Tips for supporting children who have experienced bullying

Although there is no legal definition on what constitutes as bullying, the anti-bullying charity Ditch defines it as “an imbalance of power which is used to either defame, harass, intimidate or upset another person.” A recent Ofcom report (2022) indicated that 39% of 8–17-year-olds reported some form of bullying either online or face to face.

Bullying can be extremely difficult at any age; understanding what type and method of bullying a young person is experiencing may help highlight what support is needed.  Research has shown some differences in what type of bullying is most prevalent depending on the age. Face to face bullying is the most prevalent amongst 8-11’s and 16–17-year-olds while online bullying is highest among 12–15-year-olds. As more of our time is spent using technology, we are seeing a growing shift towards online bullying becoming more prevalent. Recent reports (Ofcom, 2022) show that of those experiencing bullying 81% said they had experienced bullying online, while 61% had experienced bullying face to face.

Types of Bullying

Bullying can happen for a range of reasons and can take a number of different forms; four common types of bullying are:

  • Verbal Bullying: When an individual uses verbal language to gain power over his or her peers, this can often be through name calling, mocking, insulting or threatening another person.
  • Physical Bullying: A direct form of bullying that involves physical aggression, such as hitting, kicking, pushing, and shoving (Gladden et al., 2014)
  • Social Bullying: Sometimes referred to as relational bullying, this type of bullying is indirect non-physical aggression, such as social exclusion, social rejection, and rumour spreading (Griffen and Gross, 2004)
  • Cyber Bullying: Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over an electronic medium and includes both verbal and relational forms (Gladden et al., 2014)

The impacts of bullying on mental health and school attendance

Bullying can have a huge and far-reaching impact on a young person’s mental health and their ability to engage in school.  The impact of bullying may differ between young adults and it’s important for parents to listen to what the young adult is saying rather than assume the impact bullying is having.

  • Impact on School
    Research has highlighted that compared with those who are not bullied, children experiencing frequent bullying are nearly twice as likely to regularly skip school (Armitage, 2021). Bullying may also attribute to lack of engagement when in school and an avoidance of certain areas in school such as the playground, canteen or school related activities like after school clubs (Hutzell & Payne, 2016). Academic progress and performance on tests are also shown to be negatively impacted by bullying (Eyuboglu,2021).
  • Impact on Mental Health
    The relationship between mental health difficulties and bullying is evident and research highlights some common difficulties young adults frequently bullied may experience.  In the short term, symptoms can include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and social anxiety were all reported in young adults experiencing both face to face or cyber bullying (Eyuboglu,2021). In some cases, an increase in thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation were reported (Armitage, 2021). Recent research has highlighted the long term impact of bullying with frequently bullied adolescents being twice as likely to develop depression in early adulthood, adolescent bullying has also been associated with a lack of social relationships, (Sandoval, 2015)

Tips on how you can help

Listen – Parents may experience a range of emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt or feel a sense of urgency to act quickly when they are first told about their child experiencing bullying. It’s important to stay calm, attend to the needs of your child first, and understand what they need from you in the moment. You may be tempted to ring the school straight away or try and ‘solve’ the problem but understand that this may have been a huge decision for your child to tell you that they are being bullied, so it is important to take time and space to listen first.

Compassion & Reassurance – Reassure your child that bullying is never their fault and that you are there to listen and support them. Also, as mentioned above, it can be extremely difficult for parents to hear that their child is being bullied. It’s important to be aware that hearing this news could bring up triggering memories from your own childhood and showing compassion to yourself at this time is crucial.

Details – When your child is ready try to gather information about the bullying, understanding what type and frequency is helpful. Be aware that this may be too much for your child to elicit all at once, so take your time and understand that this may be really hard for them to talk about.

Plan – Talk to your child about what they would like to happen; communication and creating a shared understanding of the way forward is important. Your child may fear that telling you could make the bullying worse so take time to build trust and develop a plan that is agreed by everyone. Help them to identify the choices open to them and the potential next steps to take.

School – Communicating the difficulties to the school is important and should be done with the agreement of your child (however depending age, developmental stage and the risk of serious harm a decision could be made in their best interest). The school should have a whole-school approach to bullying and have a plan that they can put in place to help your child. Having clear lines of communication with the school and sharing any details your child feels comfortable in sharing is key.



Request a callback using the form below and a member of our team will be in touch to arrange an appointment.