Bully proofing your child

We all desire to see our kids happy and content. As parents, we certainly hope to protect our kids from harm and danger.

This is an exceedingly difficult challenge for parents, who often have to send their kids off regardless, where they might well be the victim of bullying. Worse, some parents know their child is being bullied, but feel powerless to halt incessant, deliberate bullying.

However, there is some help toward bully proofing your child. No guarantees, but some helpful ideas.

Sadly, more than 20 per cent of children will be bullied each year in school. Similarly, 20 per cent or more of kids online will be bullied, but worse, seemingly more than 50 per cent of regular Internet users will be bullied. Playground and sports bullying no longer stand alone, cyber bullying has become a very serious concern.

  • Confronting realities
  • Warning signs of bullying
  • Supporting non victim behaviour
  • Authorities
  • Do’s and don’ts
  • Cyber bullying – the Internet, computers and mobile phones

Confronting realities

Care providers, including preschools, schools, sporting groups and interest groups are all responsible for protecting children. They must have effective policies, but more so, undertake genuine actions and processes to prevent bullying. Even cyber-space providers must take a role in moderating and dealing with bullying.

However, a harsh reality parents must face is that your child is being bullied for a reason. In no way is this to blame your child, nor to assert that any child deserves to be bullied. No child deserves bullying.

However, an essential element in bully proofing your child is to accept that a facet of his or her presentation potentially portrays your child as a victim. It may be a physical difference, it may be adopting a too submissive stance, it may be very poor non-verbal language, or it may be presenting as a victim, such as slinking along walls.

Bullies are to blame, but we need to confront the reality of helping all those who become victims not to present as victims. Sadly, if effective measures are not taken victims can be bullied from one environment to another.

Research also tells us that half of children bullied at school will also be bullied in the workforce. In simple terms, this means coaching your child, practising assertive social skills, getting professional help, engaging them in confidence boosters (like self defence) and generally building their self esteem.

Warning signs of bullying

Bullying often starts slowly and insidiously. Further, victims are often extremely loath to report bullying. Thus, it is often entrenched before mums or dads are aware. However, there are many warning signs that your child might be suffering from bullying.

Playground or sports bullying warning signs can include:

  • unexplained mood swings
  • withdrawal
  • unusual sadness
  • depression
  • unexplained change in academic performance
  • academic ‘dumbing down’
  • social anxiety
  • social withdrawal
  • school refusal
  • disturbed sleep
  • unusual bedwetting
  • bruising
  • torn clothing
  • damaged possessions
  • self harm or self injury.

Cyber bullying warning signs can include:

  • desperation to go online
  • demanding secrecy when online or with mobiles
  • refusal to shut down internet chat sites
  • withdrawal from family
  • notable mood changes immediately after being online
  • obsessive checking of cyber messages
  • swapping one form of cyber technology for another
  • self directed anger after being online or using messages.

Supporting non victim behaviour

As parents, we cannot totally bully proof our kids. A good amount of responsibility lies with adults in authority positions.

However, parents can help bully proof their child by developing a non-victim behaviour. It is critical not to criticise, judge or blame your child, rather to positively support and guide, as well as teaching skills.

A great start if appropriate is to help your child develop good body posture, practising standing tall, shoulders square and an easy walk. Kids, who hug corridor walls, with a hunched stance and turned in, protective shoulder, regrettably attract aggression.

Next, gradually build and practise good eye contact. If your child can’t meet stares, then teach them to look up and over.

Often bullying programs teach kids to respond verbally, but can tend toward too complex language and verbose sentences. Rather, keep it short and simple, emphasising an off-hand or detached tone, or alternatively an assertive (but not aggressive) tone.

Practise avoiding any sensitive or questioning approaches, such as, “…why are you mean to me..?” Good short responses can be similar to, “…yeah whatever, don’t care…’ or slightly stronger assertive statements, like “…stop, not taking it anymore…” If your child falters, or can’t deliver the message effectively, practise frequently and keep it short and simple. You do need to practise and role play until your child’s responses flow easily and confidently.

Many victims stay too long in the ‘battle’, to see the result. Much better is to make an excuse or reason to exit, or to feign disinterest.

In class, try to encourage your child to retort quickly, then look interested on getting on with schoolwork. In the playground, make an excuse, such as needing to go to the computers or remembering needing to see a teacher. If they can’t exit, but are followed by bullies, encourage walking toward teachers, so the bullies have to be more obvious.

Home exercises can assist with bullying proofing. Engaging your child in positive, confidence building activities, like self-defence, gym, drama, etc. can be very beneficial. Similarly, building self-esteem, by any means possible, is essential. However, don’t falsely try to build confidence.

Finally, don’t expect perfection or 100 per cent success. Rather, you need to keep practising and refining, as most victims don’t tend to get it right every time.


Most organisations have policies to deal with bullying. Carers, teachers, officials and coaches all have a role to play.

A parent’s role is to be assertive and advocate for your child, but don’t attack others. More importantly, you need to follow up.

Many bullies know that they will be spoken to once. To help bully proof your child, you need to not only meet with an authority figure, but also follow up several times, over the next weeks, to check that bullying has been effectively dealt with, not just put on hold until it’s safe to bully again.

Never allow your child to refuse to report bullying at length. It is wise to give your child one or two chances, quickly, to try to fix the problem. However, giving in to pleas, that, “….it will only make it worse…” gives bullies permission to keep bullying.

Sometimes adults know best and this is one of those times. There are now many very good programs across Australia that support reporting, such as Reach Out, Bullying No Way and Talk Up. These programs wisely encourage speaking out about bullying, not allowing the code of secrecy, or fear of ‘dobbing’, to permit unrelenting bullying.

Do’s and don’ts

A few things to DO and DON’T do as parents.

  • do advocate positively for your child
  • do be persistent and determined in finding solutions
  • do follow up, until resolution is reached
  • do practise to perfect skills with your child.
  • don’t enter the playground to sort it out
  • don’t confront and threaten the bully yourself
  • don’t confront and battle the bully’s parents
  • don’t threaten a school that you will ‘sort it out’ yourself.

Cyber bullying – the Internet, computers and mobile phones

Helping toward bully proofing your child from cyber-bullying involves many of the same steps as above, with a few added suggestions.

Parents can guide kids not to respond immediately when being attacked in cyber space. It is best to take time to respond. Further, parents need to affirm that messages are in a public forum, thus victims need to be very careful about how they respond.

On a positive note, cyber bullying of your kids does leave traces and evidence, which can be helpful in resolving matters or in reporting incidents. Finally, any cyber bullying should be reported to school or other organisations.
It is essential to keep computers in a public space, such as living or family room, until kids are well into being teenagers.

Parents need to resist withdrawal or isolation from the family, rather affirming everyone needs to be at the table for dinner.

Parents should also aim to limit cyber time on laptops, PCs or mobiles, especially if there are any warning signs of cyber bullying. Parents also need to discuss cyber bullying and set limits to what is acceptable.

In summary, all parents desire to ultimately protect their children, which cannot be guaranteed. However, there is much a parent can do to best prepare and bully proof any of their kids. Also, working collaboratively as a team, including child, parent and other adults, always leads to the best success in dealing with bullying. 

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