Even though it is not what want parents want to hear, if your child tells you they are being bullied, thank them for telling you. Your child telling you they are being bullied means they have reached out to you. It means they trust you with the information and they trust how you respond to that information. Thirty percent of bullied children tell no one they are being bullied. (Professor Donna Cross Edith Cowan University Western Australia), so your child being one of the seventy percent who do tell is a good thing.
Although difficult to hear, at least now you have some information and can help your child. Of the seventy percent of children who tell someone, they usually tell their friends first, and parents next. Your child telling you really is a good thing (even though it might not feel like a good thing at the time). They now have you on their team.
Sam, age 15 years:
‘I wish I had told my parents sooner about the bullying. When I told them it had been going on for a while, they were shocked. Then they said they were so glad I told them and they really helped sort things out. My advice to other kids is to tell an adult. If they don’t help tell another adult and keep going until you find one who will help you’.
Reasons why children don’t tell their parents:
If your child has not told you (maybe you found out another way), try not to take it personally or see it as a reflection of your relationship or parenting skills. As you will see in the list below, sometimes children have really good reasons (in their mind) not to tell you. Sometimes they are trying to protect themselves or protect you from worrying.
Reasons why sometimes children won’t tell their parents include:
‘I didn’t want Mum / Dad to worry.’
‘I will get in trouble (because I swore at them one day).’
‘Last time I told them they got really angry and it made it worse.’
‘Mum will go to the school and make a scene.’
‘They won’t believe me.’
‘If I tell them the bullying will get worse.’
‘I thought I could sort it out myself.’
‘They would ask me questions and then we would have to talk about it again and again.’
‘They would have made me go to the school and do that Restorative Practice thing and I didn’t feel strong enough to do it.’
‘I started it.’
‘Mum has breast cancer. She has enough to deal with.’
‘I should be able to handle it.’
‘If I get the bully in trouble there will be payback.’
‘Dad will make me fight him.’
‘They will blame me / ask me what I’m doing to cause it.’
‘It won’t change anything. There is nothing Mum or Dad can do to help me.’
‘They would tell me to stand up for myself and I don’t know how.’
‘Mum and Dad are fighting about money– I didn’t want to add to their stress.’
Your child sharing with you they are being bullied means they trust you and your response. They feel safe with sharing that information with you. They are telling you for a reason. Thank them! A simple thank you lets them know it is safe for them to talk with you about what is going on. Most children just want a hug in the first instance. A simple, ‘Thanks for letting me know. Let’s sort it out together’ can make all the difference to your child.
Give yourself permission to not have a solution in that first moment so you can fully be there for them.