with Helen Connolly
Commissioner for Children & Young People
The majority of children in South Australia return to school at the start of a new year full of enthusiasm and positive anticipation. For some children, however, the return to school can fill them with dread as they work through fears of school bullying.
For children who have previously been bullied, or for parents who had their own experiences of bullying, these fears can cause great anxiety. With so many sensational media stories and much commentary on school bullying, it’s not surprising that apprehension can run very high for new school parents.
However we should feel reassured that plenty of work has been done in the area (including the introduction of the government’s comprehensive anti-bullying strategy in August 2019*) and that it’s no longer the same as when parents and grandparents were at school. Bullying is more widely recognised now and there are schools doing some great work in this area. There are also things you can do as a parent or carer.
In my role I have looked at bullying behaviour across different ages and schools with children from all sorts of backgrounds and I’ve heard consistent messages from children about what parents can do to support their children. Like most things about being a parent there is no “one size fits all” and like other tricky issues, helping your child with bullying will be a balance between protecting them from harm and developing their ability to problem solve and be resilient.
At the core are the questions and ongoing conversations you have with your child about how school is, how they are feeling about school, what they are good at, if they have any concerns, etc. Like other things it’s also important to keep an eye on any change in behaviour; not wanting to do things they previously enjoyed, or starting to have more difficult or out of the ordinary relationships with brothers or sisters, as examples. Of course these could be indicators of other things, and you will know if there are other explanations. It’s important not to jump to conclusions, but instead use the changes you’ve noticed as an opening to a conversation.
And remember conversation is not an interrogation or a barrage of questions. It’s more listening than talking, and about finding a time when your child is ready to talk – not when it best suits you. Children tell me that parents choose such bad timings to talk to them and often when they’re doing things the parent doesn’t think important.
So here are a few things you can do to help prevent bullying:
- Be open to the possibility that your child may be a bully. Children have told me that bullies are often popular children who teachers like and who do well. They don’t always follow old fashioned views of what makes a bully.
- If your child talks about bullying, don’t overreact and think about the strategies you suggest. Don’t promote retaliation or be heavy-handed in your response and don’t embarrass your child. They want to problem solve with you, not lose control. So use every opportunity to build their own problem solving skills and listen to their suggestions.
- Watch your own behaviour and what you say about other children and adults in front of children. Bullying behaviour is learnt, so be mindful of your words and actions. They carry so much weight with children and they look to you to see how to handle conflict.
- Talk to children about being a good friend and how to have difficult conversations with friends. Having positive friendships is an important part of bullying prevention.
If you’re a child or young person, parent or grandparent who would like to get in touch with me, send an email to: