Parent and child sit at table with teacher

Bullies: What parents can do

When our kids venture out into the world, we wish for them to always experience kindness. Unfortunately, whether it’s at school, a neighbor’s house, or in a community group, this isn’t always the case. Bullying happens when a child picks on another kid repeatedly — verbally, socially, or physically. And if they’re unkind over the internet or through text message, it’s called cyberbullying.

We have to take bullying seriously, as it can lead to problems like depression, anxiety, loneliness, health issues, and lower academic performance. Swift, effective action can help limit the impact that bullying has on our kids and even put a stop to it altogether. Here are some ideas to address bullying.

1. Discuss and validate your child’s experience 

Kids often feel embarrassed and hesitant to tell their parents that they’re being bullied. They don’t want to upset or disappoint you. That’s why if you get the sense your child is being bullied — especially if you notice a difference in their behavior, eating habits, or social patterns, or if you see self-destructive tendencies — try to gently talk with them. 

Reassure them that they can tell you anything and that you have their back no matter what. Focus on listening to what’s happening for them, and expressing empathy. You can say things like, “That must be difficult and hurtful.” or “I would feel sad and lonely, too, if that happened to me.” When your child feels heard and understood, it makes them feel less alone. Validating their experience also builds trust and comfort in sharing tough moments with you.

Be sure your child knows that being bullied is not their fault. It’s the bully who is wrong — likely someone who lacks self-esteem or has a need for control.

2. Create a clear plan of action

Put together a plan with your child for how to stand up to the bully. This collaboration reinforces that you support your child and are on their side. It gives you both confidence in how to handle these difficult situations. If your child is being bullied, it’s natural to be defensive of them and want to handle the situation yourself, but often it’s best to instead offer your child tools to stand up to the bully. Of course, if you’re concerned for their safety, it’s completely appropriate to step in.

Give your child tools and phrases to stand up for themself

Any time your child encounters a bully, they should have some go-to words and actions. Ignoring a bully altogether often deescalates the situation, as bullies are usually looking for a reaction. Your child can turn and walk away, saying nothing at all. If ignoring them doesn’t work, a firm, simple statement such as “Leave me alone.” or “That wasn’t nice.” is often effective. Your child should avoid put-downs as they can aggravate a bully further. Role play with your child to help them practice being brief yet confident.

Inform teachers, counselors, school administrators, and your pediatrician

If the bullying happens even a couple of times, you should inform teachers, school counselors, and other administrators of the issue. Go with your child to have the conversation. You want these adults to keep an eye out for your child. Healthcare providers such as pediatricians or a therapist can also ensure your child has supportive, trusting adults to talk with.

It’s usually best to leave the bully’s parents out of the conversation to start, as sometimes this can escalate the situation.

Tackle cyberbullying

If your child is being bullied on a social media platform or via text, explain to them that it’s best not to respond or forward any of the messages. Doing so could aggravate the bully further.

Help your child block any users who are bullying them. Take screenshots of offensive interactions and if needed, report the cyberbullying to the media platform.

Decide what to do if the bullying continues

Despite your best efforts, the bullying may continue. Reassure your child that they can come to you and talk with you. Let them know that they should also ask for help from teachers, coaches, or school administrators. Above all, let your child know that you have their back and will work through this together.

3. Reinforce positive relationships

Nurturing your child’s emotional and social needs can help them stand up against bullies and make them feel less alone. Ensure your child spends time with positive peers, such as neighbors, friends, or cousins. Consider signing them up for a club, sport, or other extracurricular activity to expand their friendships. This will help them establish a sense of confidence and limit the effect of the bullying.

Try to foster loving interactions at home too, so they feel valued and connected with you and other family members. Positive relationships can help build your child’s confidence, communication skills, and self-esteem — all things that will help them stand up to bullies and not be a target. 


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