What to do when your child is being bullied: 5 actions you can take

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Parents must take immediate action when their kids are being bullied. For a child to confess that they are experiencing it takes courage. Scare tactics (by the bully) as well as peer pressure usually prevent them from going to their parents or teachers. The child may have suffered in silence for sometime before deciding to ask for help.

It is also possible that your child is not saying anything but you’re noticing classic signs of the abuse. Either way, it is imperative for a child’s well-being and self-esteem that parents act on the issue promptly and decisively.

First off, what is bullying?

Bullying is when someone scares or hurts another person on purpose. “It is a behaviour that causes fear, intimidation, humiliation, stress, or other forms of harm to another person’s feelings, self-esteem, body, or reputation. It intends to create a negative school environment for the other person.” (Safe and Caring Schools: Taking Action Against Bulllying).

There are four types of bullying:

  • Verbal bullying – Using words to hurt someone. Examples are: name-calling, threats, and excessive teasing.
  • Social bullying – Using friends and relationships to hurt someone. Examples are: excluding others from a group, mobbing, writing graffiti to humiliate or put others down.
  • Physical bullying – Using the body or objects to cause harm. Examples: hitting, poking, punching, destroying or stealing belongings.
  • Cyber bullying – Using the internet (social networking sites, websites, email) or text messaging to intimidate or harass others. Examples: sending threatening emails, texts, or instant messages, posting embarrassing videos or photos of others, creating a website to make fun of others.

Taking action:

If your child is a victim of bullying, here’s what you should do :

  1. Talk to your child calmly

    You may be feeling angry and distressed but it is important to stay calm to allow your child to open up to you. Provide comfort, make it clear that they have your support, and assure them that it is not their fault. Ask questions and determine what kind of support your child needs.

  2. Help them cope

    Plan your action depending on your child’s age and the type (and severity) of bullying they’re experiencing. Some of these may be to:

    • Equip them with a strategy – Explore ways your child can respond and stop the bullying behavior. Sometimes, the solution can be as simple as standing up to the bully. Teach them some phrases that are simple and direct but not antagonistic. Examples of these are: “Leave me alone.” “Back off.” “That wasn’t nice.”
    • Role-play – Ask your child about specific situations where bullying might occur and practice ways that they can deal with it. You can play the bully and your child can practice responses to imagine how it will play out. Preparation can help your child feel more confident and less stressed out about going to school.
    • Boost their self-esteem – Kids who are confident and know their worth are less likely to be bothered by bullying. Encourage them to focus on school activities that they enjoy and bring out their talents. Provide verbal affirmations and support friendships with their peers.
    • Report it to school authorities – Talk to the teacher and explore ways to prevent or stop it from happening again.

    Whatever you decide to do, ensure that you are always there to support your child. Check on how they’re doing and let them know that they shouldn’t be afraid to tell you if they have problems.

  3. Report the incident

    Repeated, severe bullying should be reported to the teacher or the principal. It is also necessary if your child is reluctant to speak to you and you need the help of the teacher, guidance counsellor or principal.

    If your child came to you for help, get a clear account of the bullying incident(s). Note down as much detail as possible. Take photos if your child sustained bruises or injuries. Don’t delete posts if they are being cyberbullied. You’ll need these for evidence. Also know the school’s Code of Conduct. You should be familiar with all its provisions to know the appropriate action the school should take. You can find it online (for example: Winnipeg School Division Code of Conduct) or ask the school for a copy.

    You can choose to call or write a letter. But to ensure a quick response, ask for a meeting. If you need help with your English, ask a friend or family member to accompany you. Work with school authorities to resolve the issue. It is best to talk in a calm and non-confrontational way – remember, they are your allies. Expect school staff to investigate and assess the issue. Keep your communication lines open so that they can update you on developments. If you are worried that your child is having a hard time coping through all of this, ask the help of the guidance counsellor.

  4. Call the police

    Call the police only if the bullying is particularly severe, involves online exploitation, or if your child is fearful for their safety (if they have been physically assaulted or threatened with bodily harm). You can also report it to Cybertip.ca if it involves online sexual exploitation.

  5. What if nothing works?

    You have a few options if the bullying continues despite the efforts of your child and school staff. You can elevate your complaint to higher school authorities: Contact the school division superintendent (Manitoba School Divisions and District Contacts) or ask the help of the Director of Safe Schools Manitoba.

    Talk to the parents of the offender only if you think that they will be open to working towards a solution with you. It is important that you talk to them in a non-confrontational way if you choose to do this. If you need support, ask if the teacher or principal can initiate and host a meeting between you and the parents. The parents of the offender may respond better if there is an authority or objective party during the discussion.

    Consider moving your child to a different school (or school district) as a last recourse. Discuss this with your child and make sure that they have a say in this decision. You may have to do this in order to maintain your child’s safety and well-being.

Article updated August 24, 2023.
Sources: How to deal with bullies: A guide for parents, Collno, Broadwell, Schumana nd Peck, Parents Magazine; What is bullying? Bullying Canada.ca; Safe Schools Manitoba; Bullying and Cyberbullying, Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Bullying: How to talk to educators at your child’s school, Stop Bullying Now! HRSA. All accessed June 20, 2017.

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Community Resources

Go to Manitoba Parent Zone if you need more advice.

If your child needs more support, they can call Kids Help Phone. It is a national 24-hour, bilingual and anonymous phone or web counselling and referral for children and the youth.

NEEDS Inc. has many free programs for immigrant and refugee children and youth. They help young immigrants adjust to their new country.

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