How to deal with foster child bullying


Bullying is a serious matter for any child and is a significant issue in fostering. Often the trauma a child has experienced can make a foster child more vulnerable to bullying which is why you, as a foster parent, need to understand what bullying is and how to spot the signs of bullying.

As we’re at the start of a new school year, it can be a triggering time for children who’ve experienced bullying as it can bring about feelings of fear and anxiety. This guide explains how to deal with bullying whether you have concerns about how to spot the signs of bullying, what to do if your foster child is being bullied or even if you have concerns that your foster child is bullying others.

What is bullying?

In order to understand how to deal with bullying, it’s important to understand what bullying is. Children and young people can be bullied for just being different, their race, religion, background, appearance, sexual orientation or disability. It’s important to be aware that bullying doesn’t just have to occur on the playground. Bullying can happen in lots of different ways. With the rise of social media, cyberbullying has become much more common in recent years. But, bullying can also take place at home, on the street and other places.

Bullying is always intentional, hurtful, and repetitive and results in a power imbalance. Children can have disagreements, outbursts and fallings-outs as they grow and develop their social skills but if you notice that behaviour follows this pattern it could be a sign of bullying. Some examples of bullying behaviour includes:

  • Verbal abuse: Name calling, teasing, spreading rumours and shouting and swearing all constitutes as verbal abuse.
  • Physical bullying: Hitting, kicking, biting, pushing, punching and pinching are all examples of physical bullying.
  • Emotional abuse: Emotional abuse usually consists of things like excluding behaviour, manipulation, coercion, humiliation and intimidating behaviour.
  • Sexual abuse: This could include unwanted physical contact, inappropriate touching, exposure to indecent images or inappropriate films.
  • Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying can include nasty messages on social media, sharing photos, text messages and pages and posts that make fun of the person being bullied and social exclusion.     

How can I tell if my foster child is being bullied?

It can be difficult to tell if your foster child is a victim of bullying as quite often the child will not feel comfortable talking about the subject. Some of the signs your foster child might be being bullied include:

  • Signs of injuries such as cuts, scratches and bruises.
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Spending a lot of time on social media
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Losing belongings or money
  • Extreme emotions or mood swings
  • Becoming secretive or withdrawn
  • Self-harm – If this occurs it’s important to speak to a healthcare professional straight away.

What to do if my foster child is being bullied?

If you suspect your foster child is being bullied it’s important to emphasise to your foster child that they can trust you and to let them know that you are there to support and care for them. It’s important not to act rashly and to handle the situation carefully. Some of the do’s and don’ts if you suspect your foster child is being bullied include:

  • DO speak to a social worker: It’s important to let the child’s social worker know straight away if you have any concerns about your foster child being bullied.
  • DO ask the child more general questions if they don’t tell you outright that they’re being bullied: Asking more general questions such as how they are enjoying school, or how they are getting on with their peers starts a dialogue and should help your foster child open up to you if they are being bullied.
  • DO tell the child that it’s not their fault: Bullying can really hurt a child’s self-esteem, it’s important to reassure them that they’re not to blame.
  • DO speak to an authoritative adult: If the bullying is happening at school, they should have an anti-bullying policy in place and speaking to a teacher or authoritative adult should enable the school to take action against bullying.
  • DON’T tell your foster child to retaliate: It’s important to stress that fighting back doesn’t solve the problem and may cause more issues going forward.
  • DON’T dismiss their experience: Never tell your foster child just to ignore it, as this can teach them that bullying can be tolerated.
  • DON’T react with anger: Even though you may feel angry that your foster child is being bullied, blowing up is likely to be upsetting for the child and they may feel like the anger is directed at them, even if it isn’t.  

What to do if my foster child is bullying others?

Many foster children have had a traumatic past, and they may have been exposed to bullying in the past, sometimes this can cause them to exhibit bullying behaviour themselves as a coping mechanism. And, although it’s easy to understand why this might happen it’s important not to justify bullying behaviour. Some of the ways to deal with bullying if your foster child is bullying others include:

  • Establish expectations: Make it clear that bullying behaviour is not acceptable and explain how it makes others feel.
  • Find out all the facts: Make sure you have all the facts so that you’re able to treat your foster child fairly – without jumping to conclusions.
  • Remain calm: Don’t react with anger and encourage your foster child to do the same.

Start a dialogue: Speak to your foster child, and don’t forget to listen too. Encourage your foster child to come to a conclusion about how to resolve the situation.

Speak to your foster child’s social worker: Make sure your foster child’s social worker is aware of the situation.

Here at FosterCare UK, we approach fostering with a therapeutic approach at the forefront. Dealing with bullying quickly and with a therapeutic response can help reduce the chance of long-term damage. We also offer complete training and support for foster parents to make sure you are completely prepared to care for your foster child or young person. If you would like to find out more, please do not hesitate to contact our helpful team today.

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