Do you suspect your child might be the victim of bullies?
As parents, we need to stay on top of this subject to help our children learn to do the right thing and how to deal with their emotions.
Bullying is prevalent in the U.S., whether as a victim or a perpetrator. In this guide, we’ll cover how common bullying is and how to prevent it.
Bullying can happen in different places; it could be at school, whether in class, in the hallways, or at the playground. Maybe your child attends an after-school club, plays a sport, or goes to the mall. Bullies generally operate in areas where youths congregate, and there is minimal adult supervision.
With technology, even the home is no longer a safe haven. Your child could be the victim of cyber-bullying via online devices or cell phones.
In the U.S., between 20 and 28 percent of children in grades 6-12 will experience bullying. Less than half the children in America, about 40 percent that are bullied, will report it to an adult (1).
In surveys, approximately 30 percent of children admit to having bullied others. These percentages increase when it comes to bullies being observed in the act. Just over 70 percent of children and school staff have witnessed instances of bullying.
Verbal and social bullying are the most common, followed by physical bullying and, less frequently, cyber-bullying, except for “LGBTQ” youths. In this group, 55 percent are subject to cyber-bullying.
For those bullied in middle school, the percentages for different types of bullying are:
- 44.2 percent experience name-calling.
- 43.3 percent are teased.
- 36.3 percent are subject to the spreading of lies or rumors.
- 32.4 percent experience shoving or pushing.
- 29.2 percent are slapped, hit, or kicked.
- 28.5 percent are left out of things.
- 27.4 percent are threatened.
- 27.3 percent have their belongings stolen.
- 23.7 percent are subject to sexual gestures or comments.
- 9.9 percent are subject to bullying by email or blogs.
Bullying also occurs around children with food allergies, which can have very dangerous consequences (2).
Editor's Note:Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC
How to Prevent Bullying at School
There are steps you can take to try to prevent bullying from happening. These can differ, depending on the age of the children.
Up to one in five high school students were targets of bullying in 2012. Nevertheless, bear in mind, these behaviors can begin early in a child’s life. The sooner children are taught about bullying and its effect, the better (3).
All the prevention techniques and tips we list apply to children as young as kindergarten age. However, the first five are particularly useful for older children.
One of the best ways to prevent bullying is to start talking about it from early childhood, right through high school.
Here are some of the strategies you can employ to help prevent bullying.
1. Keep Communication Lines Open
Talking to your child openly about their friends from an early age helps you establish good communication with them. It’s reassuring for them to know you’re interested in what they do and that you have their back at all times.
Encourage them to talk openly about their day. Ask them open-ended questions which will encourage a response. The sort of things you can ask include:
- What happened today that was good?
- Did anything bad happen?
- What was lunchtime like? Who did you sit with, and what did you talk about?
- What was your ride like on the school bus?
- What do you enjoy about school?
- What don’t you like about school?
Why not invite some of their friends around so you can get to know them better? This will give you some insight into your child’s interactions with their peers.
Talking to your children about bullying and how it might be impacting them can help you understand what is going on. It’s important to encourage your children to answer you honestly and let them know you’re there to help if issues arise.
Talking about bullying can be hard for a child. These are some of the questions you can ask to determine what they understand about bullying and dealing with it.
- What does “being a bully” mean to you?
- Why do you think children bully others?
- Does bullying scare you and make you afraid to go to school?
- What do you think I can do as your parent to help stop bullying?
- How do you feel when you see other children being bullied?
- Would you try to help someone who is being bullied?
2. Educate Your Child About Bullying
Children begin to learn how to behave at an early age. They watch what we do as adults and follow our example.
With this in mind, always treat others with respect. Say “please” and “thank you,” and be respectful, kind, and friendly toward others. Children will observe your behavior and pick up these good habits.
If you have preschoolers and younger children, explain that they need to share and play nicely. They can’t just take a toy or book from another child just because they want it. They need to learn the impact this has and how it makes others feel.
Children also need to be aware that using technology to spread rumors or be unpleasant to other children is also bullying, excluding children from activities and ostracizing them.
Explain to your child that respecting themselves and others can help them form healthy friendships. They should listen to their friends and not judge them or talk about them behind their backs. They need to support their friends, trust them, and be honest with them (4).
3. Recognizing Signs of Bullying
Signs Your Child Is a Victim of Bullying
Not all children will display signs they are being bullied, but here are some things you can look out for:
- Injuries that can’t be explained.
- Destroyed or lost personal belongings.
- Faking illness or regular stomach aches or headaches.
- Eating habits change, maybe meals are skipped, or a child binge eats.
- Nightmares or trouble sleeping.
- Not wanting to attend school, dropping grades, or a reduction in enthusiasm for school work.
- Avoiding social situations or a sudden lack of friends.
- A decrease in self-esteem or feeling helpless.
- Behaviors like self-harming, running away from home, or talking about suicide.
The effects of bullying can be serious and place a child in distress or danger, so get help as soon as possible if you’re worried.
Signs Your Child Might Be Bullying
Bullies can give away telltale signs of their behavior; these include:
- Getting into verbal or physical fights.
- Associating with children who are bullies.
- Increased aggressive behavior.
- Frequent detention or visits to the principal.
- Have new belongings or extra money, with no explanation where they came from.
- Blaming other children for their problems.
- Worrying about how popular they are or how they appear to other people.
- Not taking responsibility for their actions.
Why Don’t Children Report Bullying?
We mentioned earlier that only about 40 percent of children in the U.S. would report bullying to adults. Some of the reasons they don’t say anything are that they:
- Feel helpless.
- Think they can handle it on their own.
- Don’t want to be seen as tattletales.
- Fear there might be a backlash from the bully.
- Feel humiliated and don’t want adults knowing what’s being said about them.
- Think adults might judge them or punish them for not sticking up for themselves.
- Already feel socially isolated and think nobody understands or cares.
- Fear rejection from their peers who might be showing them some support or giving them some protection (5).
4. Teach Your Child Not to Bully
We have mentioned how children will follow role models. Make sure your behavior sets a good example.
Teach them not to spread rumors or single children out because they are different. Encourage empathy with others, and discourage adding to bullying in any way. Tell your child they don’t have to condone a bully’s behavior just to fit in.
Children also need to know that being a bully has consequences at home, school, and the community. They can lose privileges and even face criminal charges (6).
5. Give Your Child the Proper Tools
Equipping your child to deal with bullies helps them shift the power balance. After all, it’s the feeling of power that a bully gets from their behavior that gives them the upper hand. Some things you can tell your child to do to ease bullying include:
- Walking away: When a bully approaches, walk away. Don’t react or respond; that’s what they are looking for.
- Tell them to stop: Bullies pick on people they think are weak. Be confident and tell them — in a loud voice — to leave you alone, then walk away. You might be scared, but don’t let them know that.
- Disarm them with words: Responding with phrases like “Whatever,” “Is that the best you can do?” or “How long did it take you to think of that one?” can disarm a bully. Deliver your comeback and then walk away.
- Use humor to diffuse a situation: If a bully tells you your clothes are old-fashioned or your face is ugly, look at them and laugh. You can agree with them, carry on laughing, and walk off. You could even laugh while looking directly at them and then leave, saying nothing.
- Have a buddy: Bullies will often pick on someone when they’re on their own. Have some friends around you, and if the bully still feels brave enough to take you all on, walk away as a group.
- Avoid situations: Bullies can be scary. If you feel intimidated, try to avoid places where you know they will be. That doesn’t make you a coward — it makes you smart!
- Ask for help: Asking for help to deal with a bully is not telling tales. Even though it’s scary, sharing your experience will make you feel better. Speak to your parents, a teacher, or another adult you trust, especially if the bullying is physical (7).
6. Boost Your Child’s Confidence
A child who is encouraged and nurtured is likely to have more self-esteem and confidence. This can reduce the likelihood of them being bullied.
Children who take part in activities they love can also have more confidence. This could be playing an instrument, cooking, playing ball, or dancing.
Their success in their chosen hobby will give them a sense of achievement. The expertise they gain will make them feel proud of themselves and help them connect with other children (8).
Other school activities can also help a child feel involved and build friendships. Joining a school club that interests them, volunteering, taking part in a school play, or playing sports are just a few ideas. Having friends with the same interests can help keep the bullies at bay.
7. Get Yourself Involved
You can stay updated with what’s going on at your child’s school by getting yourself involved. Go to school events and even volunteer to help.
There are simple ways that parents and caregivers can keep up to date with kids’ lives. Get to know your child’s friends’ parents and make an effort to meet teachers and counselors.
When class newsletters or school flyers come home, make sure you read them. Talk about them with your children, so they know you’re interested (9).
It helps you to know the school’s policies on bullying.
8. Reporting Bullying
Knowing how bullying is handled at your child’s school will enable you to know who to contact in the event of an incident. It will also set clear expectations of how the school might handle the situation.
Unfortunately, schools can’t prevent bullying from happening all the time, and parents should not expect this.
What schools can do, however, is take a proactive approach to bullying. You would be right to expect a school to deal with it quickly, efficiently, and firmly when it occurs.
School administration should have guidelines and policies in place. These should include investigating parents’ concerns and letting them know what they intend to do to remedy the situation.
They shouldn’t hold a meeting with the bully and the child who has been bullied together. This could be both intimidating and embarrassing for the victim.
A meeting should be held with the bullied child to reassure them of the school’s actions to stop the ordeal. A plan should be put in place which safeguards the child and where the staff members keep their eyes open for further bullying.
The child or children carrying out the bullying should also have a meeting with a senior school staff member. It should be made clear to them that bullying is not acceptable behavior.
They also need to know there will be consequences if it continues — their parents will be notified and have privileges withdrawn.
Both parents and the school should take care to ensure the bullied child does not feel at fault. They should not be made to think they were responsible.
There are occasions when the actions of a bullied child are brought into question. Maybe they lack social skills and are perceived as annoying, which might explain why they were bullied. This does not condone or justify bullying, and the matter should be raised with a school counselor.
The school should be given a reasonable amount of time to deal with the issues raised. They need to hear both sides of a story to ascertain the truth. This can take up to a week.
Should the bullying continue, then request a meeting with, or write to, the school principal. If this fails, or if the management is unwilling or unable to stop the bullying, you should write to the school superintendent.
What If It Continues
Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to be persistent. Your child’s safety is the most important thing, and parents must raise bullying concerns so they can be addressed (10).
9. Technology Boundaries Should Be Set
Cyberbullying is a concern, with most children having access to tablets, cell phones, and computers nowadays. The prevalence rates of this type of bullying fall between one and 41 percent for perpetration and three to 72 percent for victimization. There is also about two to 16 percent of children who perpetrate and are victims (11).
Speak to your child about cyberbullying and tell them not to forward or respond to any threatening emails or messages.
Make sure your child’s computer has the proper age-appropriate filter. Add them as friends on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, so you can see what is happening.
If possible, ensure the only computer they have access to is the family device set up in a visible place in your home. This will be easier to monitor.
When you allow your child to have a cell phone, let them know you will check their texts. You can also decide whether or not you get a phone with a camera. Keeping your child’s phone in a place away from their rooms by a certain time at night can help eliminate inappropriate messaging or bullying.
If cyberbullying occurs, report it to the school and make sure it’s followed up and dealt with. Remember to record instances of abusive texts, emails, or posts if you need the details later.
Threatening messages or those that are sexually inappropriate should be reported to the police.
10. Join With Others To Stop Bullying
Bullying can happen in many places outside a school setting, such as in the street, at the mall, or in a youth club. Community support is also needed to help prevent bullying.
Anyone working with children in the community can convey anti-bullying messages—the more children who hear these messages, the better.
Local associations that work with children and parents can help. Other people involved include law enforcement officers, neighborhood associations, mental health specialists, local businesses, and church organizations. Any of these people might witness bullying taking place, and together you can work out targeted solutions.
You could encourage teenagers to help younger children to employ anti-bullying behaviors.
Once you identify areas where community groups can help, you need to work out your strengths and where they can best be applied. You could use a local opinion survey to determine where bullying is happening and how it’s being viewed and dealt with.
Once the community understands the problem, then employ a shared vision for how best to tackle it. Encourage those with the means like local radio, TV, websites, and newspapers to promote the anti-bullying message.
Over time, you can track progress to see if your plans are working; if not, modify them to make them more effective.
Eyes on Bullying
The Eyes on Bullying Toolkit offers a variety of tools and resources to help parents and caregivers of children and adolescents address the issue of bullying. The toolkit defines bullying and discusses why bullying can sometimes be difficult to see; introduces the concepts of bully, victim, and bystander; provides recommendations and strategies for addressing bullying when it occurs, and offers a strategic approach to creating an environment where everyone takes responsibility for preventing bullying.
📄 Download Eyes on Bullying Toolkit PDF
The Eyes on Bullying Toolkit was developed and written by Kim Storey, Ron Slaby, Melanie Adler, Jennifer Minotti, and Rachel Katz, at Education Development Center, Inc. © 2008. All rights reserved.
It’s tough, finding out your child is being bullied or is accused of being a bully. You will undoubtedly have many mixed emotions and might even blame yourself in some way.
The good news is there are things you can do to help prevent it from happening. Schools are also more aware and supportive than ever when it comes to dealing with instances of bullying.
Teaching your child to respect themselves and others from an early age can prevent bullying as they get older. Show them what constitutes good behavior.
As a parent, be supportive and empathetic to your child. Remember, set a good example for them to follow. Little eyes and ears don’t miss much.