Friendship bullying can go unnoticed and can easily be mistaken for joking around. If your child has a friend who calls him names, ignores him and excludes him from games and activities, experts would agree that your son is being subjected to friendship bullying.

Characteristic behaviours of a friendship bully includes lashing out at their friends before realising they have crossed a line and hurriedly apologizing, only to repeat the same actions in the days and weeks to follow. For children on the receiving end of a friendship bully’s treatment the repercussions can run deep, causing lasting effects such as deflated self-esteem.

Sometimes children don’t realise they are being bullied because their ‘friend’ must be joking or doesn’t mean it, which can make handling this type of bullying more challenging. Also, the added hurt of being bullied by the people you consider to be your friends runs deep.

Are they being bullied by a friend? Warning signs for parents include:

  • Reluctance to attend school or participate in their normal activities, even though their friendship group is unchanged
  • You notice that the joke seems to always be on your child
  • They are emotional or withdrawn after receiving a text or social media message from someone you know to be a school friend
  • They admit to being bullied but refuse to name the bully – their silence could mask a fear of being disloyal or thrown out of the friendship group
  • Belongings disappear or personal items are damaged but your child doesn’t complain
    Next steps?
    Your child’s school has a duty of care to address any friendship bullying happening there, and the school website will list the steps parents can take to report bullying. Start a diary of any incidents of bullying you become aware of as soon as possible because this information will help inform the school and define its actions. Your child’s school should treat the situation with care and seek to protect friendships if possible, if that suits your child’s wishes.

    Reassuring your child that the bullying is not their fault is an essential step in supporting their recovery, as it being available to listen whenever they need to talk. If they would rather speak to someone else at any point make sure they understand where they can turn – whether that is another trusted adult or an organisation such as Childline.

    Parents wishing to start a conversation with their child on the subject of ‘false friends’, can visit the Anti-Bullying Alliance website, here –

    More in-depth advice is offered by Kidscape on Friendships and ‘frenemies’ here –