Why didn't you fight back?

Considering how little control we have over what others do, it can be tempting to instead focus on why our loved one was targeted in the first place. We do this in the hopes of getting to the bottom of what happened and making sure it doesn't happen again.

This can lead to victim shaming, something that can be just as painful and traumatic for a victim as the original negative event. It's a big fancy term that basically refers to when we're so determined to protect our loved ones that we end up grilling them like they're the guilty one.

If we aren't careful, this kind of conversation can quickly shift the blame onto the victim, leaving them with a false sense of responsibility for what has happened.

Focusing on 'could have, should have, would have' can wrongly suggest that it's possible to either always win fights or to fly under the radar of potential aggression, provided we do enough. This, in turn, implies that it was the victim's fault for failing in some way and not the aggressor's. Sometimes bad things happen; it's way less harmful to admit this (even if it is scary) than it is to pretend that bad things only happen to those who aren't careful enough or don't fight hard enough.

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How Can We Be Supportive?

1. Check your own emotional response:

The first step to providing good support to our loved one who experienced bullying is to recognise our own emotions of rightly-felt anger, indignation, and parent-bear instinct.

Take a deep breath and remember that this isn't about you. Your child is most likely going through a whole mess of emotions of their own and you want to make sure that whatever you're putting out doesn't add to their struggles.

This is especially important in making sure your child feels like they can open up to you in the future about repeat incidents or other problems.

2. Let them know it isn't their fault.

We tell this to all of our practitioners at every level: it isn't the victim's fault what the aggressor chooses to do.

Owning a fuzzy Chewbacca purse or being of a certain body shape, skin colour, gender, or sexuality, etc are not invitations for violence. Sitting 'funny', walking 'dumb', having a 'weird' haircut are not provocations for violence.

Existing in the proximity of a bully is not a request for violence.

Violence is never the victim's fault.

3. Let them know they aren't alone.

Bullying can leave the bullied feeling so very alone and isolated. It can end up seriously impacting a young person's perception of their own worth.

The best thing you can do is to let your child know and hope that things will get better. There is a whole life and world beyond being bullied.

This is where safe social circles away from the bullying problem come in. The trauma of continuous bullying can be greatly mitigated by a positive environment of acceptance and belonging elsewhere. Hobbies, activities, personal projects, or anything else that might give your child an opportunity to develop a sense of self-worth and give them a chance to socialise are key.

Indeed, the best deterrent and remedy against bullying may just be having friends and belonging to a social circle. It gives children a space in which to grow without fear, work on their healthy boundaries, and gain firsthand experiences of life without the constant threat of unwelcome aggression.

4. Use your resources as an adult: keep track of incidents, reach out to a therapist.

We recommend keeping a clear record of what has happened and when; write it down somewhere easily accessible and difficult to misplace (e.g. your phone, or an email draft). This will be a great help if you ever decide to approach staff or parents regarding the issue.

Additionally, if you are worried about your child's wellbeing, you should seek proper specialist therapist support. Many psychology practices offer concessions and are willing to work with you to find an arrangement that suits your child, you, and the therapist best.

If you aren't sure where to even begin looking for a counsellor or a therapist, a good place to start is at Counselling Directory.

If your child isn't open to working with a therapist, you can also attend a consultation appointment with a specialist yourself; they will be able to offer you expert advice on how to approach and navigate the situation. This is a common issue and there is no reason to feel ashamed in turning to a professional when something falls outside of your knowledge or experience.

If this isn't an option for you, you can reach out to other parents whose children may be similarly affected or regular witnesses. If you do speak to teaching staff, administration, or parents, remember to remain calm, composed, and civil. Write up a gameplan or script and stick to it. You are also welcome to have a chat with us too. Though we aren't psychology experts, we do spend a considerable time studying both the physical and psychological realities of self-defence, prevention, and violence.

5. Sign up for a trial class of Krav Maga.

This isn't a marketing ploy. Extracurricular activities are a fantastic way of building up a young person's feelings of self-worth and view of the world beyond bullying.

Krav Maga is an especially good option for this as we specifically focus on developing both physical and psychological life skills. Our curriculum is reality-based and provides an age-appropriate way to develop healthy boundaries and a means of upholding them. Unlike martial arts, we focus heavily on developing both fighting skills and life skills such as situational awareness and how to recognise dangerous situations, how to navigate and deescalate conflict, and developing the inner permission necessary to stand up for ourselves.

Learning how to defend ourselves and fight has the added bonus of being pretty dang cool too, if we do say so ourselves.

Summary

We can't control what others do or how they view the world. However, what we can affect is how prepared, educated, and capable of navigating difficult situations we are.

By being there and making space for our kids to open up about how they are feeling, we can help them process the difficult emotions they are experiencing, reassure them that it’s not their fault, and let them know that they aren’t alone.

This doesn’t make the bullying go away, but it can make a big difference to how your kid copes with it in both the short and long term. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Keep a record of each bullying incident (however small), covering points such as what happened, when, and who was present. This may prove to be the most valuable resource you have in addressing the bullying with school administration, relevant organisations, or other parents.

A less direct way of dealing with the reality of bullying is by making sure your child has a rich life full of opportunities to grow away from the setting in which bullying usually takes place. Any activity, social space, or hobby group (e.g. sports, drama classes, art classes, band practice) can help your child experience belonging and continue developing independently. In the end, one of the most important things we can show young people is what competence and the ability to deal with difficult situations looks like.

That doesn’t necessarily mean making the problem go away immediately. Instead, competence and resilience usually look like keeping our cool in key moments, making measured and informed decisions, and not giving up in the face of relentless problems. This sets an example to the young people around us that we can confront complex negative situations calmly and without letting them define us.

Resources & Further Reading

Resources & Helplines:

Counsellor Directory: Search counsellors/therapists by location.

For Teens: HelpChat Line by STOMP Out Bullying

Anti-Bullying Alliance: How can I help my child if they are being bullied?

Spotting the signs that my child is being bullied?

Information & Further Reading:

GOV.UK bullying definition.

Perpetual Fostering analysis of bullying data across the UK.

Counsellor Directory on Bullying

Further Academic Reading:

'Victim Strategies to Stop Bullying' (2010) by S. Black, D. Weinles, E. Washington in Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice.

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