Helping Your Child Deal with Bullying

Few things are more painful for a parent than to learn that their child is being bullied at school, especially when there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to stop it. Bullying involves aggressive, negative behavior in a patterned manner over time toward an individual of weaker power. It may take many forms:

  • Physical, such as hitting, pushing, kicking, or spitting
  • Verbal, such as negative name-calling, derogatory comments or descriptions
  • Social, such as deliberate isolation, or exclusion
  • Written, such as hand-written notes or electronic messages
  • Electronic displays, such as texting or posting pictures with negative messages on public websites

Repeated bullying can lead kids to have more depression and anxiety. They may struggle with eating and sleeping, feel lonely, and have poor grades and attendance at school. Some children may not tell a teacher or parent about being bullied. They may feel humiliated to have an adult know and feel like they can handle it on their own. They may also be afraid of retaliation from the bully for being a “tattle-tale,” or they are afraid of being rejected from friends. According to the 2012 Indicators of School Crime and Safety, only around 40% of bullying incidents were reported to an adult (1).

In addition, many children may not know how to deal with the bullying on their own.

It is important for children to know not to fight back which is what a bully wants and will only lead to more bullying.

The best way to stop bullying is to tell an adult who will interfere.

Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D., a renowned author and speaker on education, gives 6 “bully-proofing” strategies that parents can teach to their children (2):

  • Be assertive. Have your child stand up straight and tall and firmly, but calmly tell the bully to stop the behavior.
  • Question the response: Bullies might be taken aback if a child responds to their hurtful words with a “non-defensive question” such as, “Why would you want to tell me I’m dumb and hurt my feelings?”
  • Say “I want” phrases. An example could be, “I want you to stop bothering me and leave me alone.”
  • Agree with the teaser. This isn’t what they expect and might stop the teasing. Dr. Borba gives the example of the teaser saying, “You’re dumb” and the other person responding with, “Yeah, but I’m good at it.”
  • Ignore the teaser. Act uninterested or distract yourself with something else and cause the  bully to not get the reward of the attention he or she was seeking.
  • Make fun of the teasing. A child can practice comebacks to use in response to teasing. For example, Borba says, a teaser might say “You’re stupid” and the other child can respond with “Really?”, “So” ,“And you’re point is?”, or “Thanks for telling me.” These strategies make it seem like the bully can’t get to you, even if he really can.

Some children might be more comfortable with some techniques than with others. They can practice with the techniques that are the best fit for them.

In addition, children can be taught to defend other children they witness being bullied. According to,

“Not saying anything could make it worse for everyone. The kid who is bullying will think it is ok to keep treating others that way.”

Here are some tips that you can teach to your child:

  • Children can defend other children simply by being their friend. Your child can help others by sitting by them at lunch or on the bus, inviting them to do something, being kind, and including them. This friend will know  they aren’t alone and make it harder for them to be bullied.  
  • Avoid supporting bullies by laughing or encouraging them in their mean behavior.
  • When you see bullying happening, tell an adult so that they can help.

Most importantly, teach your children not to bully others by helping them recognize feelings of others and guiding them in acceptable behavior. A study by Shetgeri, Lin, and Flores (2012), found that children whose parents said they were bothered by or angry with their child often or all the time were more likely to engage in bullying. Parents sharing their ideas and having frequent discussions about feelings with children were associated with less bullying. It also helped when parents meet most or all of a child’s friends (3).

Parents have the power and the responsibility to control and correct any bullying that their children instigate.

Similar to child victims of bullying, children who bully others are at risk for future physical and mental concerns. So, if your child is a bully, seek professional help from your pediatrician. For more information, view the ACPeds position statement Bullying at School: Never Acceptable.

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2) Borba, M. (2001). Bully-proofing our kids. Retrieved from:

3) Shetgiri, R., Lin, H., Flores, G. (Jun. 4, 2012). Trends in risk and protective factors for child bullying perpetration in the United States. In Child Psychiatry and Human Development. Retrieved from:

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