Global ChallengesViolence

How to Talk to Children About Bullying


Helping Kids Deal with Bullying

Bullying is a serious problem. It can cause kids to feel afraid, anxious, lonely, and unhappy. The stress of being bullied can cause somatic problems, like headaches and stomachaches. It can make kids not want to go to school, play outside, or do other everyday things that most kids look forward to. Over time, children who have been bullied may develop low self-esteem, experience depression, and have difficulty making friends.

Watch for these signs. Kids who are being bullied may:
  • Be reluctant to play outside or go to school
  • Act withdrawn, quiet, or passive
  • Have few friends and be resistant to accepting invitations from peers.
  • Lose interest in activities previously enjoyed.
  • Exhibit changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Have headaches or stomachaches Complain of illness to avoid peer activities.
  • Lose objects without explanation or ask for extra money or treats for lunch bag.
  • Have unexplained cuts, bruises, or scratches or torn or dirty clothing.
  • Show a notable change in mood more fearful, sad, irritable, depressed, or angry
Adults can help protect children from being bullied by:

Maintaining open communication. Ask children about their day and show them you are interested in what they have to say. Encourage them to talk about school, friends, activities, and any problems they may have.

Instilling self-confidence. Self-confidence and self-esteem help protect children from becoming victims. Give them opportunities to build skills, opportunities to practice them, and praise for their efforts. Encourage them to develop their talents. Be involved in and support their activities.

Building social skills. Provide opportunities for kids to interact with peers and develop friendships. Help them become involved in group activities, such as sports, music, or art to improve their ability to make and keep friends.

Teaching children how to speak up for themselves. Encourage children to talk to and seek guidance from trusted adults. Let them know that this is especially important if they feel uncomfortable, threatened, or harmed in any way.

Providing a safe environment. Do not permit kids to play in empty playgrounds, parks, or other public places where they will be unsupervised. When they are visiting friends, make sure an adult will be present.

Teaching specific ways to AVOID being bullied like:

  • Staying away from places where they might meet a bully
  • Sticking with one or more friends since bullies are often less likely to pick on kids who are in a group
  • Playing in places where there are adults nearby.

Practicing skills: Puppet play can help children learn how to deal with bullying situations. Using puppets, help your child act out scenarios which explore how to avoid situations in which they may be bullied as well as how to handle situations in which they are bullied. Use your imagination!

Adults can help kids who are being bullied by taking bullying seriously. Children need to understand that bullying is a legitimate problem that you are concerned about and will help them deal with. Bullying is not just "kids being kids." First and foremost, let children know that if they are being bullied, it is very important for them to talk to an adult they can trust.

Teach them specific ways to DEAL WITH bullying like:

Standing up for themselves: Tell them to say "No!" or "Stop it!" then walk quickly away to a safe place and get help from an adult. Trying not to let the bully know how they feel: Tell them not to cry or let the bully see that they are upset. Bullies gain satisfaction from intimidation. Once they are safely away from the bully, encourage them to express their feelings to a trusted adult. Ignoring the bully: Tell them to pretend not to notice the bully, then walk away quickly to a safe place and get help from an adult. While this is good advice for dealing with a bully, let them know that in no way are YOU ignoring or diminishing the effects of the bullying and that you take it very seriously.

Don't be a bully yourself. Be aware of your own behaviors and those of others in your household. Set good examples for interacting that do not involve anger and physical intimidation. Children who observe others bullying at home or are bullied themselves may learn that bullying is an effective way of getting what they want.

Sibling issues. Be aware of sibling rivalry. Help your kids learn how to get along with each other. Do not ignore it when one child intimidates or harms another. Praise appropriate interactions.

Teach peace. Do not encourage children to fight. Fighting can result in injury or getting into trouble and can lead to more serious problems with the bully.

Bullying at school. Bullying can be a problem at all age levels and in all kinds of schools. If you are aware of bullying in the school setting, talk to teachers and school administrators. There are many excellent bullying prevention programs that can reduce and prevent bullying problems and improve peer relations at school, such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (2003).

When your child bullies. It is very hard to admit that the behaviors of a child you care about may be harmful to others. Often it's easier to make excuses than to do something about it. But if a child is seen by others as a bully, it is in his or her long- and short-term interests to learn how to interact more appropriately with peers. You can help a child who bullies by:

Reassuring the child of your love. A child who bullies is not a bad child, just a child who needs to learn more positive ways of interacting with others.

Talking to the child about what's going on in his or her life. Some children bully when they feel sad, angry, lonely, or afraid and/or when there are changes at home or school.

Developing clear expectations and consequences. Set clear standards about what kinds of behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable. Let kids know what the consequences of bullying behaviors will be and apply consequences consistently.

Intervening immediately. Take immediate action when you observe bullying; other children need to be safe.

Encouraging relationship-building. Provide opportunities to develop positive relationships.

Assessing the environment. Examine the behaviors taking place at home, at a babysitter's, at school, or wherever the child spends time. Often, kids who bully are bullied themselves by a parent, caretaker, or even a sibling.

Getting further help. Talk to a teacher, school counselor, or other professional if you think your child needs additional help in order to learn how to interact positively with peers.

Different kinds of bullying. Often people think that boys are the only ones who bully. That's just not true. Some girls (and boys too) engage in what is called relational aggression, which may include excluding, saying mean things, or talking behind someone's back. These behaviors are just as harmful as any other kind of bullying.

Stop bullying whenever you are aware of it. Be an advocate for children. If you see bullying occurring, stop it right away.

Resources: For more information on bullying, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Health Resources and Services Administration's National Bullying Prevention Stop Bullying Now! Campaign website at