Child Development

How to talk to kids about: Bullying

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Recently, K-pop fans were rocked by the tragic news of the death of Sulli, a former member of the South Korean girl group f(x). Allegedly, the young pop star took her own life after experiencing months of vicious cyberbullying.

Closer to home, there are also stories that speak painfully of promising lives cut short due to bullying. Lives such as those of Jerusha Sanjeevi, T. Nhaveen and Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain, to name a few.

In 2018, a nationwide Children4Change survey showed that:

  • eight out of 10 children have encountered bullying in schools;
  • 70% of the children surveyed said they had witnessed a peer being made fun of because of the way they looked, dressed or walked; and
  • 64% admitted to participating or possibly participating in acts of bullying.

With heartbreaking statistics such as these, we as parents absolutely need to safeguard our kids’ mental health and teach them how to respond effectively to the threat of bullying. Here are some ways we can help:

1. Encourage open dialogue

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Prevention begins with education. Before any harm takes place, start by talking to your child about what constitutes bullying and the danger signs they should look out for. Pointing out examples in books or the media with your children also helps them understand the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Be present in your child’s life and be aware of any changes in their personality, social circles or day-to-day activities. Don’t be afraid of asking them if they’ve ever experienced being bullied or witnessed it happening to someone else. Honest questions help to trigger honest conversations, which in turn builds a relationship of trust between you and your child.

Sharing your personal stories if you’ve encountered similar struggles with bullying can also help to reassure your child that they’re not alone in this.

2. Adopt a strategy

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If your child finds themselves the target of a bully, enlighten them first as to the possible root causes behind the bullying.

Often, bullying stems from a person’s insecurities, resulting in a desire for power over others. Reassure your child that the problem lies not with their perceived inadequacies, but rather, on the person perpetrating the bullying.

Teach your child:

Not to believe the worst in themselves. Help your kids to challenge the negativity they’re faced with by reminding them of their positive attributes.

How to diffuse a situation. Role-play scenarios with your kids to empower them to stand up to their bullies. Teach them not to reward their antagonist with tears or aggression, but instead, to respond calmly and authoritatively. A simple but strong “Leave me alone” or “Back off”, or simply choosing not to rise to the taunt and to walk away confidently, can often strip a bully of their power.

How to seek help. Your child should know the avenues available to them to stop threatening or intimidating behaviour. If your child is willing, you could accompany them to make a report with a teacher or the principal of their school. Make sure to understand their school’s bullying policies, and do keep a record of any complaints made. Also, follow up closely with the school to ensure that appropriate measures are being taken to address this issue.

If your child is struggling to deal with the trauma of their bullying, suggest perhaps that they speak with a counsellor, which could aid their healing process.

3. Rebuild your child’s confidence

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Encourage your child’s strengths when their self-esteem has taken a beating from bullying. Enrolling your child in extracurricular activities that play to their interests can help to boost their self-confidence again. Social activities with new friends that they meet through these programmes can also develop an increased sense of belonging and community for your child.

What happens if your child is the bully?

It’s never easy for any parent to discover that their child is a perpetrator of bullying behaviour. It’s crucial, however, that you deal with this straight away, before matters escalate.

Here are some tips to help you through this process:

1. Understand the deeper root

Don’t automatically label your child as “bad”. Instead, realise that there might be underlying reasons that are causing your child to act out.

Some kids bully from a place of insecurity, or a desire to fit it. Others simply haven’t learnt how to handle complex emotions, such as anger, or learnt ways to resolve conflicts healthily. Some children also bully as a cry for attention, or as a way of reclaiming control over their own lives.

Consider journeying with your child through professional counselling or therapy, which can help to unearth deep-seated issues. At your end, do also encourage positive ways of working through their emotions.

Discuss scenarios that might trigger your child, and propose alternative ways of reacting instead. Hone empathy in your children by helping them to see from the other person’s perspective. Teach them also how to celebrate, and not condemn, differences.

Help your kids realise how and why their actions might have been hurtful. Encourage them to seek amends from the people they’ve been in conflict with.

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2. Take firm measures to stop the bullying

Establish a firm zero-tolerance policy towards bullying and be consistent and intentional in carrying out the disciplinary measures set by you as punishment. For example, if your child is involved in cyberbullying, consider taking away their internet privileges for a significant period to impress upon them the gravity of their actions.

Take bullying seriously, and let your kids know that there will be definite consequences (whether at home, at school or within the community) if this behaviour continues.

3. Set an example at home

Children learn from example – so make sure that you’re setting a healthy environment at home. How you speak and act, your views about the world and the way that you handle conflict will serve as templates for your children.

Be positive in your interactions with your family and with the people around you. Get rid of unhealthy behaviours such as name-calling, race or gender-based biases, or physical and verbal expressions of anger  – replacing these instead with a greater spirit of tolerance, empathy and respect for your kids to follow suit.


As a litigation lawyer turned full-time mum, Kimberly Lee finds that arguing court cases never seemed quite as difficult as arguing with an obstinate toddler over carrots. She writes about life, loss, love and everything in between as she explores her greatest adventure yet- motherhood.