How to deal with bullying and build resilience in kids

Friday 18th August is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. In this blog, AV’s ParentZone facilitators Michelle Brown and Tamara Dixon share their top tips for dealing with bullying, how you can build resilience in your kids, and what to do if you find out your child has been bullying others.

Helping kids deal with bullying

Both specialists agree that, as parents, we need to be aware of what is going on with our kids and have open channels of communication with them. Some of this communication may be verbal, but there may also be nonverbal signs, such as a child who develops a headache every time a certain class or activity is on. These can be clues that the child is trying to avoid a bully.

“For parents and carers, it’s important to make time for the kids to be able to come and talk to you about something that’s worrying them. We need to listen openly, and listen to the silences as well,” said Michelle. “You certainly don’t want to dismiss their concerns, but we also shouldn’t be rushing to fix everything for them either. Instead, we need to give them the tools they need so they can work through any situation that arises.”

“In our ParentZone programs we encourage parents to make meaning of the behaviour. What is this young person trying to communicate through their behaviour? We can then transfer this skill onto our children and support them to make meaning of the behaviours they’re experiencing as well,” said Tamara.

How to help kids build resilience

Tamara says one important thing parents can do is build up resilience in their own children, so they are able to respond to bullying more effectively. “A good first step is teaching them some strategies to help them say ‘No!’ and ‘Stop!’,” she said.

“In our programs we use a strategy developed by Martin Seligman called ‘I have, I am, I can’ to help children develop resilience,” Tamara said.

‘I have’ is about the external resources they have access to – people who can provide reciprocal love and trust, set limits and model good behaviour, and provide care in times of danger.

‘I am’ means developing self-respect – I am lovable, caring, respectful, responsible and optimistic.

Finally, ‘I can’ is about taking action – I can seek support, talk to others, problem solve or choose to do nothing.

“Talk to them about the steps they can take to keep themselves safe. For example, can they go and speak to the school counsellor about how they’re feeling? Do they feel confident to approach the other child themselves? Or are there options for avoiding the bully? Of course, this is entirely dependent on the severity of the bullying, and the age of the child.”

“If these steps don’t work, you might think about speaking to teacher or the other child’s parents.”

 What if my child is the bully?

“The thing with bullying is that there’s always two sides to it,” said Michelle. “We normally assume when we’re talking about bullying that we’re referring to the child who is being bullied, but we also need to think about some strategies for the parents of the child who is displaying the bullying behaviour.

If your child is the one doing the bullying, Michelle has some advice around how you can help.

“Most of the time, the kids who are exhibiting the bullying behaviours are doing so because they’re not coping in life. They’re feeling vulnerable, afraid, scared or unloved. So, what we need to do it help them break it all down, look at their feelings and find ways to act on them more appropriately,” said Michelle.

“Bullying is really about feelings and dealing with them appropriately,” said Michelle. “We teach a method called the Four A’s, which is about accepting that it’s okay to feel hurt, disappointed or sad. Using this method, we can teach children that our feelings are our own, and nobody has made us feel this way. It’s okay to have negative feelings, but we need to find better ways of expressing them.”

The AAAA process

Step 1: Acknowledging

This involves recognising and naming what we are feeling. Some children need help with this, because they may have difficulty identifying and naming negative feelings such as sadness or anger which can feel very similar but are actually very different.

 Step 2: Accepting

This means owning the feeling as ours, without placing the blame on another person. While actions do have an impact on us, we choose how we respond – other people cannot make us feel anything.

Step 3: Approving

We need to allow ourselves to feel this way. There are no right or wrong feelings.

Step 4: Appropriately Expressing

This means letting those feelings out in ways that work for us, without causing harm to people or property. Violence is never an appropriate way of expressing emotions, but there are other physical things we can do to get rid of feelings, such as using sensory toys or running on the spot.


Still need help?

“There are lots of support services that parents can access if they need help processing how they’re feeling and whether they need to take further action,” said Michelle. “They can call us at ParentZone and talk to a parent educator about what’s happening and what strategies they’ve tried. Or they can attend one of our sessions, in person or online.”

“Another great option is to talk to supportive people in their circle, such as friends or family members, for a neutral opinion,” Michelle said. “When you’re emotionally involved, it’s hard to know how serious something is and if you’re doing enough. A third party can really help you work through this.”


For more information about dealing with bullying, check out the KidsHelpline website or find a ParentZone session near you here.

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