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A Parent’s Guide to Anti-Bullying

An Anti-Bullying Action

ABC has developed this Anti-Bullying Action Plan for Parents and Guardians which they can use as a step-by-step plan to help them effectively address the bullying situation that their child has found themselves in. This can be a challenging time for you as a parent so it is important to work alongside your child’s school to ensure a positive outcome.

This guide is split into two parts:

Part One: Parents Guide to Anti-Bullying
Part Two: Action Plan

Included are additional steps you can take to further escalate your concerns should the bullying behaviour continue.

Part One: Parent’s Guide to Anti-Bullying.

The National Anti-Bullying Centre’s research has found that:

  • 26% of primary school children and 12 % of post-primary school children have been bullied
  • 14% of primary and 12.4% of post-primary have been bullied online.

These figures would suggest that bullying in Irish schools remains a serious issue, and one that requires a Whole-Education Approach in order to tackle it successfully.

A Whole-Education Approach sees a collaboration between parents, teachers, school staff and the wider school community in their aim to develop a positive school culture and climate at every level to combat bullying.

It recognises that bullying behaviour does not happen in isolation, rather it is a complex social issue that can take place anywhere. In order to address it, schools are encouraged to act like a community, and promote/strengthen open dialogue between all school staff and students, while also involving parents, guardians and the wider-school community (e.g. bus drivers, community guards, local shopkeepers) to tackle bullying behaviour.

As parents and guardians, it is always advisable to take steps to prevent bullying, for instance:

  • Talk about bullying at home (both what bullying it is, and ensuring your child understands that
    bullying is always wrong.)
  • Discuss peer pressure, as it can be one of the reasons why a child or young person gets involved
    with bullying.
  • Highlight that silence is the best friend of bullying, and that it is really important to always let
    someone know. Your children might feel that telling someone about bullying constitutes “snitching”
    on others, and you can counter this by saying that telling someone about bullying is not “snitching”,
    but is instead a courageous act that requires a lot of inner strength. This act shows that they are
    helping others, which then encourages prosocial behaviour.
  • Build empathy in your child, it has a key role to play in the prevention of bullying.
  • Be a role model for your child, there is little point telling them to speak and act respectfully to others if you yourself don’t. Reiterate that bullying is always an unacceptable behaviour.
What is Bullying?

In order for someone’s actions to be considered ‘Bullying’ there are three components that are broadly recognised as being present. These are:

  1. Intent to do harm
  2. Repeated acts of negative behaviour
  3. An imbalance of power

A widely-used definition of bullying – and a definition that includes all three aspects – states that: “Bullying is defined as an aggressive, intentional act or behaviour that is carried out by a group or individual repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend themselves.”
(Olweus, The Nature of School Bullying, 1999)

This definition has subsequently been extended to that of cyberbullying, stating that the act is:

“an aggressive act or behaviour that is carried out using electronic means by a group or individual repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.” (Smith et al., Cyberbullying: Its nature and impact in secondary school students, 2008)

However, with cyberbullying, repetition is not always required for an act to be considered bullying, as a single act by one person may be repeated many times by others (e.g. an embarrassing photo being passed on and on and on after the initial posting), and consequently, the impact is experienced many times by the person being bullied. This is also highlighted by the Department of Education and Skills:

“Placing a one-off or hurtful public message, image or statement on a social network site or other public forum where that message, image or statement can be viewed and/or repeated by other people will be regarded as bullying behaviour.”

How to Spot the Signs.

Children who are being bullied might be reluctant to tell anybody about what is going on. Indeed, 65% of students who are being bullied do not tell an adult about it.

This means parents and guardians often have to keep their eyes out for the signs of bullying.

Signs can include:

  • Fear of going to school
  • Withdrawn behaviour
  • Getting lower marks than usual
  • Loss of confidence
  • Torn clothes
  • Finding it hard to concentrate in school
  • Don’t want to hang out with friends
  • Depression
  • Repeated bruising and injuries
  • Refusing to take part in sport/extra-curricular activities

Cyberbullying is an equally harmful action, and, in an age where we are more connected than ever before, it is just as important to notice the signs. These signs can often be very similar to the ones listed above, but also include:

  • Your child being upset during or after being online
  • Spending much longer than usual online, or stops using the computer or phone.
  • Stops what they are doing on the phone/computer if you walk past.

Cyberbullying can be difficult to notice at first, and this is due to the fact that the young people who are being cyberbullied might not even realise what is happening at first.

Like traditional forms of bullying, they might also feel embarrassed; or perhaps scared that the cyberbullying will get worse if an adult tries to do something about it, or believe that the adult may not actually be able to do anything about it (if they think their computer skills/knowledge are not strong). There’s also the possibility that they feel that by talking to someone about this, they
might lose their phone/computer privileges and are therefore unwilling to talk.

What the school should be doing in relation to prevention/intervention/policy.

In 2013, the Irish Government developed an Action Plan on Bullying that committed to encourage schools to develop anti-bullying policies.

Every school in Ireland is required to have in place a policy that includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour.

Under the Education (Welfare) Act, all schools are required to have in place a Code of Behaviour, and this code must be drawn up in accordance with the guidelines of the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB).

These guidelines make it clear that each school must have policies to prevent or address bullying and harassment and schools must make clear in their code of behaviour that bullying is unacceptable.

Furthermore, the guidelines state that the code of behaviour should indicate what action the school will take in relation to alleged breaches of the school’s bullying policy. The code is developed through consultation with the whole school community – board of management, principals, teachers, other school staff, parents and students. This is vital and necessary to include such a broad and
diverse range of individuals in developing the code of behaviour, because as the NEWB states, these different groups have “the experience, insights, skills, needs and knowledge of people in the school community, and it is important to include groups or individuals who might be marginalised or who are hard to engage.”

It is imperative that schools regularly review their anti-bullying policies to keep them up-to-date and, should you feel as a parent or guardian that you would like to review that policy, the school will accommodate this request.

It should also be acknowledged that many schools do a lot of positive work around inclusion; and not only celebrate but recognise, respect and value all identities. Because they promote value for diversity, these schools consequently look to address prejudice and stereotyping, and highlight that bullying behaviour is unacceptable in their school community.

Part Two: Action Plan

The Action Plan acts as a step-by-step guide that contains procedures and best practice on how you as a parent or guardian can effectively handle a bullying-related incident – be it in-person or online – that affects their child.

In our education programmes for young people, we recommend that it is always more advisable to respond to an incident rather than react to it; and we are of the belief that this advice is also applicable to parents and guardians.

Below, we have outlined the steps to follow when devising an Action Plan.


When your child informs you of a bullying incident; the natural – and completely understandable – compulsion is to offer a knee-jerk reaction to this. As difficult as this might be; it really is preferable to stay calm. This allows you to pause; consider the situation; and then respond. To do this, take a breath, consider the information your child is telling you and say in a composed tone: “I’m sorry that this is happening – please tell me exactly what happened so we can figure out what to do.”

If your child didn’t tell you, and you found out some other way, calmly say: “I saw/heard about this happening. Could you tell me a bit more about it?”

The important thing to do in this situation is to stay calm. This is understandably a difficult thing to do; but if you act upset, your child will very likely feel upset too. Reacting instead of responding in a calm and measured way is unhelpful; and might result in your child not telling you about the situation. They might deny that they are being bullied; or might even choose not to tell you about any other difficulties they might experience – this is particularly the case with teenagers.

Despite the situation being highly emotive; it really is vital that you keep a cool and measured approach.


Make Sure you get the whole story instead of making any assumptions. Ask your child open-ended, non-leading questions in a calm and reassuring way; and listen to what they are telling you.

Ask who else is involved; while making it clear that you are trying to understand how best to address the issue, rather than get even with anybody. Indeed, parents should look to avoid a “Blaming Approach” that sees them pointing the finger of blame, and should instead listen in an empathetic manner, as they put concrete actions into place that will help resolve the situation.


Recalling the information can be a very trying experience; and one that can be upsetting for both you and your child. Nevertheless, as you adopt a calm and measured approach in gaining all the facts as accurately as possible, it is a good idea to keep an Action Journal that lists the details your child is relaying.


An Action Journal is, in effect, a Who/What/Where/When/Why document that allows you to track the details when discussing these issues with your child’s school; and indeed to record your actions taken. Be sure to write down the information they share with you; exactly as they have said it. It is very important not to misinterpret their words; but to have all the information as accurate as possible.


The “Who” component of the Action Journal would see you list down the following information: Who was involved? Not only the person/people bullying; but the other people that were there and saw the incident unfold.


“What” – Write down EXACTLY what happened, in detail. Again, write down what your child is telling you word-for-word; don’t misquote or misinterpret what they share with you.


“Where” – Write down exactly where the incident took place.


“When” – Write down the time and date of the incident. If it has happened repeatedly; include these times and dates.


“Why” – Although it is vital that you are the advocate for your child; it is also important to explore if there are any particular reasons for why this bullying incident took place. Ask your child if they have any idea why they think this has happened, and be sure to accurately list the reasons they provide you with. Assure your child – if they did not provoke the bullying behaviour – that the problem lies with the person bullying, and not with your child. Doing this can help lessen or remove the self-blame that many children experience when they are bullied.


When you have compiled all the Who/What/Where/When/Why components of the Action Journal, the next step is to take action. With this in mind, it is worth asking:

  • Did you contact the school?
  • Who is the Anti-Bullying Coordinator in the school?
  • What are the anti-bullying policies the school has in place?
  • What are the next agreed-upon steps?

Does the school have an anti-bullying policy in place? Request to see a copy of this, because it is worth noting that Irish schools are legally required to have in place an anti-bullying policy, within the framework of the school’s overall school code of behaviour. (Section 23(3), Education Welfare Act)

Anti-Bullying Action Journal

Who was involved – the person being bullied; the person or persons who bullied; and the other people who may have seen the incident take place. List all of the names that your child tells you.

What exactly happened? Write this down in detail, and avoid misquoting or misinterpreting the information your child is telling you.

Where did the incident take place? If it has happened on several occasions, make a list of all the locations that your child tells you.

Write down the time and dates of the incident. If it has happened on several occasions, make a list of the times and dates that your child tells you.

Ask your child why they think the bullying is happening; if they know of a reason why they are being bullied. Remember to assure your child that the bullying is not their fault, and that the problem lies with the person who is bullying. This can help remove the self-blame that some people might feel when they are being bullied and make them more willing to talk about it going forward.

Action Taken
Your child has informed you that they are being bullied, and you have compiled all the information they have shared with you – now what? Have you decided to contact the school? Have you been put in contact with the relevant persons – Anti-Bullying Coordinator/Pastoral Care Team/Class Teacher? What Actions have been agreed upon and taken?

Next Steps
Has the bullying ceased? Is your child still affected or have things returned to their normal state? If not, arrange to meet the School Principal and work to agree upon what actions need to be taken to end the bullying.

Other Notes
When discussing ongoing actions, before you meet with school staff in person, consider making notes for yourself before you meet, in order to help guide your conversation. Bullying and the welfare of your child can be a very emotive issue to deal with, and this can help you to ensure that you stay focused.

Keep a short diary of all your meetings and conversations, and consider following up agreed upon actions in writing, just to confirm mutual understanding, and so that you have a timeline to follow in these discussions.

A Review of the Steps
  • You have just found out that your child is being bullied. Instead of reacting with emotion to the situation; you have decided on a calmer, measured approach that will ultimately prove more helpful: You have decided to sit down with them and talk about what has happened. As they tell you this, you make notes in your Action Journal.
  • When you have finished compiling all the information that your child has shared with you, the next step is to take action. This involves arranging a meeting with your child’s school. Discuss everything you have learned about the situation with school staff that include the class teacher; the Anti-Bullying Coordinator; and the Pastoral Care/Counselling/Wellness staff members.
  • At this point, it is important to ask: how is your child? Has the bullying stopped? Have they received the help that they need? Have they got over the potential consequences that those affected by bullying can experience?
  • If the situation is not resolved and the bullying continues; arrange a meeting with the school principal. Discuss how the school plans on remedying the problem, and find out what their policies and procedures are when it comes to bullying-related incidents. Remember, you can ask to see a copy of their anti-bullying policy; which might go some way to answering the question: What actions will they be taking?
  • Discovering that your child is being bullied is an understandably emotional situation, and it is easy to want to react to this news urgently. But it is important not to do this; and instead take a more measured approach. Rushing into this kind of situation can have a detrimental effect that can lead to further risk for your child. A response that is carefully thought out and leads to appropriate action is a far more suitable approach, as it stands a better chance of reaching a more positive outcome.

Should the bullying continue in the school, you can follow the Department of Education Guidelines and Procedures on how to make a complaint through the following links:

Parents who wish to make a Complaint to the school

ETB Complaints Procedure

Remember though, that working together with your child and the school staff will provide the best chance of resolving the situation. It is equally important to consider that schools are busy places working with limited resources and time, so it is crucial to approach the school with this in mind. The school might only be learning about the bullying when you tell them, so do give them a chance to act. But working together with the appropriate staff members – the Anti-Bullying Coordinator; the Pastoral Care Team and the Class Teacher – will considerably increase the chances of the issue being dealt with successfully.