Lavina Sadhwani, MEd

When your child discloses that s/he is being bullied or has been bullied, how do you react?

Anger, fear, disbelief, worry, disappointment, and heartbreak are normal reactions. Although you may be overcome with emotions, it is important to create a safe space for your child to feel comfortable and to share additional details.

Revealing that one has been bullied takes a lot of courage. Some children fear that they will not be believed; that their internet privileges will be taken away; and/or that they will be blamed for not fighting back. As a result, children have to wrestle with these, and other, fears before approaching a parent.

In creating a safe space, here are some suggestions. The following tips are presented in no particular order and you can start with any one of them.


1.        Remain calm and listen

Remaining calm can encourage your child to share more information because it shows that you can handle the situation. When parents allow their emotions to take over, the child may feel as if s/he has to take care of the parent.

Listening creates an accepting environment for your child to speak freely. Allow for silences and pauses because your child might need time to remember the sequence of events and to articulate his/her feelings. While listening, it is important to give your child your full attention. Your child is sharing a painful experience and needs to know that they are important enough to warrant your attention.


2.        Ask questions in a gentle manner

During a long pause or after your child has spoken, ask one question at a time and in a gentle manner. The tone in which we speak can reveal our emotion(s). Rather than words, one’s tone of voice can determine if we shut down or continue talking. Among other questions, gently ask who witnessed the incident(s), when the incident(s) happened, and where the incident(s) took place.


3.        Assure and reassure your child that s/he will not be punished

In revealing painful experiences, your child wants to be comforted. This is not the time to point-out what your child could, should, should not have done. Reprimanding and criticizing your child will make him/her shut down and s/he may believe the words of the tormentor(s) more. 

Praise your child for coming forward and trusting you with this information. Validate what your child feels. In a sentence or two you may summarize how you are feeling.


4.        Allow your child to participate in developing a plan for moving forward

Now that your child has opened-up about his/her experience it is important to ask how s/he would like to move forward. You may have ideas as to how you would like to handle the situation and, as a result, next steps will have to be negotiated between you and your child. If the bullying behaviour is happening at a school, you may initiate a meeting with the vice-principal or principal. If the bullying behaviour is being experienced at a sports club/league you may be inclined to meet with the club manager or coach.

 Asking for suggestions and ideas from your child allows him/her to have some control over the situation.


5.        Speak to your child about online safety

Ask your child if information has been posted online or if s/he has received unwanted emails, tweets, images etc. Reassure your child that his/her internet privileges will *not* be taken away. Encourage your child to post less and check/revise her/his privacy settings.


6.        Change passwords

Ask your child if s/he has shared passwords with friends. This is not the time to scold your child for sharing private information; rather, help your child to change all passwords. In upcoming days and weeks, you can discuss online safety with your child, but when your child is feeling raw and vulnerable s/he will need your comfort, validation, and acceptance.


7.        Look into the school’s / organization’s bullying prevention policies

Tip number 4 discussed negotiating a plan for moving forward. Prior to reaching out to school officials and others, look to see if the school/organization has bullying prevention policies. Equip yourself with the standards and values that the institution upholds. It might be beneficial to download, bookmark and/or print out the relevant policies.


8.        Spend more time with your child

Your child might be shaken up by his/her experience and may desire to spend additional time with you. Alternatively, if your child is pulling away, encourage him or her to participate in family games, discussions and/or other activities such as cooking. Hug and praise your child and let him/her know that you value them.


9.        Speak to your child’s doctor

Being bullied can impact your child’s health. Your child’s eating and sleeping patterns may change along with their moods. If these changes persist, reach out to your family doctor / pediatrician. The doctor might recommend services in your community or could write a letter on your behalf to the school. Share the Bullying in the Primary Care Setting information sheet with the doctor.


10.     Take care of your own health

Dealing with a case of bullying can be challenging and you do not have to face the problem alone. If your employer provides Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits, speak to a mental health professional. Alternatively, if you notice changes in your eating or sleeping patterns or mood, reach out to your family physician.  Lastly, practice self-care such as going for walks, journaling and/or maintaining relationships with friends and family.


When your child reveals that s/he is experiencing or has experienced bullying, feelings can be overwhelming. As your child shares his/her experience, it is important to listen, validate his/her feelings, and work with him/her to plan next steps. In assisting your child, remember to practice self-care. How you handle your child’s disclosure can help strengthen your bond. Building healthy relationships not only builds trust but it can also buffer against the impacts of bullying.