Children with a disability are more likely to experience bullying than other children, so it can be a particularly worrying issue for parents  .
If your child is being bullied, there are steps you can take to stop it and to help them protect themselves. Depending on your child’s needs and the situation they find themselves in, this may involve working with the school, encouraging social support, or educating them about the risks. .
The Anti-Bullying Alliance defines bullying as:
The repetitive, intentional hurting of one person by another, or by a group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be carried out physically, verbally, emotionally or through cyberspace.
Bullying is often aimed at people who are different, for example because of race, religion, disability or sexuality. Bullying can be:
All types of bullying are horrible for children and can leave parents feeling helpless and angry. Cyberbullying is often harder to avoid as bullies may hide their identities and can strike from anywhere, even when your child is relatively safe at home. This form of bullying that can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week .
Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or those with active social media profiles may be at greater risk of cyberbullying  , but you can reduce the likelihood of your child being bullied by staying involved in their online experience.
First, make sure you find out how to add parental restrictions to all websites that your child has access to – and keep this under review. The NSPCC has a website aimed at helping parents keep their children safe online at https://www.net-aware.org.uk/
The most effective thing you can do is to talk to your child about the risks of cyberbullying and help them anticipate situations where they might be at risk. Having active discussions about the risks and making sure they understand how to keep themselves safe is more effective than just placing limits or controls on your child’s internet use .
If your child is being bullied online, keep copies of emails, texts and social media posts. Make a note of the dates and times, along with any information about the sender’s internet details if you can. This may help to identify the bullies.
One thing to be aware of is that your child may not necessarily come to you for support if they are being bullied. Many children want to avoid burdening or worrying their parents and so may not bring it up at home .
Our partners at Contact asked parents how they realised their child was being bullied. They came up with a number of signs to look for:
Changes in your child’s behaviour are not necessarily related to bullying, so it’s always important to find out more.
In preventing bullying, your child’s friends can be one of the best sources of support. Talk to your child about strategies for forming and maintaining friendships, as this can help them protect against bullying:
Disabled children have different needs and may experience bullying in different ways. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Some children, due to the nature of their disability, might not be able to understand the process or the ideas behind some ways to help deal with bullying. But there are ways to help support your child – for example by developing their confidence. Parents we talked to also described different forms of support that the school had put in place to help their child. Suggestions parents made include:
As well as the bullying itself, you may feel frustrated by a lack of communication from the school, or a sense that nothing is being done about punishing the perpetrators. Schools have a duty of care towards their pupils, which means that they must look after the safety and wellbeing of their pupils as a reasonable parent would. They can take steps to deal with behaviour, even if it isn’t taking place on the school premises. If you think your child is being bullied at school:
Remember that the teachers may not know the situation as well as you do, and might interpret the behaviour differently. They might just think that other children are innocently questioning your child about their condition but, if it upsets your child, then it is not acceptable and needs to be stopped. If the bullying continues, you may want to make a complaint.
Schools use a variety of methods to deal with bullying, some of which are listed below. Ask your child’s school for their behaviour and discipline policy to see what they do.
While your main focus may be on your child’s experience, it’s also important to recognise the impact that it’s having on you as parents and as a couple.
Parents often feel a range of emotions after finding out their child is being bullied – anger, guilt and anxiety. It is natural to have these feelings but there are things you can do to help cope:
When your child is being bullied, it can be easy for you and your partner to feel guilty and start blaming yourselves, so it’s important to remind each other that you are both doing everything you can. As well as offering each other support, it can be useful to try and understand the causes of your feelings – for example, a lack of support or a sense of powerlessness may add to whatever stress you’re already feeling about the actual bullying .
If you are trying to engage the school, share the burden of contact and perseverance and make sure you are both doing your bit in starting conversations and chasing up replies. This can make things much easier than just leaving one parent to deal with everything .
For more information about spotting the signs of bullying, strategies to deal with bullying, and tips for building your child’s confidence and self-esteem, see Contact’s guide to dealing with bullying.
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 Smith, P.K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: it’s nature and impact in secondary school pupils. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(4), 376-385.
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 Hale, R.C., Fox, C., Murray, M. (2017). “As a Parent You Become a Tiger": Parents Talking about Bullying at School. Journal of Child and Family Studies; 26(7), 2000-2015, DOI:10.1007/s10826-017-0710-z.