What is bullying?
Bullying is acting in ways that
scare or harm another person. Kids who bully usually pick on someone who is
weaker or more alone, and they repeat the actions over and over. Bullying starts in elementary school
and becomes most common in middle school. By high school, it is less common but
Bullying can take many forms, including:
- Physical harm, such as hitting, shoving, or
- Emotional harm, such as making fun of the way a child
acts, looks, or talks. Writing mean things about someone in emails or online
journals (blogs) is also bullying.
Girls who bully are more likely to do so in emotional
ways. Boys who bully often do so in both physical and emotional ways. For
- A girl may form a group and exclude another
girl or gossip about her.
- A boy may shove another boy and call him
Both boys and girls take part in "cyberbullying." This
means using high-tech devices to spread rumors or to send hurtful messages or
pictures. Emotional bullying doesn't leave bruises, but the damage is just as
If you think your child is being bullied—or is bullying
someone else—take action to stop the abuse.
Why is it important to stop bullying?
a serious problem for all children involved. Kids who are bullied are more
likely to feel bad about themselves and be depressed. They may fear or lose
interest in going to school. Sometimes they take extreme measures, which can lead to tragic results. They may carry weapons, use violence to get revenge, or try to harm themselves.
Kids who bully others are more likely to drop out of
school, have drug and alcohol problems, and break the law.
What are the traits of children who bully?
Children who bully are often physically strong. They may bully because
they like the feeling of power. They may be kids who do things without thinking
first and may not follow rules. These boys and girls have not learned to think
about the feelings of other people.
Kids who physically bully
others sometimes come from homes where adults fight or hurt each other. They
may pick on other kids because they have been bullied themselves.
Children who bully need
counseling. It can help them understand why they act
as they do. And it can teach them how to interact with others in more positive
ways. Family counseling is especially helpful for these children.
How do children who are bullied act?
are bullied are often quiet and shy. They may have few friends and find it hard
to stand up for themselves. They may begin to think that they deserve the
What can children do if they are bullied?
are often scared and angry when they are bullied. They may not know what to do.
Teach them to:
- Talk back. Say, "Leave me alone," or "You
don't scare me." Have your child practice saying this in a calm, strong
- Walk away. Don't run, even if you are afraid.
Tell an adult. A parent or teacher can then take steps to stop the
What can you do to stop bullying?
Bullying can be
stopped if people pay attention and take action.
often occurs in school, and it is most common in schools where students are not
well supervised. If bullying is happening at your child's school, talk to the
principal or vice principal. Urge the school to adopt a no-bullying policy. All
children should know that those who bully will be disciplined. Children who are
bullied should be supported and protected.
As a parent, you can
help your child get involved in new hobbies or groups, such as school clubs or
church youth groups. Being part of a group can help reduce bullying. Having
friends can help a child have a better self-image.
Kids can help
keep other kids from being bullied. If you are a kid, don't let yourself be
part of the problem.
- Speak up when you see someone else being
picked on. It can help to say something like, "Cut it out. That's not funny."
If this is too hard or scary to do, walk away and tell an adult.
If someone sends you a mean email about another person, don't forward it to
others. Print it out and show it to an adult.
Learning about bullying:
- What is bullying?
- Why is it important to stop bullying?
- What are the characteristics of children who bully?
- What are the characteristics of children who are bullied?
Getting help for bullying:
- What can children do to stop bullying?
- How should children react if they are bullied?
- What can adults do to stop bullying?
- What can schools do to stop bullying?
- May witness physical and verbal violence or
aggression at home. They have a positive view of this behavior, and they act
aggressively toward other people, including adults.
- May hit or
push other children.
- Are often physically strong.
or may not be popular with other children around their same age.
- Have trouble following rules.
- Show little concern for
the feelings of others.
Many bullies think highly of themselves. They like being
looked up to. And they often expect everyone to behave according to their
wishes. Children who bully are often not taught to think about how their
actions make other people feel.
Children who bully are at risk for failing in school, dropping out of school, and getting involved with crime and fights later in life.1, 2 They also are more likely to use drugs more than children who
Some children both bully
others and are bullied. They may have been bullied and then lash out at others.
Children who are both bullies and victims use alcohol and/or carry a weapon
more than children not affected by bullying.3
Bullying behavior is a "red flag" that a child has not learned to control
his or her aggression. A child who bullies needs
counseling to learn healthy ways to interact with
people. Professional counseling can guide a child through discovering why
bullying is hurtful. Through this process, a
counselor can encourage a child to develop empathy,
which means being sensitive to and understanding the feelings of others. In some
cases, follow-up counseling may involve the parent. Family counseling has been
shown to help reduce anger and improve interpersonal relationships in boys who bully.4
bullied tend to be:3, 5
- Socially withdrawn. They
may think poorly of themselves, or they may have a quiet
- Passive. They often let other
people be in control and do not stand up for themselves.
likely to get
Children who are bullied are not to blame for attacks
against them. Make sure your child understands this.
Boys are more
likely than girls to be bullied in both physical and psychological
In some cases, a child who is
bullied sometimes ends up bullying others. These children often respond to
being bullied by feeling anxious and aggressive. Without knowing how to handle
these feelings, they target other children who they think will not fight
In extreme situations, children who are bullied may attempt
suicide or lash out violently against those who bullied them. Watch for
warning signs of suicide in your child, such as withdrawing from family and friends.
Children who are embarrassed about being bullied may not want to tell
their parents or other adults about it. Look for
signs of bullying, such as poor sleep, unexplained bruises, frequent crying,
and making up excuses not to go to school. Elementary school children who are
bullied often say they have a sore throat or a cold, feel sick in the stomach,
and/or don't feel like eating.
bullying if they:
- Try to stay away from those who seem to not
- Play or take breaks near adults while at
- Walk to school with older brothers and sisters or
- Sit near the bus driver.
Bullying is less likely to occur when children are in
groups and are in areas supervised by adults. But these strategies only work
when schools have firm policies in place against bullying. Staff must be
trained and supported in consistently enforcing these policies.
Children who bully look for an easy target. Bullies are less likely to
pick on those who:
- Can quickly respond to threats in a
self-assured way. Help your child practice what to say if he or she is
- Act confident and do not seem easily scared. Help your
child learn to use strong body language, such as standing up straight, looking
other children in the eye, and speaking firmly.
Bullying is reinforced when it is ignored or quietly
accepted. Encourage children to stand up for each other. Help your child think
of ways to help someone who is being bullied. For example, you might suggest
that a child say, "Why are you picking on him? If you think it makes you look
good, you're wrong." Other simple ways include refusing to watch or participate
in bullying. Sometimes distracting a bully, such as by starting a conversation,
can prevent a confrontation.
Defending another person may
sometimes be too much to ask. Help your child understand that, at the very
least, he or she should tell an adult.
normal for children to be frightened or angry when other children
bully them. But they can discourage attacks by showing
confidence and not overreacting.
Children should not fight with a
bullying child or make verbal or written insults. This could lead to more aggression and
possibly serious injury. Have your child call out for help or find an adult or
peer right away if he or she feels unsafe.
Face-to-face and cyberbullying
Children who are
bullied online or in text messages should not reply. It is best for them to
show the message to an adult and block any more messages from the sender.
Remind them to only accept messages from people they know.
Give your child these tips to handle face-to-face bullying:
- Talk to the bullying
child if it feels safe. Look him or her in the eye and say strongly but calmly,
"Leave me alone" or "You don't scare me."
- Walk away from
the bullying child or children. Children who are being bullied
should not run (even though they may want to). It may strengthen a feeling of
power in the bullying child.
- Tell an adult about the episode. It might help for children
to identify an adult at school to tell if incidents occur. Children who see
another child being harmed also should seek help from an adult right
Children may worry about making other kids angry by
telling on them. But exposing the abuse is the only way to stop the problem. A
child can ask to remain anonymous when reporting an incident.
If your child gets left out
when children shut out or exclude others. These actions can be subtle. But they
can be very hurtful to the child who is abused. This type of bullying is called
emotional or social bullying, and it is very isolating. It's also hard to
manage because the pain it causes is not physical and can be hard to explain to
Girls who bully tend to do so in social or emotional
ways. And boys who bully tend to do so in both physical and emotional ways.
Both boys and girls can be targets of emotional bullying. Gossiping and
"backstabbing" are common techniques used by girls who bully in this
Although there is no easy or foolproof solution, it may help
to try some of the following strategies.
- Recognize the behavior. Trying to
ignore it won't make it go away. Help your child accept that there is a problem
and know that you will help him or her through this difficult time. Help your
child understand that he or she is not to blame.
- Role-play. Practice, practice, practice ways to respond to
hurtful comments or actions until they come naturally. Help your child think up
different scenarios and different ways to respond in them. Have fun with
this—make up absurd or outrageous situations. Also, practice using humor as a
way to be assertive. Sometimes saying things like, "Oh, please! You've been
watching too much TV!" or simply, "I don't need that!" and walking away can
stop bullying. This creative thinking can help your child relieve tension and
gain some feeling of control.
- Encourage your child to pursue interests in a different environment. Assure your child that
he or she will meet friends who value him or her. Help your child look for
areas of life where he or she feels accepted, likable, and normal. And help
your child find opportunities to develop well-balanced
- Talk to school leaders. If the
bullying occurs in certain social situations or school activities, sometimes it
is just best to remove your child from the situation. It is not always in a
child's best interest to "stick it out." Often, in fear of causing
disappointment, children do not want to tell their parents that this is the
solution they prefer. Ask your child if he or she really wants to continue to
be in the activity. If the bullying occurs in a general school setting, work
with teachers and counselors to help your child not be around those who
- Stay out of groups who bully others.
Sometimes a child who was shunned before will suddenly be "invited" into or
back into a group. Talk about the fickle nature of such friendships. Ask your
child how he or she would feel if pressured to exclude another person. Help
your child discover the qualities of long-lasting and true friendships.
- Let your child know you are always there for him or her. You may not be able to come up with the perfect answer for
the problem. But you can help by telling your child that you will always be
there to listen and to help him or her think about new ways to handle being
As with many
issues related to growing up, openly talking about
bullying before it happens is most helpful for
children. Teach your child how to recognize and react to bullying, regardless
of who is the victim. Also, talk about and model empathy, which is being
sensitive to and understanding how other people feel. This can help prevent
your child from becoming involved in bullying others.
both sides of bullying incidents need help. Adults must first recognize that
bullying should not be ignored. This includes the form of bullying that makes
others feel excluded and shunned. No bullying behaviors should be considered a
normal part of growing up.
Bullying is abusive behavior. If you
witness bullying, get involved and speak up. Make it clear that you will not
tolerate it. Ideally, build an alliance with a bullying child's parents first.
If you confront the bully on behalf of your child without his or her parents
around, you risk putting the child on the defensive. Also, children who bully
often are skilled in turning their parents against you. Don't give them the
chance to come up with a different version of the real story. And remember that
parents may be the role models for a child's bullying behavior.
If you think your child is bullying others
Aggressive behavior often starts early in a child's life. Although it is
normal for young children to hit, fight, and argue with each other, most will
learn to control these impulses. You can help your child understand that his or
her words and actions affect other people. You play an important role in making
your child aware of others' feelings.
Your child may be bullying
another if he or she:
- Comes home from school with extra money or
"new" toys, books, or clothes.
- Is cruel or mean when talking about
- Excludes other children from activities.
If you see any of this behavior, take action. Discuss the
situation with your child as soon as possible before the behavior becomes
routine. Ask questions to find out what is going on in your child's life. It
may be that your child is being bullied and is dealing with it by targeting
other children. Or your child may not yet know the importance of understanding
the feelings of others (empathy).
You can help your child by setting rules, supervising activities, and leading by example.
Control your anger, and show sensitivity and respect for others. If a child
bullies, do not punish him or her with physical force (corporal punishment), such as spanking. Physical punishment only strengthens the
belief that people can get what they want through aggression.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that parents of
children who bully seek help from their child's teacher, principal, school
family doctor. These professionals can help evaluate
your child's behavior and make a referral to a child and adolescent
psychologist, or a
licensed counselor who can work with your
If you think your child is being bullied
children are too embarrassed or are afraid to tell an adult about bullying.
They may think that involving an adult will only make the problem worse. Help
prepare children by teaching them socialization skills, modeling friendly
behavior, and telling them that you will always be there for them. Mention that
if something bothers them, they can also talk with a school counselor.
Be familiar with
signs of bullying, such as frequent headaches, stomachaches, or not wanting to
go to school. Also, ask your child questions, such as whom he or she eats with
at lunch or plays with at recess. If you sense something is wrong, trust your
There are many ways you can help your child deal with
- Talk about the situation. Although often
reluctant at first, many children who are bullied will open up if they are in
the right environment. A good place to start these discussions is in the car or
other place where you have little eye-to-eye contact. Listen calmly and
thoughtfully. Don't promise that you won't tell anyone. Rather, admit that you
may need to become involved but you will do your very best not to make problems
- Practice role-playing at home. Encourage your child to
react calmly and confidently to taunting. Help your child understand that
responding with physical aggression or insults usually will make the problem
worse. For example, have your child practice saying "Leave me alone" and then
- Teach your child behaviors that show confidence
rather than shyness and vulnerability. Children can learn to look people in the
eye and speak up when they talk. Assure your child that confident behavior can
be learned. Help
build your child's self-esteem by suggesting that he or she meet others
through different activities. Having friends and interests can boost a child's
confidence and make him or her less likely to be bullied.
- Encourage your child to think about the qualities that make a good
- Suggest that your child join activities that are supervised
by an adult. Bullying is less likely to occur near adults.
Schools play a
critical role in stopping
bullying, because most aggression happens on school
grounds during recess, in lunch rooms, or in bathrooms. Schools should have and
enforce zero-tolerance programs that make it clear that bullying won't be
School-based programs can help reduce bullying when
- Raise awareness of bullying through school
assemblies and classroom discussion of the problem. These conversations should
include teaching healthy ways to control anger. They should also teach the
value of cooperation, positive communication skills, and
- Have peers help settle an incident and talk with all
- Increase parents' and teachers'
- Increase supervision of children on school grounds,
especially when they are out of the classroom.
- Form clear rules
about behavior that will not be tolerated.
- Provide support and
protection for children who are bullied.
You can help your child's school develop bullying policies
by becoming involved in parent-teacher organizations (PTO or PTA) and by
volunteering to help teachers.
In the classroom, teachers should
make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated. Teachers must be prepared to
follow through with consequences if bullying occurs. Doing so sends the message
that adults are serious about the problem. It also encourages children who are
not involved in bullying to report any incidents they see.
Conferences can be held—separately or together—with the parents of both
children involved in bullying incidents.
School-based programs are
one piece of a larger plan to help children understand the importance of
treating one another with kindness and respect.
Organizations American Psychological Association www.apa.org U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: StopBullying.org www.stopbullying.gov
- Anger, Hostility, and Violent Behavior
- Depression in Children and Teens
- Domestic Violence
- Feeling Depressed
- Physical Abuse
- Suicidal Thoughts or Threats
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