Tackling bullying - responding to bullying

What to look for, why some children don't tell, and how to talk to your child.

On this page:

What to look out for

A child's behaviours and moods can change for lots of reasons. You need to be alert to the possibility that the change in behaviours and moods is related to bullying.

Talk with your child about school if you are concerned and ask general questions about how things are going.

Children or young people being bullied may:

  • Be frightened of walking to and from school, want to change their usual route, or beg to be driven to school.
  • Be unwilling to even go to school, feel ill in the mornings (headaches, stomach aches).
  • Begin doing poorly in schoolwork.
  • Come home regularly with clothes or belongings damaged or missing.
  • Have unexplained bruising, cuts and/or scratches.
  • Come home really hungry (someone has taken their lunch or lunch money).
  • Become withdrawn (not talking), distressed, anxious or unhappy.
  • Have feelings of helplessness or low self-esteem.
  • Spend more time alone, have a sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations.
  • Have changes in behaviour, becoming aggressive and/or unreasonable at home, or bullying siblings or other friends.
  • Stop eating.
  • Have trouble sleeping or frequent nightmares, especially on Sundays or at the end of the school holidays.
  • Ask for money or start stealing, or have pocket money go missing (to pay the bully).
  • Refuse to say what’s wrong (too frightened of the bully).

They may give unusual excuses for any of the above.

The signs of possible bullying online can be the same, but include other behaviours with phones and computers, for example:

  • Anxious about using their computer or mobile phone.
  • Seem nervous when a text message or email appears.
  • Are visibly upset after using the computer or mobile phone, or suddenly avoiding it.
  • Close the screen, or hide the mobile phone when others enter the room.
  • Spend unusually long hours online in an extra tense, brooding mood.
  • Receive suspicious phone calls, emails or packages.

But there could be other reasons for these signs, so try not to jump to conclusions.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there anything else bothering my child?
  • Are there other issues at home or outside school that may be influencing my child’s behaviour?  For example, major changes like a separation, bereavement, or new baby; or issues with friends outside school?

If there have not been any other changes and you suspect bullying may be the cause of the distress and anxiety, it is important to try and act as early as you can. 

Why don’t children and young people ask for help?

Your child may not know the word ‘bullying’, but they know when someone is being mean, hurting them, or making them feel sad or scared.  They may not tell you because they may be worried they’ll make things worse if they ‘tell’, ‘tattle’, or ‘nark’.

Your teenager probably won’t tell you there’s a problem either.  They may use another term, like ‘harassment’, rather than ‘bullying’ to describe the behaviour.  Teenagers often prefer to handle things on their own.  They might think you’ll get upset, that you will take away their technology, such as their mobile phone, or they might just find it embarrassing to have a parent involved.

Children and young people don’t tell adults for many reasons:

  • Bullying can make a person feel helpless.  They may want to handle it on their own to feel in control again.  They may fear being seen as weak or a nark.
  • They may fear a hostile response from those bullying them.
  • Bullying can be a humiliating experience.  Kids may not want adults to know what is being said about them, whether it’s true or false.  They may also fear that adults will judge them or punish them for being weak.  Many children don’t want to upset their families.
  • Children or young people who are bullied may already feel socially isolated.  They may feel like no one cares or could understand.
  • Kids may fear being rejected by their friends.  Friends can help protect children from bullying, and they can fear losing this support.

Read more about...

Three reasons kids don’t talk about bullying and what you can do about it


How should I talk to my child about bullying?

First you need to make sure you have a clear understanding of what bullying is.

Point out that bullying is not just when someone is mean to you once, but it happens over and over and makes you feel like you can't stop it.

Some of these questions might help you discuss bullying with your child:

  • Have you seen bullying happening? What did you do? How did you feel?
  • Who are the adults you would talk to when it comes to things like bullying?
  • Have you ever felt scared to go to school because you were afraid of someone bullying you?
  • Have you ever tried to help someone who was being bullied? What happened? What would you do if it happened again?

The most important thing is to let your child know how to get help if bullying happens.

Encourage them to speak to an adult if it happens, and to keep on asking for help if the bullying doesn’t stop.

You may want to use books or videos to help start a discussion.

Our student pages include information and organisations that can help.

There is also a page of resources for children and young people about bullying and what to do about it, including:

Narking vs telling


Narking is telling on someone to get that person into trouble.


Telling is getting help when you or someone you know is being hurt, or when your right ot that person's right to be safe is being taken away.