Signs of bullying might include tummy aches, nightmares, your child not wanting to go to school and loss of confidence. Your child may lose contact with friends and seem isolated. Find out what you can do.
Key points about bullying
Listen to your child and take whatever they say seriously.
- bullying can have a serious impact on a child's emotional wellbeing
- listen to your child and take whatever they say seriously
- stay calm
- be clear of the facts and make notes about what happened and when it happened
- encourage your child by saying you are concerned and you want to help and support them
- reassure your child that the bullying is not their fault and they have a right to be safe
What is bullying?
Bullying takes many forms
Bullying is when a child or group of children repeatedly hurt another child.
It can be:
- physical - hitting, kicking, punching
- verbal - name calling, saying nasty things, threats
- social - leaving them out of activities, spreading rumours, embarrassing them
- cyberbullying - bullying online, via the internet, mobile phones and social media
Bullying is repetitive behaviour
While children can be unkind or insensitive at times, bullying has specific features which make it more serious and harmful. Bullying is when a child is targeted again and again - it is not a one-off incident.
Bullying is deliberate
Bullying is usually intentional, which means the person who is bullying knows they are hurting someone. Bullying is aggressive behaviour and can be harmful.
If bullying involves physical threats and you are worried about your child’s safety, contact police by calling 111 in New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries).
Why is bullying harmful?
Some people think bullying is just part of growing up and a way for children to learn to stick up for themselves. But bullying has serious consequences - it can make children feel lonely, unhappy, frightened, unsafe and think that there must be something wrong with them.
Signs that might indicate your child is being bullied include tummy aches, nightmares, reluctance to go to school and loss of confidence. They may lose contact with friends and seem isolated.
You might find the KidsHealth pages on depression and anxiety helpful.
What to look out for
Bullying can happen in different ways and at different places - at a playground, at school, at work, online or on social media. It can be physical, verbal or social. Sometimes it can be easy to see, such as physical injuries, but many times it can be difficult to see, such as threatening looks or whispering about someone. It is usually hidden from adults.
Children don’t always tell an adult when they are being bullied, so it’s important you look out for changes in their mood or behaviour. Talk to them and ask them questions about how they are going.
Why do some people get bullied?
People are more likely to be bullied if they seem different from their peers.
Differences could be based on:
- gender identity
- disabilities and abilities
Online bullying, or cyber-bullying, is when people bully others over email, texts, phone calls or on social media.
Cyber bullying may include name calling, saying nasty things, spreading rumours, making someone feel unsafe or embarrassed. It is also bullying if someone keeps contacting another person when they don’t want them to, shares photos or videos of them they don’t like or pretends to be them to make them look bad.
If your child is being bullied online it’s important you keep records of the bullying if you decide to report it to their school or police. You can also report bullying on social media to the social media websites, block numbers on phones and report it to Netsafe.
What can I do if my child experiences bullying?
Check out Oat the Goat - an interactive, online storybook, in English and te reo Māori. It aims to help 4 to 7 year old children learn skills that will prevent bullying. You can also watch it in this video (published by Ministry of Education).
Talk with your child
Take whatever they say seriously and find out exactly what has been going on. Listen to your child and stay calm. Be clear of the facts and make notes about what happened and when it happened.
Children who experience bullying are often frightened to talk about what is happening. Be prepared for your child to deny that there is anything wrong.
Encourage your child by saying you are concerned and you want to help and support them. Reassure your child that the bullying is not their fault and they have a right to be safe. Let them know that talking takes courage and that they have done the right thing by talking about it.
Ask your child what they want to do about it and how you can help. Reassure them that you can work together to solve this problem. An important part of your response is to avoid jumping in to solve the problem. While it is natural to want to protect your child, a better option is to help them to find their own solution. This helps them feel they have some power in the situation.
Keep talking to your child about what's happening and encourage them to speak to an adult they trust. Tell them to keep on asking for help if the bullying doesn't stop. Regularly check in with your child to see how they are doing. Be prepared to step in if you feel the bullying is severe or ongoing.
Agree on a plan with your child
The most important thing is to let your child know how to get help if bullying happens.
Having a plan will help your child feel more comfortable, give them confidence and assure them you are taking the bullying seriously. Be mindful that they may not want you to make a fuss and put them in the spotlight.
Together, plan what your child will do if they get bullied again. The most important thing is to let your child know how to get help if bullying happens.
Encourage them to speak to an adult if it happens, and to keep on asking for help if the bullying doesn't stop. Check in regularly with your child to see how they are doing.
If the bullying happens at school, talk to your child’s school and agree on a plan on how they can support your child and the appropriate action they will take.
What can I do if my child bullies others?
If you find out your child is bullying another child it is important to try to stay calm. Help them understand why it’s wrong and how it might feel for their victim. Tell them they should never bully another child, and if another child is being bullied they should always try to help them by reporting it to an adult or teacher.
If you think your child might be bullying others:
- try to find out why they are behaving in this way
- think about if there are any problems which may be impacting their behaviour
- ask them what might help them to stop bullying
- tell them what bullying is and why it’s not acceptable
- talk to them about what is acceptable behaviour
- help your child come up with better ways to respond to situations, such as walking away or asking for help
- check in with them to see how they are going
- praise appropriate behaviour
- talk to their teacher or school about how you can work together
Why do some people bully others?
There are many reasons why a child might bully another child, including that they have or are being bullied themselves.
Other reasons include:
- they are unhappy
- they want to feel important or powerful
- they don’t realise their behaviour is hurting others
- they believe being different is a bad thing
Calling a person who bullies a 'bad person' isn’t helpful. Sometimes they need support too.
Where to find more information about bullying
Ministry of Education
The Ministry of Education has a section for parents on bullying. See:
- what is bullying?
- what bullying behaviour might look like
- signs of bullying behaviour
- what to do if you think your child is involved in bullying
- if your child is initiating the bullying
- talking and working with your school or Kura
- can I lodge a complaint with the police?
Bullying-Free New Zealand
Bullying-Free New Zealand has information, research and resources to help schools and communities respond to bullying. The Bullying Prevention Advisory Group set up Bullying-Free New Zealand because we all need to work together to prevent bullying. See:
Bullying-Free New Zealand also has a booklet Tackling Bullying - A guide for parents and whānau (PDF, 684KB).
NetSafe provides cybersafety and online security education for all New Zealanders. NetSafe's website has information on online safety and security issues. The website has information for children, parents, community groups, schools and counsellors. See:
- how to stop online bullying
- banter vs bullying
- help with bullying and abuse
- information for LGBTQIA+ people
Pink Shirt Day
Pink Shirt Day is celebrated annually in Aotearoa to celebrate diversity and promote kindness and inclusiveness. It is recognised globally.
Find information for individuals, communities, schools, kura and workplaces on the Pink Shirt Day New Zealand website.
The Child Psychology Service
The Child Psychology Service is an Auckland based team of child psychologists. Their website has information about bullying relevant to anyone in New Zealand. See:
Skylight is a national organisation working to support children, young people and their families who have been affected by change, loss and grief. See:
Kia Kaha - New Zealand Police
Kia Kaha is an anti-bullying programme developed by New Zealand police. It is taught in schools with support from parents and whānau. See:
- how parents and whānau can support Kia Kaha
- advice for adults (PDF, 164KB)
- advice for young people (PDF, 576KB)
See more KidsHealth content on emotional and mental wellbeing
This page last reviewed 26 June 2022.
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