What can I do if my child is being bullied?

We cover what bullying is and the practical steps you can take if you think your child is being bullied because of their visible difference.

Sadly, bullying is a common occurrence for young people who look, sound or seem different. As a parent, this can be hard to cope with. But there are things you can do.

On this page we look at some of the practical steps you can take to stop bullying – as well as the emotional support you can offer to your child.

Resources to share with your child

The information on this page has been written to support you, as the parents and carers of young people with visible differences. We have produced separate advice and guidance for children and young people. You might want to share the guides linked below with your child or you could read them together.

What is bullying?

Bullying is when a person or group of people repeatedly do things to upset, hurt or humiliate another person. It can include:

  • Name-calling
  • Repeated and nasty teasing
  • Manipulation
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Physical violence
  • Hurtful notes, letters or social media posts and comments

Unfortunately, bullying is relatively common among children and young people. Particular targets can be those who are different, which makes young people with a visible difference vulnerable to bullying.

In this video, young people with visible differences talk about their experiences of bullying:

My child is being bullied. What practical steps can I take?

Report it to the school

Bullying often happens at school when children are unsupervised or not being closely monitored, such as in the playground.

If you find out that your child is being bullied, the school has a duty to ensure that it is stopped. “Maintained schools” (schools controlled by the local authority, as opposed to academies) have a legal requirement to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under the Education Act 2002. Academies and private schools have a similar duty under the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014.

  • Schools will generally be supportive if you let them know that your child is the victim of bullying.
  • Most schools have their own anti-bullying policy.
  • Once the school is informed, keep them up-to-date by reporting new incidents every time they happen and ask for feedback on action taken to stop the bullying.
  • Any bullying is unacceptable, but if you can, clarify whether the bullying is related to your child’s visible difference, as this can offer extra legal protection. This is because “severe disfigurement” is classified as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and disability is a legally “protected characteristic”. Knowing the reason for the bullying is also useful context.

For example, if you discover that your child is being bullied because of their visible difference, you could phone (or email) the school and request to speak to the child’s form tutor, the pastoral team or even the senior management. You could say something like this:

I’ve found out that my child is being bullied. They have [condition name], which makes them look different, and they are being targeted because of this. I’d like to get this sorted as soon as possible. Please can you explain the school’s anti-bullying policy. I’d also like to understand how the school will follow up on this and how you will keep me informed about the next steps.

Report it to the police

In some instances, the bullying may actually count as a crime and can be reported to the police to investigate. Here are some legal facts about bullying:

  • The age when a young person can be charged with a crime in the UK is 10 years (except in Scotland, where it’s 12 years). This is known as the age of criminal responsibility.
  • Physical violence such as hitting or kicking someone is assault.
  • Harassment, malicious communications, stalking, threatening violence, incitement to violence are all crimes and have been for a long time. Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, it is against the law to cause alarm or distress in the UK. It is not about the medium, it is about the offence. This applies whether done face to face, by phone, via the internet or on social media.
  • Name-calling, repeated teasing or making rude gestures over and over again could also be seen as harassment.

Take a look at our page about hate crime and hate incidents.

Report it to the local council or the bus or public transport operator

If the bullying takes place on the bus or public transport, you can report it to the local council and ask that the person who is bullying has their bus pass taken away.

You can also make a formal complaint to the local transport or bus operator and ask what can be done. You may be able to find this information on their website.

Help your child manage social media

If your child is experiencing bullying online, here are some ways you can help. You don’t have to do all of these things and you may wish to give your child the option of taking some of these steps by explaining the benefits, so they stay in control. The steps you introduce may also depend on your child’s age.

  • Set the account to private and ask your child to only add friends and people they know won’t upset them.
  • Ensure they block bullies and anyone making unkind comments.
  • Talk to your child about staying safe on the internet.
  • Limit time spent online.
  • Have an internet “curfew” so your child is only online at certain times or when you are able to supervise.
  • Talk to your child about taking a “social media break” so they can have time to move on from the bullying and reduce the risk of it happening when they are still feeling very upset.

Share our social media guide for young people with a visible difference with your child.

Talking to your child about bullying

I suspect my child is being bullied, but they haven’t mentioned it

It is common for young people to keep bullying to themselves because:

  • They don’t want to make it worse.
  • They are embarrassed or ashamed.
  • They don’t want to worry you.

However, you may notice a change in their demeanour or they may act differently to normal. If you suspect your child is being bullied but they haven’t mentioned it to you, it may be worth asking some exploratory questions to help you find out.

Ask questions such as:

  • “Is someone being unkind to you?”
  • “Are you worried about going to school?”
  • “Has anyone said or done anything to upset you?”
  • “Is someone bullying you?”

This gives your child the opportunity to open up the discussion and talk about it without them having to bring it up themselves.

You could also explain why you are raising the subject so it doesn’t just come out of the blue:

  • “You have been very quiet about school recently and I was wondering if everything was OK with you. I’d like to try and help.”
  • “You seem a bit upset about things – is there something going on at school? If you are upset, it can be good to talk about it.”
  • “When we talk about school, you seem to want to change the subject and it’s made me wonder if there are things worrying you about it.”

Preparing them for bullying

It can be helpful to talk to your child about the kind of unkind behaviour they may experience at school, even if you do not suspect they are being bullied at the moment. This can help prepare them – you can also agree some steps you will take together if they do experience bullying.

How to talk about bullying

It can be difficult to find the words to talk about this topic. Here are some approaches you might like to try out:

  • Talk directly about the challenges of school and the things they might experience.
  • Use your own experiences to help your child understand that bullying can happen to anyone. Explain that, sadly, many people experience bullying at some time in their lives.
  • Consider how you talk about the bullies to your child. Talk about them as people who are struggling themselves. Explain that underneath, people may choose to bully because they don’t feel good about themselves or because they are experiencing difficulties in their own lives.
  • Try not to show your feelings. Understandably, you might feel angry and upset if you know or suspect that your child is being bullied. However, showing calmness and giving your child positive suggestions and ideas on managing bullies will help them more.

Share this guide to bullying which we have created especially for children and young people living with a visible difference.

Managing your own feelings

If your child is being bullied, you may feel a mixture of strong emotions, including hurt, worry, anger, powerlessness and protectiveness. You want the best for your child and knowing they are being targeted by bullies can be very painful.

You need help and support too. You could speak to a friend, family-member or your partner about how you are feeling. Seeing your child upset is hard and it might help you to talk to people about how you feel.

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