Respectme helps parents and carers understand what they can expect from schools if they are concerned their child is being bullied and offers practical tips to support their child.
Every child has a right to live free from bullying and harassment, and parents play an important role in helping children realise these rights by preventing and responding to bullying. While this may seem daunting, particularly in today’s digital world, national and local policies provide helpful frameworks and there are lots of practical strategies you can use if you have concerns.
Respect for All
Respect for All is the Scottish Government’s national anti-bullying guidance. It provides a framework for all adults working with children and young people, to make sure that responses to bullying are clear and consistent. The guidance doesn’t just apply to schools, but to all organisations providing services for children and young people.
As parents or carers there are key principles in Respect for All that you can expect school and organisational anti-bullying policies to include:
1. Defining bullying
Respect for All sets out what we mean by bullying: “Bullying is both behaviour and impact; the impact is on a person’s capacity to feel in control of themselves. This is what we term as their sense of ‘agency’. Bullying takes place in the context of relationships; it is behaviour that can make people feel hurt, threatened, frightened and left out.”
We don’t rely on behaviour being intentional or persistent before it is considered to be bullying. Focusing on whether something was done “on purpose” can shift attention away from what was actually done and the impact it had on the child. And while bullying usually is persistent, a single incident can have a huge impact on a child or young person’s wellbeing; it is not helpful to wait and see if a pattern or repetition emerges before taking action.
By focusing on the impact behaviour is having, we can better support children and young people to explore possible solutions and help them to regain a sense of control.
2. Preventing bullying
Respect should be at the heart of all of our relationships, both face to face and online. Promoting respectful relationships, and repairing relationships if needed, helps create places where bullying cannot thrive. The overall ethos of any organisation should be to promote inclusion, celebrate diversity and make it clear that bullying is never acceptable.
3. Labelling behaviour
Labelling children and young people as ‘bullies’ or ‘victims’ can be disempowering and unhelpful to everybody involved. Labelling an action and the impact it’s had is a better way to change behaviour and support recovery.
4. Challenging prejudice-based bullying
Prejudice against the things people think are different about a person is often at the heart of why children and young people are being bullied. Anti-bullying policies should include a clear commitment to challenging this type of bullying, and all staff working with children and young people should reflect this in their own daily practice.
5. Recording and monitoring bullying
For everyone who works with children and young people, accurate recording of bullying incidents can help make sure an appropriate response takes place. Monitoring bullying incidents is critical and allows for quick action to make sure bullying behaviour doesn’t continue.
Practical advice for parents and carers
While Respect for All places importance on making sure bullying doesn’t happen, we know that it does take place. So what should you do if your child is being bullied, whether face to face or online?
- Firstly, don’t panic! It’s difficult to hear, and your first response might not be the best one. Children and young people often don’t tell adults because they’re scared that they’ll over-react and make the situation worse. Remaining calm and listening without interrupting or judging is reassuring and shows you’re taking them seriously. Feeding back sensitively on any changes you have noticed can also help your child to see how bullying is impacting on them.
- Involve them in what happens next. Exploring this together can make your child feel valued and will help you to understand what support they need. There is never one answer when it comes to bullying. Sometimes you have to ask, “Tell me what you have done so far”, “What would you like me to do?”
- Listen to what they say. Most children want bullying to stop with the minimum of fuss, and often they don’t want you to do anything – it helps just to have told someone. It’s about looking at options; and sometimes having to say, as a parent, “If I’m worried and I don’t think you’re safe, I’m going to step in”, and explain why.
- Support them to cope with how they’re feeling. Some children might be good at writing things down or recording their feelings in a blog, others might be able to react to bullying behaviour by using a clever comeback. Remember, what works for one person won’t always work for another, what worked before might not work today – it’s about exploring options. What will help your child cope, and what might make the behaviour stop? Stay alert to both. The temptation to try and solve the situation is understandable, but pause and think, ‘how do I give my child back a sense of being in control?’
- Keep listening and talking. If you’re working with the school or another organisation, keep your child informed about what’s happening at all stages. Encourage them to talk to you – and be aware that the impact of bullying can still be felt, even when the behaviour has stopped.
For more information and supporting resources for parents and children and young people, including our programme of free training opportunities, visit the Respectme website. It can also be helpful to get a copy of your school or local authorities bullying policy to find out how they recommend bullying issues are dealt with.
With thanks to Pamela Grahame from Respectme.