What to Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

What to Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

The victim of bullying feels anxious and trapped

A bully is someone who verbally or physically persists in hurting others. The bully may tease, taunt, or exclude a child or start rumors about him on social media. The victim of bullying feels anxious and trapped because he or she cannot get the bully to stop. And often the child blames himself for being picked on.

Why do kids bully other kids? There’s usually an emotional problem underlying this behavior. A child who bullies others tends to have a low self-esteem. This can happen because the child does not receive enough attention at home and is hungry for love. It’s also common that a bully is the victim of bullying by someone at home and feels powerless to make it stop. The bully tries to make up for their sense of powerlessness by gaining control over others through intimidation. The child gets a false sense of importance as well because they get attention and everyone caters to them.

Bullies often surround themselves with other kids who reinforce their power. Often, the other children see the bully as the coolest kid because he or she draws so much attention. Since all kids want to be popular, a child might easily be drawn into a relationship with a bully. But sometimes a bully’s follower has similar problems to the bully. A child who aids and abets a bully to hurt others may also have a need for attention or is being bullied at home. He or she can feel more accepted and powerful because they are identified with the bully. They also may think that if they go along with the bully, they will not be picked on. Sadly, in many respects, this child is actually being bullied by the bully who constantly makes demands on and controls them. And they must suspend their judgment and emotions when hurting others to maintain this relationship.

Why are some kids bullied more than others? Kids who are bullied may be quieter, shy, or socially isolated and fearful. They often do not know how to stand up for themselves. These children want to be liked and want to gain the bullies approval and friendship.

Parents and teachers must be alert to any signs of bullying. It is a very difficult problem that causes children a great deal of suffering. If your child is being bullied, here are some steps you can take to help him or her. Keep in mind that some suggestions may be difficult for a child to do and they will need your understanding.

Explain to your child the reasons kids bully others. Understanding that the bully is a fearful child and that may problems at home will help your child put the situation into a better perspective and be less likely to take the blame for the situation.

Instruct your child to avoid the bully whenever possible and walk away if approached. If the bully gets no attention or does not inspire fear, he or she will be disappointed and leave your child alone.

Roleplay situations with your child and help them prepare some statements that they will be able to use when confronted by the bully such as: “That’s rude” or “I can’t talk, I’m running to my next class.” Some parents find it helpful to tell their kids to stand up tall and pretend they are not afraid, with the hope that this will make them less of a target.

If your child is lonely for friends and social acceptance, help them think about other children they might befriend. You can also assist your child by inviting another child along for a pizza outing.

Teach your child to buddy up with another child at vulnerable moments during the school day, such as recess or walking home. Bullies like to pick on someone alone.

Instruct your child to talk to a teacher about the bullying if it is taking place at school. She may equate telling someone about the bullying with tattletaling or be afraid the bully will retaliate. Do not hesitate to approach the school to protect your child.

Encourage your school to develop anti-bullying programs such as peer counseling or a suggestion box where kids can report bullying anonymously.