My child is being bullied. What should I do?

By Elena Mikalsen, Ph.D.
Section Chief, Department of Psychology

There are more and more stories in the media about children being bullied at school. Finding out that your child is being bullied is frightening and you may wonder how much to worry and what to do to help your child. Here are some basic tips on what we know about bullying and ways to handle situations involving your child and bullying.

What is bullying?

  • Spreading rumors
  • Making threats
  • Physical/verbal attacks
  • Excluding someone from a group on purpose
  • Can happen on-line – cyberbullying

What effect does bullying have on children and teens?

  • Victims, bullies, and witnesses of bullying all experience mental health difficulties from the bullying
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor social functioning
  • Low grades
  • Poor attendance at school
  • Increase in suicide-related behavior

What do we know about children and suicide?

  • According to the CDC, for children and young adults ages 10-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in 4,600 deaths each year with 45 percent of deaths due to firearms, 40 percent due to suffocation, and 80 percent of deaths among boys and young men.
  • Involvement in bullying (as a victim or a bully) increases a child’s risk for suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt.
  • Factors that can further increase a bullied child’s risk for suicide are: family conflict, exposure to violence, substance abuse, lack of connectedness at school, lack of access to resources/support, emotional distress, disabilities/learning difficulties, sexual/gender identity differences.

What can parents do?

  • Help your child connect at their school. Enroll your child in clubs, sports, or activities at school. Find an adult at school the child likes and trusts.
  • Teach your child coping/life skills and problem-solving skills. Teach your child to speak to a bully in an assertive manner rather than angry manner.
  • Ask your child frequently about being bullied. Teach your child how to respond to bullying rather than be a passive victim. A child needs to be able to feel more power in the situation. Saying things like, “That’s not cool!” “Keep your hands to yourself” or “I don’t understand why you would say something like that” in a firm voice can be a good first response to bullying.
  • Seek help from a pediatrician, psychologist, or a school counselor if needed.
  • Make sure your school has anti-bullying policies and implements them.
  • Don’t allow your child to have social media accounts until they are 14. Follow your child on all social media accounts to see any cyberbullying your child may be subjected to.
  • Be sure you know the online communities your child participates in. Review your child’s posts. It’s not an invasion of your child’s privacy. Use of computer, smart phone, or tablet should be a privilege and not a right at your home. Be upfront with your child that you will periodically check on all online activity. Watch out for your child’s secretive behavior on electronics.
  • Watch out for signs of bullying or cyberbullying. These include depression, anxiety, anger, avoidance of friends, decline in grades, and refusal to go to school.
  • Teach your child to never retaliate online or engage in a physical fight. Teach your child to speak to you about bullying. Anger shows weakness, which will encourage more bullying. Assertive and calm responses work better.
  • Save all evidence of bullying or cyberbullying, identify the bullies, and file a complaint with the school or a specific social media site. Contact the bully’s parents if possible via a letter, not in person.
  • Contact the police if there are threats of violence, harassing messages, hate or bias messages, sexual messages, or any other crimes involved against your child by a bully. You can also contact an attorney.

For more information, please talk to your child’s pediatrician or seek online guidance through these organizations: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network http://www.nctsn.org/, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry http://www.aacap.org/, or The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/

If you need to find a pediatrician for your child, please visit www.chofsa.org/findadoc and use our online Physician Finder service free of charge.

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