How to handle bullying in schools

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Bullying happens when words or actions repeatedly hurt someone’s wellbeing. Learning how to handled bullying in schools is critical to positive student wellbeing.

Bullying can exist in many forms: It can be physical (pushing, punching, or hitting), verbal (name-calling or threats), or psychological and emotional (spreading rumours or excluding someone from activities, events or conversations.

Recognising cyberbullying

Technology can be used to engage in bullying behaviour outside of school hours. Social media posts, text messages, emails, and direct messages all come under the banner of cyberbullying and can be relentless, aggressive and hurtful.

Signs your child is being bullied

The first step to dealing with bullies is knowing how to recognise when your child is being bullied.

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Children: signs of bullying

Your child might tell you that other children are laughing at them, teasing them, making fun of them, calling them names, putting them down, ignoring them, threatening them or even physically hurting them.

If your child hasn’t said anything about being bullied but you suspect it, here are some signs:

Physical signs

Physical indications of bullying behaviour may include:

  • torn clothing
  • missing property
  • poor eating or sleeping habits
  • bedwetting
  • complaints about headaches or stomach aches on school days

Your child might:

  • not want to go to school
  • spend time with teachers at recess and lunch
  • start sitting alone
  • stop answering questions in class
  • have trouble with schoolwork or homework
  • pull out of extracurricular school activities

Emotional and behavioural changes

Your child might:

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  • be secretive or withdrawn
  • seem unusually teary, angry or upset
  • appear nervous or anxious
  • ask for extra lunchbox snacks or money to take to school

There can be many different signs that your child is being bullied and, sometimes, no signs at all.If you are worried about depression or anxiety in your children, talk to your GP or another health professional.

Teenagers: signs of bullying

Teenage bullying is often harder to identify.The bullying tends to be less physical and is more psychological and emotional.Because bullying can make teenagers feel ashamed, they might deny it’s happening if you ask. There are signs to look out for, though:

School problems
Your child might:

Emotional and behavioural changes
Your child might:

  • become isolated from others
  • show noticeable behaviour changes
  • have trouble sleeping
  • avoid trying new things and express a lack of confidence in their abilities
  • start using alcohol or other drugs
  • ask you for money
  • unexpectedly delete social media accounts or avoid going online

Physical signs
Your child might:

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  • have physical injuries, such as bruises or torn clothing
  • say they have lost belongings
  • regularly complain about headaches, stomach aches or other physical problems

Your child might be experiencing some of these signs for other reasons, so it’s best to talk together about the signs you’ve noticed.

Talking about bullying

It can be hard to know for sure whether your child is being bullied. But if your child is being bullied, talking about the bullying is one of the best ways to find out more and help your child.

Conversation starters for younger children  

  • What did you do at lunch today?
  • Is there anyone you don’t like to play with? Why?
  • What games did you play today? Did you enjoy them?
  • Are you looking forward to going to school tomorrow?
  • If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?

Conversation starters for teenagers

  • What did you do at lunchtime today?
  • Who do you find easy to hang out with?
  • Is there anyone you avoid at school? Why?

Asking too many questions can make children feel bombarded.

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Keep conversations friendly and relaxed, without feeling too intrusive.

What to do when bullying happens

Don’t leave children and teenagers to deal with bullying on their own. If bullying is happening, it’s important to step in quickly to stop it before it damages their confidence.

    Tips for handling bullying at school

    Being bullied is not their fault.

    Bullying in schools is a serious issue that can lead to negative impacts for everyone involved.

    Almost all young people are affected by bullying behaviour, either through experiencing it or engaging in it themselves, or through witnessing someone being bullied.

    According to ReachOut Australia,  a “whole-school approach recognises the effects of bullying in school, and that all members of the school community play a role in preventing bullying behaviour”.

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    “Encouraging respectful relationships among students, positive family relationships and support from friends and others can reduce the negative consequences of bullying in schools.”

    Support is available and bullying should be taken seriously.

    ReachOut Australia has helpful online classroom resources.

    Kids Helpline is available here.

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    Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]