New term can be a trigger for those who’ve experienced bullying at school

As the new school year is about to begin in England, it can be a time of both excitement and anxiety. For those who’ve been bullied in the past at school, it can also be a trigger for those feelings, emotions, thoughts and memories to come flooding back.

Your child or young person may not have seen those who bullied them for the whole of the summer and the uncertainty of knowing what they may face can be terrifying. Questions and concerns about whether they will bully them again, what will they say or do, what will people think, will they know or remember what happened before. It can feel extremely daunting and understandably so.

On the other hand they may not have had much escape from them and may be wondering what they may have planned for the new school year.

According to a study by Ditch the Label, around 25% of those aged 12-18 experience bullying at school and this bullying can lead to them feeling anxious, depressed, having suicidal thoughts and even suicide attempts, self-harming, developing an eating disorder and much more.

The impact of bullying on someone’s mental health and wellbeing doesn’t stop just because the bullying has. It leaves a long shadow over someone’s life. It changes how we see ourselves, in this case the safety of our school, how safe we feel overall, who we think we are, what we think we’re good at, what we think other people see in us and say and think about us and what the potential threat is to us every day.

So how can you help your child or young person if they’re in this position?

Here’s a few tips for things you can do in the run up to and the early days of returning to school:

#1: Notice changes in their behaviour

A key thing is to notice any changes in their behaviour which may help you to know that something may be worrying them. They may become more withdrawn, quieter, have disturbed sleep, they may be angry or shout more, they may say they don’t want to go to school or want to go to a different school, they may eat a lot more to comfort them or a lot less to have something to control and they may change their appearance. They may also change in other ways, so be aware of any subtle or unusual changes in them, what they say and how they behave.

These changes are a sign that they may be thinking about or worrying about going back to school.

#2: Try to start a conversation

Depending on the age of your child, this may be a conversation you feel you can have openly, to say you’ve noticed some changes in them and want to check they’re ok, or you may need to be a little more subtle and work up to it, perhaps a more general ‘how are you feeling about going back to school?’.

There’s a strong possibility that your child may not want to talk to you about it at first. The main thing here is to let them know that you recognise they may have concerns, thoughts or worries and they are absolutely ok and completely understandable. You also want to reassure them and remind them that you’re there to talk, to listen or to help them in any way you can.

Even though we assume they may know this, the reminder can be important and powerful. If your confidence and self-esteem are low, you may not think that people are there to listen to you because you’re feeling low and vulnerable.

#3: Find ways to make them laugh

I know this sounds a bit random, but if someone is having a lot of negative thoughts and emotions, it can be hard to break this state on your own. We need a little helping hand and the easiest way to do so is to break it with laughter. Send or show them something funny on Instagram reels, watch a comedy film or programme, tell them a ridiculous joke – anything you can do to bring a smile to their face.

It’s more difficult for our minds to feel both negative and positive emotions at the same time, it tends to have to pick one over the other, even if it’s just for a moment. So by making them laugh, it helps to break the negativity and provide some relief. It also reminds them there is some light in amongst the darkness they can see or feel.

#4: Show them a little extra kindness

Another way to remind them you’re there is to show them a little extra kindness. Write them a note and pop it somewhere they’ll see it, send them a message, record them a voice note, buy or make them a little gift, cook their favourite dinner, have a night of self-care, do their favourite activity – again it’s using the opportunity to do something which again brings light and positive feelings into their life.

By showing them we’re there, by paying attention, they feel seen and valued. This can be exceptionally important for those who’ve been bullied as when you’re bullied it can feel as though your power has been taken away and you don’t matter as much or as though there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.

#5: Tell them you love them

Pay them compliments, tell them you love them, let them know how much they mean to you, and let them know you’ll always be there for them, without judgement and are willing to help in any way you can.

When your confidence and self-esteem have taken a battering, when you disappear into a shame storm of ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I’m not worthy’, ‘I’m a failure’, ‘I’m… (insert any other negative phrase in here)’ we need to balance this by seeing that we are loved, appreciated and valued. We need reminding that there are people who love us, like us and believe in us.

Often people worry about saying it too much. I think expressions of love, appreciation and kindness should be shared far more often. If we’re not told, how do we know? If the voice in our head is telling us the opposite all the time, what’s going to challenge that if we don’t let them know. Also if we’re not feeling that way, then we need to hear it over and over again for us to recognise it and really hear it.

You could be the only person today who pays them a compliment, tells them you love them or shows them kindness. Kindness, compassion, empathy and understanding are all incredibly powerful tools we all have which can help to support those who’ve been bullied.

Give them a try, not necessarily all at once, but add them in across the course of the day and try to make them a natural part of your day, not an extra thing to do.

I hope you’ve found this useful and I wish you and your family all the best for the new school year.


P.S. If you’re looking for more support to help your children and young people who’ve been bullied – have a look at our programme for parents and carers here.

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