What to do if your child is being bullied, or is a bully

boy crying in the school yard

The heartbreak of finding out your child is the victim of bullying is enough to crush any parent, as television presenter Dr Andrew Rochford has found out.

He recently revealed on Instagram that bullies have targeted his 10-year-old son Archie because he has red hair.

The gut-wrenching post is an outpouring of grief for his son, and anger towards anyone who perpetuates victimisation as a form of humour.

With that in mind, Mum’s Grapevine has asked the experts for help to find out what parents can do if their child is being bullied … or if their child is the one doing the bullying.

Take a look at Andrew’s post below, then see what the experts say.

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This is my son Archie. He is 10. And I wouldn't normally share something like this, but I HAVE to..I can't hold this in anymore. He is the most beautiful boy you could ever meet. He cares about everyone,… genuinely…. with every bit of his heart. I have tried to teach him the importance of treating others the way you want to be treated, it's a simple idea, and I could never have expected him to care so much about those words. If you fall, he will pick you up..if you're sad, he will try to make you smile..if you cry, he will hold your hand. And as I write this, I cry. You can see my beautiful boy has red hair…. beautiful red hair….He didn't choose his hair…. he can't change his hair….and he should not have too. The first time he told me he was being bullied because of his hair I encouraged him to 'be strong buddy, you're amazing' ,and they are just going for the 'easy target'….But when he comes to me and says he's being called a 'f**king ranga' TARGETED for something he cannot change, I am broken…completely broken. He is brave and strong and a far better person than most, and he tells me ' don't worry Dad, I'm fine' . But I'm not ..not at all….I'm sick of the hypocrisy & intolerance. I. AM.DONE. To ALL who think it's 'funny' to discriminate and bully someone for something they CANNOT change….you are no better than a racist or a homophobe. You throw it out there in an attempt to seem witty or clever, you are NOT. You are as shallow and ignorant and PATHETIC as all the other narrow-minded bigots that inhabit our beautiful planet. So take a really long hard look at yourself..because if you perpetuate victimisation in your house, or your workplace or on a stage or the radio or television….YOU are the problem…YOU! The boys that are picking on my son, weren't born to be so mean, they have learnt from you. And to all the gangly kids, the kids with big ears, the ones born in different countries, or with different coloured skin, a different way of speaking, or different ANYTHING that you can't change..I am here for you..100 percent. I will fight for you, just as I will fight for Archie….because ALL of this has to end. #stop #bullying

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“To ALL who think it’s ‘funny’ to discriminate and bully someone for something they CANNOT change … you are no better than a racist or a homophobe,” Dr Rochford wrote.

“You throw it out there in an attempt to seem witty or clever, you are NOT. You are as shallow and ignorant and PATHETIC as all the other narrow-minded bigots that inhabit our beautiful planet.”

Dealing with bullying

Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta says bullying is an extremely complex issue that needs a combined approach.

“Schools often also need support and we know that good leadership and openness can make a very big difference. We don’t depict protagonists as ‘baddies’ and ‘goodies’ as we know, in many cases, these roles can be blurred or interchangeable,” Lesley says.

Don’t ignore the problem

The foundation has outlined some key steps to deal with school and cyber bullying:

  • Watch for these signs, because many children will rarely say what is happening to them: trouble at school, drop in academic performance, sleep and/or eating disorders, withdrawal from social activities.
  • Never ignore a bullying or cyber bullying situation. Respond to it as a parent or teacher with respectful listening, noting down the particulars of the situation and how the young person wants it resolved. Usually they are not interested in punishing the person who is bullying them; they just want it to stop.
  • Encourage young people to tell someone who can help and not to ignore bullying; it will not go away on its own.
  • Explain to young people that retaliating physically or aggressively will usually make things worse.
  • Strategies young people can practise to cope with bullying include walking away, acting unimpressed, or pretending not to notice. Online strategies can include blocking, strategic ignoring of the behaviour and saving evidence via screenshots.
  • If bullying or cyber bullying is particularly serious (physical or deeply personal), the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner or the police can be contacted. Before then, you might want to contact Kids Helpline on 1800 551800 or Lifeline on 131 114.

How to help your bullied child

Digital parenting expert Ruth Dearing says it’s important to get it right when your child first comes to you about bullying.

“A ‘too hot’ response is where you start threatening to do things like marching into the school to demand an instant response from the principal, calling the local member of parliament, beating up the bully, yelling abuse at the bully’s parents (who may not even be aware it’s happening), and so on,” Ruth says.

“This sort of response is likely to embarrass your child even more and may well make your child regret telling you about the bullying at all.”

The other side of the coin is being ‘too cold’ – dismissing what’s happening to your child as nothing to worry about, and tell them to ignore it.

“You might also share that message that everyone by now should realise is so untrue, the old ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’ rubbish.”

Instead, Ruth suggests simply listening and comforting your child. Let them get everything out, and talk about way you can deal with the bullying calmly, while promising to take action.

school bullying

What if my child is the bully?

Ruth says being the parent of a bully can be just as traumatic as your child being the victim.

“The fact is that most happy, well-balanced children don’t bully others. Bullies are often cowardly and may be lacking in self-confidence or self-esteem,” Ruth explains.

“What makes bullying different from just being mean is that the perpetrator is exerting their power over the victim. They think that by putting someone down, they’ll feel better about themselves, and that they might gain more respect from their peers.”

Ruth suggests taking the following steps if you discover your child has been bullying others:

  • The first step (and possibly the most difficult!) is to accept that it’s happening. Not believing it and therefore not taking any action to stop it is just not on.
  • Your first instinct may be to yell and scream at your child, however often our first instincts as parents don’t exactly result in the most effective responses! Yes, your child needs to be informed in no uncertain terms that bullying is unacceptable in any way, shape or form. But it needs to go further than that.
  • Bullies are often victims themselves. They may have been bullied by others before, so are now playing the role of the bully to stop themselves from being bullied.
  • Different bullies may have different reasons for their behaviour. Your job as a parent is to find out their reason, and to help them through it.

There are many strategies and ways to deal with both bullies and victims, and what works in one situation may not work in another.

If you need guidance, visit the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

One of the best things parents can do is keep good communication with their child about their day so that any problems can be brought up. Here’s 25 questions to ask your kid after school to get the conversation started.