When a child bullies another child, the verbal, physical, and emotional abuse can cause lasting effects. Unfortunately, this type of abuse is often overlooked or trivialized because children or adolescents are the perpetrators. Bullying is a serious matter with serious psychological and social consequences for those who are being bullied and for those who are bullying. There can be lifelong effects, including depression, low self-esteem, and behavior problems. Early detection of bullying makes early intervention possible, which lessens long-term consequences.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is characterized by:

  • An imbalance of power (with the person or group doing the bullying having more power than the person being bullied)
  • An intention to harm or disturb
  • Repeated occurrences

Types of Bullying

  • Psychological and emotional (such as spreading rumors or excluding the person from conversations and activities)
  • Verbal (such as name-calling or threats)
  • Physical (such as pushing or hitting)

Warning Signs

The following may be signs of being bullied:

  • Avoiding certain situations, people, or places, such as pretending to be sick so that he or she does not have to go to school
  • Changes in behavior, such as being withdrawn and passive, being overly active and aggressive, or being self-destructive
  • Frequent crying or feeling sad
  • Signs of low self-esteem
  • Being unwilling to speak or showing signs of fear when asked about certain situations, people, or places
  • Signs of injuries
  • Suddenly receiving lower grades or showing signs of learning problems
  • Recurrent unexplained physical symptoms such as stomach pains and fatigue

If your child has any of the above signs, talk to him or her and to your doctor.

Protecting Your Children

Teach your child to report bullying to his or her teacher and to you, so that the proper authorities can be informed. Look for signs that your child is having a problem; talk to your child about what is bothering him or her. It may be bullying or some other problem at school or in the neighborhood.

If your child is the victim of a bully

Typically, assertive, self-confident children do not become victims of bullying. Youth usually are singled out because of psychological traits such as extreme passivity, sensitivity to criticism or low self-esteem. Here are some things parents can do:

  • Listen to your child’s reports of being bullied and take it seriously.
  • Recognize the symptoms: lost or torn clothing, unexplained bruises, fearfulness or anxiety, moodiness, withdrawn behavior, a drop in grades, lack of friends, loss of appetite, unexplained reluctance to go to school or sleep disturbances.
  • Ask questions. Ask how he or she is spending lunch break, before and after school. Ask what it’s like riding the bus or walking to school. Ask if there are peers who are bullies without asking whether your teen is being bullied. Encourage speaking out.
  • Be suspicious if your child needs extra school supplies or extra lunch money.
  • Report all incidents to school authorities to combat the bullying. Keep a written record of who was injured and to whom you reported it.
  • Teach your child how to avoid the situations that expose him or her to bullying.
  • Teach your child how to respond to aggression. With bullies, they should be assertive and leave the scene without violence. Role-play with your child how to react and respond. Do not tell youth to strike back. This gives the message that the only way to fight violence is by using more violence. It makes them feel that they need to solve the problem alone and that parents and teachers don’t care enough to help.
  • Eliminate violent games, TV shows, and movies as much as possible.
  • Discuss and model cooperative, non-aggressive ways to solve problems.
  • Avoid physical punishment. It sends the message that using physical force is acceptable. Children disciplined by physical punishment may use physical force to get their way with others.
  • Explain the difference between tattling and telling. Tattling is when you report something just to get someone in trouble. Telling is when you report that you or someone else is in danger.

If your child is a bully

What you can do if you think your child is a bully:

  • Objectively evaluate your teen’s behavior
  • Teach him or her to recognize and express emotions non-violently
  • Teach conflict-resolution skills
  • Emphasize talking out the issue rather than hitting
  • Promote empathy by pointing out the consequences for others of verbal and physical actions
  • Model toward your child the kind of behavior you want him or her to exhibit.
  • Adults must make it clear that aggressive behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated