Helping your child with bullying at school:

It's been a tough old week or so in the Regan household as we discovered that one of the girls was being bullied at school. Of course, we'd noticed that something was going on as there were changes in behaviours at home such as being tearful and anxious, becoming more attached, withdrawing from activities that were enjoyable before and a huge drop in appetite. 

And as many other parents experience when their child is anxious and upset (whether caused by bullying or something else), it isn't always the easiest to get to the root of what is going on - especially when it all happens when they aren't around you so all you see are the knock on effects. I've got to say it's tough seeing your girl so unhappy and not knowing what to do to help her because she doesn't want to open up to you or anyone.  

Thankfully, using some of the ideas below we have been able to break the bullying behaviours that were going on at school, put things back on track and we now have our usual happy girl once again. One thing I often get asked about by other parents if how they can help their children to manage anxiety and what they can do to help them so I've included in this article some of these ideas, with the caveat that I don't know your particular situation and circumstances so I can't guarantee how well they will work for you - they certainly helped us to resolve this bullying issue so I hope that they can help you too. 

Helping your child with bullying at school

As already mentioned, these are some of the things that I did that massively helped my child with bullying at school but you should always apply your own judgement and knowledge when deciding if and how to use these approaches with your own child.

1. Staying Calm

I think one of the most important things any parent can do when helping an anxious child is to stay as calm and reasoned as possible when talking to them. After all, no child wants to upset their parents and think they are making life worse for them (which could lead to them withdrawing from talking about issues even more). Sure you may need to be firm and direct sometimes, yet the calmer you stay the easier it is to help them to deal with their thoughts and feelings. It also means you can be more objective about what is going on and how to deal with it, rather than getting drawn into black and white, emotional thinking that may not lead to making the best decisions.  

2. Create channels and opportunities

Asking my daughter outright what was going on got me nowhere. I either got a shrug of the shoulders or a response of 'I don't know'. And sure, why would she want to talk about things that were clearly upsetting her or to go there in any way (heck, many adults don't like to talk about things that are upsetting them and they've got much more life experience and knowledge to draw upon). We created as many opportunities for my daughter to open up a little so we had more clues as to what might be happening and so my wife and I would gently approach what was going on individually and together at different times, we left her to interact with her grandad to see what came up, she spent some time with a trusted teacher at school and we encouraged her to write down what was going in in her head. Slowly and surely we started to gather snippets of what was happening yet we also found that being open in what we asked was leading to very open replies rather than getting at the root of it all, which led to:

3. Yes/No Questions

Once it became clear that she didn't want to break wide open her experiences we moved to asking questions that required a yes or no. This took away the pressure to give details yet also allowed us to narrow things down. Pretty quickly we became much more specific and identified it was a problem only at school, involving children from a certain year group who were saying and doing certain things. That was enough to go on without having to push her to name names, relive and re-enforce negative experiences or strengthen the anxious associations with aspects of school life.

4. Scaling back anxiety

One thing that I've always encouraged my kids to do (and, in fact, anyone with anxiety of any age), is to develop strategies for interrupting unwanted thoughts and for calming down emotions. At night I taught her a counting technique (backwards from 300 in 3s to start with), along with 7/11 breathing so that she continued to sleep ok and had the ability to switch off from everything for a time.

5. Taking Swift Action

I'm so grateful for the support of the school. The very next day my wife arranged a meeting with the Head, explained the situation and the school took effective action very swiftly. At each step we talked to my daughter about what we were going to do and what had happened so she was involved in getting things sorted and was reassured that things were being sorted.

Bullying is horrible at any age. Having experienced it first hand many years ago, with all the fear and dread that goes with it, I can tell you that it's even more horrible when it happens to someone you love and you just want to take their pain away. Thankfully things for us are back on the up and I'm confident they will remain so and if anything in this article helps anyone in a similar situation then it will have been well worth putting all this out there.

To your happiness

Dan Regan