How to beat the bullies

If you suspect that your child is being picked on, listening, paying attention to their moods and building their confidence are all crucial

Catherine Bolger

AS parents, we all want our children to be happy and carefree. To be confident and outgoing. We want to be secure in the knowledge that they are safe and protected and that they aren't worried about anything -- other than how good they've been when Santa's doing up his list.

We try to instil the concept of right and wrong, of being kind to others and the importance of sharing. "Just let him have his toys," I hear myself pleading with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter when she takes her younger brother's things. "No," she replies, "they're mine, he's not getting them." While she understands the concept that sharing is caring, my daughter believes it does not apply to her.

This can be frustrating but as a parent you have to accept it. This is also a natural stage in development. Most children, with the proper guidance and encouragement, will grow out of it. Teaching children the idea of sharing and including others in their play is a vital life skill. We are teaching them how to negotiate, to problem-solve, and how to compromise.

But when does bad behaviour become bullying? Any child has the potential to be bullied. According to studies, up to a third of primary school children in Ireland experience bullying at some stage. That's a frightening statistic for parents. It is up to us to pay attention to children and to teach them by example how to behave towards others in an empathic way.

By listening to our children and teaching them how to interact with others, we are teaching them life skills. But we also need to teach them that it's not okay for anyone to do these things to them either.


Simply by paying attention to our children. We notice how they interact with others, how they express their emotions, how they negotiate and problem-solve. We look out for changes in their emotions, in their confidence and behaviour that tells us something is wrong. Young children do not always have the cognitive skills or the language to articulate how they feel or how they are hurting, so it is our job, our responsibility to draw this out of them and explain it to them.



If you suspect that your child is being bullied the first thing you do is approach them and ask them if something is going on. Do this in a calm way. Ask them about school, who their friends are, who they play with at break times, what they play? If they seem hesitant about answering, try again.

Check with them if they are enjoying school, what their favourite subject is, which ones they don't like. Answers to all of these questions will give you insights into how they are coping with life. Their reactions, even if non-verbal, will give you clues if something is upsetting them.

Let them know you are here for them, that you will support them and work out a solution to the problem with them. Do not show anger or upset at the situation as this can scare children. They may feel you can't deal with it and may withdraw from you. Show them that you will listen to them and not just react. Tell them that you will deal with the situation and help put an end to the bullying behaviour.


Let young children know that they did the right thing telling you and that you will help to stop the bullying. With older children and teens collaborate with them from the start, let them feel included in whatever decision is being made or action taken. Give them back some of the power they have lost through being bullied. Reinforce that it is not their fault, that they didn't cause it and that it will stop now that they have told. Let them know that they do not have to be afraid of what will happen next, that the situation needs to change. Let them know it will not get worse.


Build their self-esteem and confidence every day, reward them, and reinforce positive behaviour. Teach them how to interact with others and how to manage conflict and problem-solve. Help them understand what behaviour is unacceptable and what not to put up with. Any form of bullying is not to be tolerated. Reinforce that it is nothing about them that caused the bullying behaviour, that it is about the other person. That it's the bully trying to feel better about themselves by hurting others.


Act if you suspect your child is being bullied. If the bullying is occurring at school or at sports, contact the principal/manager immediately and ask to meet. Find out about the school's bullying policy and familiarise yourself with it. Ask the principal/manager questions about how they deal with bullying behaviour, what action they take. Find out whether they talk to all students about bullying and what the school ethos around bullying is. Ask about what supervision is in place during lunch?

What to look for:

> Becoming sullen or quiet

> Not wanting to play with friends

> Not wanting to go to school

> Not doing well at school

> Changes to behaviour, eg bed- wetting or tantrums

> Anger outbursts or aggressive behaviour towards others In older children and teens:

>Feelings of anxiety

> Suicidal thoughts/self-harm

> Alienating themselves from groups of friends

> Mitching from school

> Grades slipping

> Aggressive behaviour

> Not wanting to do their usual activities/sports