School bullying is a serious problem. It can make kids feel scared, sick, lonely, embarrassed, hurt, and/or sad. Bullies may hit, kick, or push. Bullies may use words to call names, to threaten, to tease, or to scare other kids.
Most bullies are looking for attention and trying to make themselves feel more important. Bullies may feel that bullying makes them feel powerful or in control of other students. Many bullies have seen violence in their own communities or at home, such as having seen their parents in a physical fight. Many bullies have been bullied themselves, and some have experienced physical or sexual abuse.
1. As a first step, talk with your child about how he or she is reacting to the bully. Because bullies like to see their victims cry or become scared, this response can lead to further bullying. Talk with your child about keeping calm and walking away from the bully.
2. If your child tries to keep calm and walk away from the bully and it does not work, the next step is to become assertive (a word that describes being brave without being mean). Talk with your child about standing tall and looking the bully in the eyes, then saying something like: “Stop doing that now or I will report you to the teacher,” or “I will talk with you but I will not fight, so put your fists down.” Sometimes this display of strength will make the situation stop. At home, you can help your child practice what he or she will say.
3. If the situation with the bully continues, talk with your child's teacher or the principal. This may be difficult to do; your child may not want you to do this, or you may worry that, if you help, your child will not know how to handle these situations later on. However, you should not wait too long to step in and get help because your child may lose his or her self-confidence or may get hurt. Your child deserves to go to school in a safe environment, even if you and the school staff have to be involved. Asking the principal or teacher to talk with the bully or his or her parents is often more effective than trying to do so yourself. Most schools have policies that do not tolerate the bullying of children.
This is a very serious concern. Bullying others in school may predict other behavioral problems and adult criminal behavior. A study in this month's Archives found that men who reported bullying their childhood peers in school were more likely to physically or sexually abuse their female partners as adults.
Talk with your pediatrician about your concerns. Your pediatrician may recommend evaluation or treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist. Investing in this treatment now may help your child get along better with peers in school and may prevent future potential problems with peers and partners.
Healthy Children and American Academy of Pediatrics: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/pages/Avoiding-Bullying.aspx
To find this and other Advice for Patients articles, go to the Advice for Patients link on the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine Web site at http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/.
Sources: Healthy Children and American Academy of Pediatrics
The Advice for Patients feature is a public service of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your child's medical condition, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that you consult your child's physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.
Moreno MA, Furtner F, Rivara FP. School Bullying. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(10):964. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.166