Bullying is acting in ways that
scare or harm another person. Kids who bully usually pick on someone who is
weaker or more alone, and they repeat the actions over and over. Bullying starts in elementary school
and becomes most common in middle school. By high school, it is less common but
Bullying can take many forms, including:
Girls who bully are more likely to do so in emotional
ways. Boys who bully often do so in both physical and emotional ways. For
Both boys and girls take part in "cyberbullying." This
means using high-tech devices to spread rumors or to send hurtful messages or
pictures. Emotional bullying doesn't leave bruises, but the damage is just as
If you think your child is being bullied—or is bullying
someone else—take action to stop the abuse.
a serious problem for all children involved. Kids who are bullied are more
likely to feel bad about themselves and be depressed. They may fear or lose
interest in going to school. Sometimes they take extreme measures, which can lead to tragic results. They may carry weapons, use violence to get revenge, or try to harm themselves.
Kids who bully others are more likely to drop out of
school, have drug and alcohol problems, and break the law.
Children who bully are often physically strong. They may bully because
they like the feeling of power. They may be kids who do things without thinking
first and may not follow rules. These boys and girls have not learned to think
about the feelings of other people.
Kids who physically bully
others sometimes come from homes where adults fight or hurt each other. They
may pick on other kids because they have been bullied themselves.
Children who bully need
counseling. It can help them understand why they act
as they do. And it can teach them how to interact with others in more positive
ways. Family counseling is especially helpful for these children.
are bullied are often quiet and shy. They may have few friends and find it hard
to stand up for themselves. They may begin to think that they deserve the
are often scared and angry when they are bullied. They may not know what to do.
Teach them to:
Bullying can be
stopped if people pay attention and take action.
often occurs in school, and it is most common in schools where students are not
well supervised. If bullying is happening at your child's school, talk to the
principal or vice principal. Urge the school to adopt a no-bullying policy. All
children should know that those who bully will be punished. Children who are
bullied should be supported and protected.
As a parent, you can
help your child get involved in new hobbies or groups, such as school clubs or
church youth groups. Being part of a group can help reduce bullying. Having
friends can help a child have a better self-image.
Kids can help
keep other kids from being bullied. If you are a kid, don't let yourself be
part of the problem.
Learning about bullying:
Getting help for bullying:
Many bullies think highly of themselves. They like being
looked up to. And they often expect everyone to behave according to their
wishes. Children who bully are often not taught to think about how their
actions make other people feel.
Children who bully are at risk for failing in school, dropping out of school, and getting involved with crime and fights later in life.1, 2 They also are more likely to use drugs more than children who
Some children both bully
others and are bullied. They may have been bullied and then lash out at others.
Children who are both bullies and victims use alcohol and/or carry a weapon
more than children not affected by bullying.3
Bullying behavior is a "red flag" that a child has not learned to control
his or her aggression. A child who bullies needs
counseling to learn healthy ways to interact with
people. Professional counseling can guide a child through discovering why
bullying is hurtful. Through this process, a
counselor can encourage a child to develop empathy,
which means being sensitive to and understanding the feelings of others. In some
cases, follow-up counseling may involve the parent. Family counseling has been
shown to help reduce anger and improve interpersonal relationships in boys who bully.4
bullied tend to be:3, 5
Children who are bullied are not to blame for attacks
against them. Make sure your child understands this.
Boys are more
likely than girls to be bullied in both physical and psychological
In some cases, a child who is
bullied sometimes ends up bullying others. These children often respond to
being bullied by feeling anxious and aggressive. Without knowing how to handle
these feelings, they target other children who they think will not fight
In extreme situations, children who are bullied may commit
suicide or lash out violently against those who bullied them. Watch for
warning signs of suicide in your child, such as withdrawing from family and friends.
Children who are embarrassed about being bullied may not want to tell
their parents or other adults about it. Look for
signs of bullying, such as poor sleep, unexplained bruises, frequent crying,
and making up excuses not to go to school. Elementary school children who are
bullied often say they have a sore throat or a cold, feel sick in the stomach,
and/or don't feel like eating.
bullying if they:
Bullying is less likely to occur when children are in
groups and are in areas supervised by adults. But these strategies only work
when schools have firm policies in place against bullying. Staff must be
trained and supported in consistently enforcing these policies.
Children who bully look for an easy target. Bullies are less likely to
pick on those who:
Bullying is reinforced when it is ignored or quietly
accepted. Encourage children to stand up for each other. Help your child think
of ways to help someone who is being bullied. For example, you might suggest
that a child say, "Why are you picking on him? If you think it makes you look
good, you're wrong." Other simple ways include refusing to watch or participate
in bullying. Sometimes distracting a bully, such as by starting a conversation,
can prevent a confrontation.
Defending another person may
sometimes be too much to ask. Help your child understand that, at the very
least, he or she should tell an adult.
normal for children to be frightened or angry when other children
bully them. But they can discourage attacks by showing
confidence and not overreacting.
Children should not fight with a
bullying child or make verbal or written insults. This could lead to more aggression and
possibly serious injury. Have your child call out for help or find an adult or
peer right away if he or she feels unsafe.
Children who are
bullied online or in text messages should not reply. It is best for them to
show the message to an adult and block any more messages from the sender.
Remind them to only accept messages from people they know.
Give your child these tips to handle face-to-face bullying:
Children may worry about making other kids angry by
telling on them. But exposing the abuse is the only way to stop the problem. A
child can ask to remain anonymous when reporting an incident.
when children shut out or exclude others. These actions can be subtle. But they
can be very hurtful to the child who is abused. This type of bullying is called
emotional or social bullying, and it is very isolating. It's also hard to
manage because the pain it causes is not physical and can be hard to explain to
Girls who bully tend to do so in social or emotional
ways. And boys who bully tend to do so in both physical and emotional ways.
Both boys and girls can be targets of emotional bullying. Gossiping and
"backstabbing" are common techniques used by girls who bully in this
Although there is no easy or foolproof solution, it may help
to try some of the following strategies.
As with many
issues related to growing up, openly talking about
bullying before it happens is most helpful for
children. Teach your child how to recognize and react to bullying, regardless
of who is the victim. Also, talk about and model empathy, which is being
sensitive to and understanding how other people feel. This can help prevent
your child from becoming involved in bullying others.
both sides of bullying incidents need help. Adults must first recognize that
bullying should not be ignored. This includes the form of bullying that makes
others feel excluded and shunned. No bullying behaviors should be considered a
normal part of growing up.
Bullying is abusive behavior. If you
witness bullying, get involved and speak up. Make it clear that you will not
tolerate it. Ideally, build an alliance with a bullying child's parents first.
If you confront the bully on behalf of your child without his or her parents
around, you risk putting the child on the defensive. Also, children who bully
often are skilled in turning their parents against you. Don't give them the
chance to come up with a different version of the real story. And remember that
parents may be the role models for a child's bullying behavior.
Aggressive behavior often starts early in a child's life. Although it is
normal for young children to hit, fight, and argue with each other, most will
learn to control these impulses. You can help your child understand that his or
her words and actions affect other people. You play an important role in making
your child aware of others' feelings.
Your child may be bullying
another if he or she:
If you see any of this behavior, take action. Discuss the
situation with your child as soon as possible before the behavior becomes
routine. Ask questions to find out what is going on in your child's life. It
may be that your child is being bullied and is dealing with it by targeting
other children. Or your child may not yet know the importance of understanding
the feelings of others (empathy).
You can help your child by setting rules, supervising activities, and leading by example.
Control your anger, and show sensitivity and respect for others. If a child
bullies, do not punish him or her with physical force (corporal punishment), such as spanking. Physical punishment only strengthens the
belief that people can get what they want through aggression.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that parents of
children who bully seek help from their child's teacher, principal, school
family doctor. These professionals can help evaluate
your child's behavior and make a referral to a child and adolescent
psychologist, or a
licensed counselor who can work with your
children are too embarrassed or are afraid to tell an adult about bullying.
They may think that involving an adult will only make the problem worse. Help
prepare children by teaching them socialization skills, modeling friendly
behavior, and telling them that you will always be there for them. Mention that
if something bothers them, they can also talk with a school counselor.
Be familiar with
signs of bullying, such as frequent headaches, stomachaches, or not wanting to
go to school. Also, ask your child questions, such as whom he or she eats with
at lunch or plays with at recess. If you sense something is wrong, trust your
There are many ways you can help your child deal with
Schools play a
critical role in stopping
bullying, because most aggression happens on school
grounds during recess, in lunch rooms, or in bathrooms. Schools should have and
enforce zero-tolerance programs that make it clear that bullying won't be
School-based programs can help reduce bullying when
You can help your child's school develop bullying policies
by becoming involved in parent-teacher organizations (PTO or PTA) and by
volunteering to help teachers.
In the classroom, teachers should
make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated. Teachers must be prepared to
follow through with consequences if bullying occurs. Doing so sends the message
that adults are serious about the problem. It also encourages children who are
not involved in bullying to report any incidents they see.
Conferences can be held—separately or together—with the parents of both
children involved in bullying incidents.
School-based programs are
one piece of a larger plan to help children understand the importance of
treating one another with kindness and respect.
The American Psychological Association provides
information and brochures on a number of topics, including stress, anxiety, and
depression. Visit www.apa.org/helpcenter for information on the
mind/body connection, family and relationships, and how therapy works.
This nonprofit organization has programs for children
from preschool through middle school. The website has information for parents
and schools on many topics, including bullying, sexual abuse, early learning,
and personal safety.
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It
has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and
diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website
offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing
age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can
sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
Mental Health America (formerly known as the National
Mental Health Association) is a nonprofit agency devoted to helping people of
all ages live mentally healthier lives. Its website has information about
mental health conditions. It also addresses issues such as grief, stress,
bullying, and more. It includes a confidential depression screening test for
anyone who would like to take it. The short test may help you decide whether
your symptoms are related to depression.
This website is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It
helps children and adults learn
what bullying is, who's at risk, how to prevent it, and more.
CitationsLyznicki J, et al. (2004). Childhood bullying: Implications for physicians. American Family Physicians, 70(9): 1723–1728.Vanderbilt D (2011). Bullying. In M Augustyn et al., eds., The Zuckerman Parker Handbook of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics for Primary Care, 3rd ed., pp. 160–163. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.Vanderbilt D, Augustyn M (2011). Bullying and school violence. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., online chap. 36.1. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier. Available online: http://www.expertconsult.com.Nickel M, et al. (2005). Anger, interpersonal relationships, and health-related quality of life in bullying boys who are treated with outpatient family therapy: A randomized, prospective, controlled trial with 1-year follow-up. Pediatrics, 116(2): 247–254.Beaty LA, Alexeyev EB (2008). The problem of school bullies: What the research tells us. Adolescence, 43(169): 1–11.DeVoe JF, Kaffenberger S (2005). Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2001 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCES 2005-310). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Also available online: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2005310.Other Works ConsultedAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.Bauer NS, et al. (2006). Childhood bullying involvement and exposure to intimate partner violence. Pediatrics, 118(2): 235–242.Dinkes R, et al. (2009). Indicator 11: Bullying at school and cyber-bullying anywhere. Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2009 (NCES 2010-012/NCJ 228478). Washington, DC: U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Also available online:Gini G, Pozzoli T (2009). Association between bullying and psychosomatic problems: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 123(3): 1059–1065.Jellinek M, et al. (2002). How to address bullying. In Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health—Volume II. Tool Kit, pp. 115–116. Arlington, VA: National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health.Leff S, et al. (2009). Aggression, violence, and delinquency. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 389–396. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.Vanderbilt D (2011). Bullying. In M Augustyn et al., eds., The Zuckerman Parker Handbook of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics for Primary Care, 3rd ed., pp. 160–163. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
October 25, 2012
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & Frederick P. Rivara, MD, MPH - Pediatrics
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