How to Deal With Bullying

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How to Deal With Bullying

Unfortunately, bullying is a common problem for children. Research suggests that up to half of our kids have experienced bullying at some point and at least 10% experience it on a regular basis. But parents shouldn’t accept bullying as a normal part of childhood. It can affect a child’s social and emotional development as well as school performance. What exactly is bullying? Bullying is any behavior that is intentionally tormenting to another child. Most definitions describe it as chronic or persistent. The torment can be verbal, physical or psychological. And in today’s world, it can even be virtual in the form of cyberbullying. Your child should know that any behavior from another student that hurts or harms them in emotional or physical ways is a form of bullying.

Know the Signs

Bullies often exert their power covertly, away from teachers and others in authority. So you may not know your child has a bully unless there is physical evidence or your child tells you. But there are warning signs:

  • Changes in sleep or eating habits

  • Moodiness

  • Faking illness

  • Physical complaints, such as headache or stomachache, on a frequent basis

  • Frequently “losing” things

  • Difficulty with schoolwork

  • Avoiding activities

  • Self-destructive behavior

Don’t ignore possible warning signs. Talk to your child and find out what’s going on at school. Even if it’s not bullying, changes in your child’s behavior indicate that something is amiss. Give your child plenty of opportunities to talk to you and share thoughts openly.

Take It Seriously

If your child comes to you with a bullying problem, take what your child says seriously. Bullying can bring out strong reactions in adults. You can best help your child by remaining calm and listening. Reassure your child, offer comfort, and praise your child for coming to you. Then, find out exactly what happened, who did it, and when and where the bullying took place. It’s a good idea to make a written record of the events.

You should also take it seriously if your child tells you that the bullying will get worse if the bully knows your child told. This makes the situation more delicate, but you must get involved. Talk to your child’s teacher, principal, or school counselor. Ask that they address the situation in a confidential way. Providing details about when, where and how the bullying occurs will help them monitor and prevent the situation. Some schools also have a confidential tip line for reporting incidents.

Offer Support

Support your child by keeping the lines of communication open. Listen when your child talks about bullying and reassure your child that it isn’t their fault. Talk about ways to deal with the bully and what your child can do to stay safe. Make sure you follow up often with your child. The bullying is not likely to stop overnight and your child will need your continued support. Seek a qualified counselor if necessary.

Along with your support, make sure you don’t make the situation worse. Don’t tell your child to ignore it hoping it will go away. Don’t blame your child for the situation or ask your child what they did to contribute to the bullying. It’s not a good idea to encourage your child to fight back and you should resist the urge to contact the bully’s parents directly. Instead, go through your school’s administration and use the school’s bullying policy to help your child.

Build Confidence

Bullies often pick on kids who are passive, get intimidated easily, and have a hard time defending themselves. By working on your child’s confidence, you can help your child deal with the bullying. Make an effort to connect your child with friends who are a positive influence. Your child may also benefit from clubs, sports, youth groups, or other group activities with supervision. 

Learning a martial art, such as Taekwondo, can help instill confidence in your child. Many of them have specific anti-bullying programs that help kids deal with bullies. The tenets of most martial arts programs focus on inner strength, self-control, patience, confidence, and perseverance. Martial arts will also teach children how to defend themselves. Just knowing they are capable of defending themselves may be all they need.

Teach Coping Skills

Don't just talk to your child about ways to cope with a bully. Role-play with your child to give them a chance to say the words and practice behaviors. Let your child practice making eye contact and saying things in a firm voice. Your child should confidently tell the bully to stop and then walk away or get involved in an activity. 

Brainstorm about ways to ignore hurtful remarks from the bully. Ignoring the bully and not giving the reaction the bully wants will take the fun out of it. Bullies are looking for a reaction that makes them feel powerful. Teach your child ways to calm down inside and keep emotions in check. Try counting down from 10, taking deep breaths, and maintaining a “poker face.”

Other strategies include using humor, avoiding the bully, and using the buddy system. Encourage your child to hang out with supportive friends and to stay with a safe group of kids. Whatever the strategy, the most important thing to get across to your child is to always tell an adult. If your child isn’t comfortable talking to you, encourage them to talk to a teacher, coach, or other trusted adult.

Key Takeaways

Bullying happens, but it’s not acceptable. Remember these key points:

  • Take your child seriously if he or she complains about a bully

  • Involve the school to monitor the situation and prevent future episodes

  • Stay in touch with the school and your child and follow up frequently

  • Support your child by helping build their confidence

  • Practice role-playing to deal with the bully and encourage healthy friendships

  • Seek a qualified counselor if the situation seems beyond your ability to help
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
1. Bullying. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

2. Helping Kids Deal with Bullies. Nemours Foundation.

3. Bullying Info and Facts. National Bullying Prevention Center.

4. Warning Signs of Bullying. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

5. Support the Kids Involved. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

6. Nine Ways to Combat Bullying. American Taekwondo Association.

7. Bullying: It’s not OK. American Academy of Pediatrics.