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

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Parents need to act fast when their kids are being picked on. It’s brave for a child to say that they are being bullied. The bully’s scary ways and the fear of what friends might think often stop them from telling their parents or teachers. The child might have been quiet about it for a while before choosing to ask for help.

It could also be that your child is not talking about it but you’re seeing usual signs of the bad treatment. Either way, it’s very important for a child’s happiness and self-worth that parents deal with the problem quickly and firmly.

What is bullying?

Bullying is when a person scares or hurts another person on purpose. “It is a way of acting that makes another person feel scared, embarrassed, stressed, or hurt. It can hurt another person’s feelings, make them feel bad about themselves, hurt their body, or ruin their good name. The goal is to make school a bad place for the other person.” (Safe and Caring Schools: Taking Action Against Bullying).

There are four kinds of bullying:

  • Verbal bullying – This is when words are used to hurt someone. For example: calling someone bad names, making threats, or teasing too much.
  • Social bullying – This is when friends and relationships are used to hurt someone. For example: leaving others out of a group, ganging up on someone, writing mean words on walls to embarrass or make others feel bad.
  • Physical bullying – This is when the body or things are used to hurt someone. For example: hitting, poking, punching, breaking or taking someone’s things.
  • Cyber bullying – This is when the internet (like social media sites, websites, email) or text messages are used to scare or bother others. For example: sending scary emails, texts, or instant messages, putting up embarrassing videos or pictures of others, making a website to laugh at others.

Taking action

If your kid is being bullied, here’s what you can do:

  1. Speak to your kid in a calm way

    You might be upset, but it’s important to stay calm so your kid can talk to you. Make them feel safe, show them that you are there for them, and tell them it’s not their fault. Ask questions to find out what kind of help your kid needs.

  2. Help them deal with it

    Plan your actions based on your kid’s age and the kind (and how bad) of bullying they’re going through. Always be there to talk to your kid. Check on how they’re doing and let them know that they shouldn’t be scared to tell you if they have problems.

    • Give them a plan. Find ways your kid can stop the bullying. Sometimes, the answer can be as easy as standing up to the bully. Teach them some easy and direct phrases that are not mean. Examples are: “Leave me alone.” “Back off.” “That wasn’t nice.”
    • Practice. Ask your kid about times when bullying might happen and practice ways that they can handle it. You can pretend to be the bully and your kid can practice answers to imagine what will happen. This can help your kid feel more sure and less worried about going to school.
    • Make them feel good about themselves. Kids who feel good about themselves and know their worth are less likely to be upset by bullying. Encourage them to focus on school activities that they like and show their skills. Give them positive words and support friendships with their friends.
    • Tell the school. Speak to the teacher and find ways to stop it from happening again.
  3. Report it

    If the bullying is happening a lot and is very bad, it should be reported to the teacher or the head of the school. This is also needed if your kid doesn’t want to talk to you and you need the help of the teacher, guidance counsellor or head of the school.

    If your kid came to you for help, get a clear story of the bullying event(s). Write down as much detail as possible. Take photos if your kid has marks or injuries. Don’t delete posts if they are being bullied online. You’ll need these for proof.

    Also know the school’s rules. You should know all its rules to know the right 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 get a quick response, ask for a meeting. If you need help with your English, ask a friend or family member to come with you. Work with school staff to solve the problem. It is best to talk in a calm and non-argumentative way – remember, they are your friends. Expect school staff to look into and assess the problem. Keep talking to them so that they can update you on what’s happening. If you are worried that your kid is having a hard time dealing with all of this, ask the help of the guidance counsellor.

  4. Call the police

    Only call the police if the bullying is very bad, involves online exploitation, or if your kid is scared for their safety (if they have been physically hurt or threatened with harm). You can also report it to Cybertip.ca if it involves online sexual exploitation.

  5. What if nothing works?

    You have a few choices if the bullying continues despite the efforts of your kid and school staff. You can take 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 bully 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-argumentative way if you choose to do this. If you need support, ask if the teacher or principal can start and host a meeting between you and the parents. The parents of the bully may respond better if there is an authority or neutral person during the discussion. Think about moving your kid to a different school (or school district) as a last option. Discuss this with your kid and make sure that they have a say in this decision. You may have to do this to keep your kid safe and well.

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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