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Bullying during serious illness or grief

If your taitamaiti / child or taiohi / young person experiences bullying while going through serious illness or grief, here are some things you can try.

It’s a sad reality that bullying happens – and it even happens if your taitamaiti / child or taiohi / young person is affected by serious illness or grief in the whānau.

Not only is your taitamaiti / child or taiohi / young person dealing with the trauma of that, they’re now having to deal with poor treatment from their classmates. This makes some of life’s toughest times even tougher.

1. Believe what they’re telling you

It might be really hard to believe what your taitamaiti / child is telling you. You might struggle with believing that other tamariki could be so cruel. Or you might wonder if they’re misinterpreting what’s going on.

Research* shows that tamariki / children often don’t tell adults they’re being bullied because they don’t think adults can make a difference. Tamariki / children also feel that they won’t be believed, and that telling someone means the bullying will get worse.

If your taitamaiti / child has the courage to tell you, or another trusted adult, then have the courage to believe.

2. Listen

Rather than trying to solve the problem, stay calm and listen instead. Bullying is often a personal view of what the situation is. If your taitamaiti / child feels sad, frightened or left out, that’s their experience of bullying. Accept this is what’s happening and listen to them. Reassure them that it’s not their fault, they don’t deserve it, and you’re here for them.

3. Act quickly

Tell your taitamaiti / child that you understand how upsetting this is. Then work together on strategies to handle the bullying behaviour. Doing this immediately is more likely to stop the bullying.

You can:

  • Use a problem-solving approach. What’s happening and what can they do about it?
  • Ask your taitamaiti / child what they’ve tried so far. Talk about these strategies to discover which ones have been successful.
  • Work on social survival tools. Practice saying “leave me alone” calmly and walking away. Help them plan and practice responses that are said in a non-emotional way, to avoid giving the bully power. For example, if they’re being picked on because of the death of a loved one, your taitamaiti / child could calmly say: “You’re lucky you’ve never had someone die.  It’s really hard.” Other ways to respond are to use humour, change the subject, ignore them, agree with them or compliment them. The bully gets no power from these responses.  
  • Teach them to avoid situations where the bullying is likely to happen, like a certain area of the playground that the teachers can’t see. Encourage them to make supportive friends.
  • Make the problem one of shared concern and responsibility. Your taitamaiti / child might be feeling isolated and lonely because of the bullying. Remind them that they’re not alone and enlist the help of friends, teachers and peers.
  • Talk to your child’s kura / school. Their teacher might not know what’s going on, so make sure they, and the kura principal, are aware. Ask for a meeting to plan together what the strategies for ending the bullying will be.

Where to go for support

If your taitamaiti / child needs extra support, there are a lot of organisations that can help, including:

  • What’s Up: Free helpline and online chat service for tamariki and mātātahi / young people. Call 0800 942 8787, Monday to Sunday 11am – 11pm. Online chat is available at whatsup.co.nz Monday to Sunday 11am – 10.30pm.
  • Youthline: Free, confidential and non-judgmental support. Call 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

Older tamariki / children (teenagers especially) might find the following organisations helpful:

  • The Lowdown: free 24/7 helpline: Call 0800 111 757, text 5626 or email or webchat at https://thelowdown.co.nz/
  • Lifeline Aotearoa: free 24/7 counselling service. Call 0800 543 354 or text Help to 4357.
  • 1737: free 24/7 mental health support from a trained counsellor. Call or text 1737.

* Helen Mc Grath & Toni Noble. Bullying Solutions. Evidence Based approaches to bullying in Australian Schools. Pearson Education