A bully can turn something like going to the bus stop or recess into a nightmare
for kids. Bullying can leave deep emotional scars. And in extreme situations, it can
involve violent threats, property damage, or someone getting seriously hurt.
If your child is being bullied, you want to act to help stop it, if possible. You
can help your child cope with teasing, bullying, or mean gossip, and lessen
its lasting impact. And even if bullying isn't an issue right in your house right
now, it's important to discuss it so your kids will be prepared if it does happen.
When Is it Bullying?
Most kids get teased by a sibling or a friend at some point. And it's not usually
harmful when done in a playful, friendly, and mutual way, and both kids find it funny.
But when teasing becomes hurtful, unkind, and constant, it
crosses the line into bullying and needs to stop.
Bullying is intentional tormenting in physical, verbal, or psychological ways.
It can range from hitting, shoving, name-calling, threats, and mocking to extorting
money and possessions. Some kids bully by shunning others and spreading rumors about
them. Others use social
media or electronic messaging to taunt others or hurt their feelings.
It's important to take bullying seriously and not just brush it off as something
that kids have to "tough out." The effects can be serious and affect kids' sense of
safety and self-worth. In severe cases, bullying has contributed to tragedies, such
as suicides and school
Why Do Kids Bully?
Kids bully for a mix of reasons. Sometimes they pick on kids because they need
a victim — someone who seems emotionally or physically weaker, or just acts
or appears different in some way — to feel more important, popular, or in control.
Although some bullies are bigger or stronger than their victims, that's not always
Sometimes kids torment others because that's the way they've been treated. They
may think their behavior is normal because they come from families
or other settings where everyone regularly gets angry and shouts or calls
each other names. Some popular TV shows even seem to promote meanness — people
are "voted off," shunned, or ridiculed for their appearance or lack of talent.
What Are the Signs of Bullying?
Unless your child tells you about bullying — or has visible bruises or injuries
— it can be hard to know if it's happening.
But there are some warning signs. Parents might notice kids:
acting differently or seeming anxious
not eating, not sleeping well, or not doing the things they usually enjoy
seem moodier or more easily upset than usual
avoiding certain situations (like taking the bus to school)
If you suspect bullying but your child is reluctant to open up, find ways to bring
up the issue. For instance, you might see a situation on a TV show and ask, "What
do you think of this?" or "What do you think that person should have done?" This might
lead to questions like: "Have you ever seen this happen?" or "Have you ever experienced
this?" You might want to talk about any experiences you or another family member had
at that age.
Let your kids know that if they're being bullied or harassed — or see
it happening to someone else — it's important to talk to someone about it, whether
it's you, another adult (a teacher, school counselor, or family friend), or a sibling.
What Can Parents Do?
If your child tells you about being bullied, listen calmly and offer comfort and
support. Kids are often reluctant to tell adults about bullying because they feel
embarrassed and ashamed that it's happening, or worry that their parents will be disappointed,
upset, angry, or reactive.
Sometimes kids feel like it's their own fault, that if they looked or acted differently
it wouldn't be happening. Sometimes they're scared that if the bully finds out that
they told, it will get worse. Others are worried that their parents won't believe
them or do anything about it. Or kids worry that their parents will urge them to fight
back when they're scared to.
Praise your child for doing the right thing by talking to you about it. Remind
your child that they're not alone — a lot of people get bullied at some point.
Explain that it's the bully who is behaving badly — not your child. Reassure
your child that you will figure out what to do about it together.
In surveys, most kids and teens say that bullying happens at school. Let someone
at school (the principal, school nurse, or a counselor or teacher) know about the
situation. Often they can watch and take steps to prevent further problems.
"Bullying" can describe a wide range of situations, so there's no one-size-fits
all approach. What works in one situation may not in another. Many things —
such as the age of the kids involved, the severity of the situation, and the specific
type of bullying behaviors — will help determine the best course of action.
Take it seriously if you hear that the bullying will get worse if the bully finds
out that your child told or if threats of physical harm are involved. Sometimes it's
useful to approach the bully's
parents. But in most cases, teachers or counselors are the best ones to contact
first. If you've tried those methods and still want to speak to the bullying child's
parents, it's best to do so where a school official, such as a counselor, can mediate.
Most schools have bullying policies and anti-bullying programs. Also, many states
have bullying laws and policies. Find out about the laws in your community. In some
cases, if you have serious concerns about your child's safety, you may need to contact
Advice for Kids
Parents can help kids learn how to deal with bullying if it happens. For some parents,
it may be tempting to tell a kid to fight back. After all, you're angry that your
child is suffering and maybe you were told to "stand up for yourself" when you were
young. Or you may worry that your child will continue to be bullied, and think that
fighting back is the only way to put a bully in their place.
But it's important to advise kids not to respond to bullying by fighting or bullying
back. It can quickly escalate into violence, trouble, and someone getting injured.
Instead, it's best to walk away from the situation, hang out with others, and tell
Here are some other ways kids can improve the situation and feel better:
Avoid the bully and use the buddy system. Use a different bathroom
if a bully is nearby and don't go to your locker if nobody else is around. Make sure
you have someone with you so that you're not alone with the bully. Buddy up with a
friend on the bus, in the hallways, or at recess — wherever the bully is. Offer
to do the same for a friend.
Hold the anger. It's natural to get upset by the bully, but that's
what bullies thrive on. It makes them feel more powerful. Practice not reacting by
crying or looking red or upset. It takes a lot of practice, but it's a useful skill
for keeping off of a bully's radar. Sometimes kids find it useful to practice "cool
down" strategies such as counting to 10, writing down their angry words, taking deep
breaths, or walking away. Sometimes the best thing to do is to teach kids to keep
their face calm until they are clear of any danger (smiling or laughing may provoke
Act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully. Firmly and clearly
tell the bully to stop, then walk away. Practice ways to ignore the hurtful remarks,
like acting uninterested or texting someone on your cellphone. By ignoring the bully,
you're showing that you don't care. Eventually, the bully will probably get bored
with trying to bother you.
Tell an adult. Teachers, principals, parents, and lunchroom personnel
at school can all help stop bullying.
Talk about it. Talk to someone you trust, such as a guidance
counselor, teacher, sibling, or friend. They may offer some helpful suggestions. Even
if they can't fix the situation, it may help you feel a little less alone.
Dealing with bullying can hurt a child's confidence. To help rebuild it, encourage
your kids to spend time with friends who have a positive influence. Participation
in clubs, sports, or other enjoyable activities builds strength and friendships.
Provide a listening ear about tough situations, but encourage your kids to also
tell you about the good parts of their day, and listen attentively. Make sure they
know you believe in them and that you'll do what you can to address any bullying.