Confronting Bullying: Tips for Parents and Children

Bullying is one of the most common traumatic challenges faced by children today. In fact, New York state has the second highest rate of reported bullying for children in grades K through 12. 

The majority of bullying takes place at school. Here, the Weill Cornell Medicine Department of Pediatrics provides simple strategies for parents and children to deal with bullying issues, in preparation for the start of the new school year. 

Alarming Statistics

Nationwide, 77 percent of all students in grades K through 12 have been bullied at some point. The rate is highest during grades 4 through 8, when 90 percent of children report incidents of bullying. It is estimated that almost half of school bullying incidents are not reported. 

Bullying takes many different forms: verbal, physical, or cyber. A bully may create a hostile environment through social exclusion, isolation, racial or sexual slander, threats, or rumors. Despite the many different forms that bullying can take, it is always intentional.

It is up to parents and adults to help all children feel safe and secure.

Signs that Your Child is Being Bullied

Kids who are bullied often feel embarrassed or think that they are to blame. They may be afraid that telling an adult will worsen the bullying. 

Parents should be aware of any changes in behavior that may indicate that something is wrong. Most often, children who are being bullied experience:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Increased anxiety
  • Apathy when doing activities that were previously sources of joy or excitement
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in daily routine (for example, avoiding the school’s restroom, the bus ride home, etc.)
  • Other changes in behavior

Talk to your child to find out if he or she is being bullied in any way. Make it clear that bullying is not acceptable and does not need to be tolerated.

How Parents Can Help Deal with Bullying

Parents who discover that their child is experiencing bullying can provide support and help through a number of strategies: 

  • Praise the child for being brave enough to talk about the bully and bullying
  • Remind him or her that a lot of people experience bullying at some point; they are not alone
  • Emphasize that it is important not to respond to bullying by fighting or bullying back
  • Discuss ways to avoid the bully (for example, stay with a friend at lunchtime)
  • Together, practice acting brave, telling the bully to stop, walking away, and ignoring the bully

Discuss how your child can report the bullying and how his or her school can help. Ask how teachers have dealt with bullying in the past. 

Spend time rebuilding confidence: Be sure to take more time to emphasize your child’s achievements and strengths. Use this as an opportunity to foster greater resilience and self-esteem, as well as empathy for others also experiencing bullying.

How Children can Confront Bullies

Children who are feeling emotionally or physically threatened by a bully at school should first tell an adult, such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or another trusted adult. Children may also find it helpful to talk to a sibling or friend about the situation, and may often find that they are not alone in experiencing bullying. 

After telling an adult about the bully, children, adolescents, and teens can confront the bully by:

  • Avoiding the bully (for example, if the bullying occurs at a certain bathroom before lunch, use a different restroom)
  • Staying with a trusted friend during the school day (the “buddy system”)
  • Removing incentives for the bully (for example, if the bully is demanding lunch money, bring a packed lunch instead)
  • Firmly telling the bully to stop and walking away
  • Holding your anger when confronting a bully

Never fight a bully. Physical violence escalates quickly, and bullies will often thrive on this. Instead, try to hold your anger and emotion when confronting the bully, and ignore him or her. Most bullies eventually grow bored and stop bothering someone who does not react to them. 

Learn more about how parents can foster resiliency in their children, making them better prepared to deal with life’s challenges, including bullying.

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