Bullying encompasses a whole range of problems for children and young people and can take many forms including:

  • verbal abuse – name-calling, being teased, put down or threatened
  • physical abuse of any form including damage to belongings
  • spreading rumours
  • being excluded or left out
  • sending abusive messages or images
  • any behaviour which tries to control or undermines someone.

Bullying can happen either face-to-face or, increasingly, online as well.

Spotting the signs of bullying

It is sometimes easy to spot a change in the behaviour of children. Some children, however, will go to great lengths to prevent adults from knowing what is going on, as they feel afraid it will make things worse.

Signs that may point to bullying include:

  • your child seems unusually withdrawn
  • scratches and/or bruises
  • damaged clothes
  • not wanting to go to school
  • reluctance to go out or play with friends
  • changes in online behaviour / use of their phone
  • complaints of feeling ill
  • any behaviour that is out of character (more upset, reacting more angrily).

Of course these are only some signs, and changes in behaviour could indicate that something else is affecting your child. You know your children best, so trust your instincts.

Why children and young people find it hard to tell

It can be really difficult for children to tell their parents that they are being bullied. They don’t want to cause their parent upset or stress and may feel worried what will happen: will it make the bullying worse? Children are extremely sensitive to adults’ reactions and feelings and often feeling responsible for adding to their parents’ anxiety.

We understand that parents naturally want to protect their children and ‘fix’ anything which hurts them.

However, sometimes, as parents take on the role of fixing the problem the child’s needs and opinion can get lost. Children may feel more anxious but also disempowered if they feel they have no control or say over what is happening to them.

Parents can also feel overwhelmed by bullying – it is distressing to feel unable to prevent your child being bullied or even know how best to support them.

Contact Parentline

Often by the time parents call Parentline, they have tried many different avenues and feel powerless and frustrated about what to do next. These feelings are often similar to what their child is experiencing.

One of the important things parents can get from calling is the confidence to continue to address bullying and the reassurance that every child has the right to be safe in school.

“I’m so upset – each morning I have to force my son to go to school. He has been bullied for over a year now – it’s awful, I feel so desperate for him.

"The school were supportive at first but I think they are fed up now – they let him away early at night, but that means he has to walk home himself.”

- Caller to Parentline

What else can you do as a parent?

  • Look out for signs.
  • Listen – without reacting and trying to fix (if possible).
  • Ask your child what they want to see happen.
  • Be honest - if you need to get involved, tell them you’re doing this, and why.
  • Keep talking to them and create a safe and calm space for them to do this.
  • Don’t make it all there is – don’t ask them as soon as they walk in the door. Perhaps agree with your child when and how you talk about it. They may not always want to talk about it even though you do.
  • Try to ensure your child has positive activities to build their resilience and confidence – sports, hobbies, other friendship groups
  • Speak to the school (see below) 


  • Make an appointment with the school and clearly explain the situation. If possible involve your child in this. If it helps, make a note of things you want to say and remember you can take someone with you for support.
  • Ask what the school’s policy is on bullying and what action they intend to take.
  • Perhaps identify a key adult in school who your child trusts and can go to. 

Every school is required by law to have an anti-bullying policy, which aims to reduce and prevent bullying and create a no-tolerance ethos. Some schools have excellent anti-bullying initiatives so find out what your child’s school has in place.

Useful links