by Bullying UK, part of Family Lives

Bullying is a very serious issue and causes misery to the child and their family. It can be really hard for a child to seek help or support if they are being bullied and they may not let their family know about the bullying in the first instance. Grandparents can play a vital role in encouraging their grandchildren to talk to them. If you are their main carer or regularly provide childcare for your grandchildren, you may be the first to see possible signs, and the first person your grandchild will turn to.

What do we mean by bullying?

Although there is no legal definition of bullying, it can be defined as a repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically. It is aimed at certain people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation or any other aspect such as appearance or disability. Types of bullying include:

  • physical bullying and threats (when someone pushes, hits  or harms you in any way physically)
  • verbal bullying (name calling, insults intended to cause harm, encouraging others to call you names)
  • cyberbullying (bullying online via apps, social media, texts, gaming sites and fake profiles)
  • social bullying (leaving someone out purposely, humiliating them, fake rumours and spreading gossip)
  • sexual bullying (pressuring someone sexually, spreading rumours about them, sexualised name calling, unwanted touching)

What should we look out for?

It is not always easy to spot the signs of bullying and a child may try their hardest to hide this for a number of reasons.  This may be because they fear reprisals and worry the bullying will get worse if they tell someone about it. There are some signs that you can look out for, such as:

  • excuses to miss school with stomach or headaches, or truanting
  • school work may be affected
  • torn clothes, broken or missing school things, or lost money
  • not going out with their friends
  • more bruises and scrapes than usual
  • signs of stress – being moody/silent or crying, or bullying a younger sibling or friend
  • being very upset when on a mobile, getting a text or being online
  • being withdrawn and wanting to isolate themselves from friends and family
  • they may be more anxious, depressed or feeling very low
  • changes in eating habits
  • changes in personality, such as being more aggressive or quieter than normal.

What’s the next step?

Finding out your grandchild is being bullied can be very upsetting, but if this happens, try to talk calmly to them about what is happening. Give them the space to talk and allow them to describe what they have been going through at their pace. If they are struggling to talk about it, you could give them a notebook and ask them to write about how they feel instead. Just knowing that you are on their side will give them much needed strength. It is important to get as much information as you can from your grandchild such as:

  • What kind of bullying it is (physical, verbal, online)
  • Who is involved if there have been any witnesses
  • Where and when it happens (for example, break time, corridors and what day it was)
  • How often the bullying takes place

The next step, if you are not your grandchild’s main carer, is to  try and get your grandchild to tell their parents. This may be really hard for them to do so it may take time and patience. If there is immediate danger or serious issues you may have to inform the parents straightaway.

What about the school?

If the bullying is taking place at school it is important that the family ask for a copy of the anti-bullying policy. Schools must have anti-bullying policies in place to outline their obligations and their duty of care to pupils if they are being bullied. The first step is for you or your grandchild’s parents to inform their teacher and give them the full account of the bullying and who was involved. Try to follow this up in writing so there is a written copy of all correspondence. Working with the school to get the bullying to stop is very important.

However, if after it has been reported the bullying continues then it is important to see the head of year or head teacher and ask them to intervene to get the bullying to stop. If this still continues after all your efforts, you can go to the Chair of Governors and make an official complaint. Bullying UK has template letters that you can use if the school does not resolve the bullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyber bullying is any form of bullying which takes place online or through smartphones and tablets, social networking sites, messaging apps, gaming sites and chat rooms. Unfortunately, cyber bullying is prevalent on the internet and most young people will experience it or see it at some time. It can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and things can quickly go viral. The effects of cyberbullying are devastating and can cause serious issues for anyone being bullied online. If your grandchild is being bullied online, please see our tips on what you and your family can do:

  • Ask your grandchild to show you or their parents any messages they’ve received or to tell the family immediately if anything new happens. Take screenshots or ask your grandchild to take copies of the messages in a folder as evidence.
  • Tell your grandchildren never to respond to an internet bully but to show you or their parents straightaway. Most sites have a reporting system and it is important to report all forms of bullying online. You can report this to police too if there have been threats, harassment or intimidation.
  • Ask your grandchild to keep safe by using passwords that are unusual such as a combination of letters, lowercase, uppercase, symbols and numbers. Ensure they know they shouldn’t give passwords out to any friends.
  • Tell them never to give out personal contact details online or put photographs of themselves up on websites.

What can I do to help my grandchild overcome bullying?

Dealing with the aftermath of bullying can take time and everyone deals with this in their own way. There may be some impact on their emotional health and wellbeing. You may find that their self-esteem and confidence is at rock bottom or they are very angry and want revenge, so encouraging them to talk about their feelings will help them. For some children, talking to someone outside of their family will help them be more open, so if this is what they feel would help, allow them to seek support from an outside source. It could be friends or a trusted adult from the school or at a local club they attend.

Teaching your grandchild necessary skills to stop the bullying or not allowing it to escalate is important too. Self-confidence, self-worth and positive self-esteem are a trio of beliefs that can protect a child from being bullied or getting drawn into bullying others. A young person who knows they are worthwhile, loved and respected doesn’t need to push others around, and can shrug it off when someone tries to do so to them. Below are some tips to help them overcome bullying:

  • Advise your grandchild to walk away if faced with potential or existing bullies and suggest they stay in a group as they are less likely to be bullied when others are around.
  • Reinforce that no one deserves to be treated in this way and that they have done nothing wrong. Encourage them to talk about their feelings.
  • Make sure they know that they have the right to ask for help, and that they know who to ask for help in different situations, like a teacher, teaching assistant or even nearby parent.
  • Encourage them to participate in after or out of school activities. This may help to increase confidence levels and enable them to meet new friends.
  • Try some role playing such as saying ‘no’ or showing no reactions when someone is trying to use bullying behaviour.
  • Encourage them to hide their feelings from bullies, such as looking calm, neutral or bored. A bully will get bored if they don’t get their desired reaction.
  • Suggest they write a note or keep a journal if they find it hard to talk about their feelings.
  • Help your grandchild to rebuild their self-esteem by giving them opportunities to do things that build their confidence and make them feel good about themselves.
  • Remind the family to keep a diary of what kind of bullying is happening and when it is happening. This can be used as ‘evidence’ when you and the family report the bullying.
  • Give them useful numbers and online links which they can use.

Find a list of useful organisations here.