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Help! My child is a bully!

No-one likes to think their child is bullying others, but what do you do if they are? The Ministry of Education’s SEAN TEDDY has some advice. By Sonia Speedy

Bullying can take many forms, from social exclusion, cyberbullying and spreading hurtful rumours to physical and verbal aggression.

Sean, the Ministry of Education’s operations and integration Hautū (leader), describes bullying as a relationship problem and says most children are capable of bullying behaviours at some time. He suggests parents should stay calm, and work to learn more about their child’s behaviour so they can respond helpfully.

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There are a variety of reasons a child might bully, says Sean. They can do it to increase their social status, copy someone they admire, or get things they want. However, they may not realise that what they’re doing is bullying, nor how harmful it might be. They might not have learned the social and emotional skills to relate more respectfully or be experiencing challenges in their own lives.

“Children who bully others need help and support to learn better ways of relating to others. Your relationship with your child can be part of the solution,” he says.

Being exposed to aggressive behaviours at home can lead to similar behaviours being used at school, so it’s important parents and whanau create home environments where kindness and respect are the norms, Sean says.

Are they bullying others?

If you suspect your child is bullying, talk to them about how they get on with their peers and their strategies for resolving differences or conflict.

You can also talk to their teacher or their friends’ parents/caregivers for their thoughts on your child’s social interactions.

“Sometimes others can see what might be right in front of you,” Sean says.

What if they are?


Sean suggests trying to understand why your child is behaving this way. Ask them what they think is going on and why they are bullying. Try not to criticise, blame, or judge. Ask them what they think might help them to stop bullying.

Try to think of any challenges your child might be experiencing at school or home that might be contributing to their behaviour. Be aware that your child might not recognise or accept that they’ve been bullying, or they may make light of their part in it.

“Children who have engaged in bullying may need help to understand how their behaviour affects others. They may need support to develop their social and emotional skills including how to make things right with anyone they may have bullied,” Sean says.


Explain what bullying is and why it’s not acceptable. Talk about the other person’s feelings and help your child understand what it’s like for the child being bullied. Discuss positive ways to make friends and socialise with others.

Discuss school values and rules and how you expect your child to behave at school and home.

Talk to your child about better ways to handle situations they may find difficult. For example, asking for help if they get frustrated, walking away to cool down, respecting others, and being tolerant of people who are different from them.


Tell your child you don’t support bullying, but you do support them. Reassure them you’re ready to help and support them in putting a stop to bullying behaviour. Then regularly check in with them to see how they’re doing.


When you see your child getting on well with others, or keeping calm when they don’t like something, let them know how well they’re doing. Recognising and praising good behaviour is important.


Working together with the school means you’re much more likely to solve the problem. Talk to your child’s teacher about what has been happening and ask them how they can help. In some cases, the school may decide that a support plan may be helpful. They might also seek help from services like the Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour Service (RTLB).


Sean says bullying sometimes involves students commenting on and judging other students’ personal attributes and how they’re different. These negative comments could relate to anything from appearance and weight to culture, race, and religion.

“This type of bullying is linked to prejudices that students learn from their family group and their wider social community about the value of diversity in the community,” Sean says.

Where can I get more help?

The good news is if you find yourself in this situation you are not alone. There are plenty of resources available to help you navigate these challenges.

Common ground – an online hub providing parents, family, whānau, and friends with access to information, tools, and support to help a young person who is struggling.

Parent Help – a parenting helpline and counselling service. Phone: 0800 568 856

Family Services 211 Helpline – For information on (and direct transfer to) health and social support services in your area. Phone: 0800 211 211

Skylight – For information on bullying and support through trauma, loss, and grief.
Phone: 0800 299 100

Netsafe – For information on online bullying
Phone: 0508 638 723 Email queries@netsafe.org.nz

Both the Ministry of Education and Bullying-Free NZ have resources available on their websites to help parents. Check out some of these resources below.

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