For Parents & Caregivers

What Can I Do About Bullying?

Bullying can have an impact on everyone – the child who is bullying, the child being bullied, bystanders, parents, and those working with children. In some cases, bullying can have lifelong physical and social effects on children – both the targets of bullying and those who bully others. What constitutes a “bullying incident?” Children often joke around with one another, tattle-tale about one another, and engage in rough physical play, yet these situations may not be considered bullying if they occur between certain children. The difference lies in the relationship between the children and the intent of the behaviour.

  • Bullying incidents always involve an imbalance of power.
  • The child doing the bullying has more power than the other child(ren).
  • This power is used aggressively and is the foundation of the “relationship” pattern.

If a parent, caregiver or educator suspects or finds out a child has been the target of bullying or is bullying other children, it’s important to discuss the situation and concerns with the child. It’s not unusual that a parent, caregiver or teacher, is among the last to know that the child has been involved in a bullying incident. The child who has been the target of bullying may feel embarrassed or ashamed that this is happening and that s/he cannot make it stop. They may fear retaliation. The child who is bullying other children s/he may not want to be found out, for fear of disapproval or punishment. Both children who are the targets of bullying and children who bully others need support from adults. Be aware of possible interventions, strategies that are most appropriate for the situation, and when to seek professional assistance (e.g., the target of bullying is very sad; a bully shows no remorse, even after intervention). No matter the situation, the target(s) and bully should never be brought together unless the target(s) agrees and the meeting is facilitated by an informed adult.

What you can do if you find out or suspect a child is being bullied:
  • Don’t blame the child. Your first reaction may be to ask the child what s/he did to bring this on him/herself. Chances are the child is upset about what is happening. The object is not to assign blame, but to work on solving or improving the situation. If something uncomfortable is happening online or by cell phone, explain that s/he can tell you without fear of losing computer/phone privileges.
  • Take the situation seriously. It’s likely that if a child is coming to you about being bullied, s/he can no longer cope with it. Often adults buy into the old classics – “He’s just teasing you” or “it’s just part of growing up, don’t worry about it.” Bullying is a serious problem and no child should have to endure it. Recognize that bullying can have a serious emotional impact on a child (e.g., fear, humiliation, anger, sadness).
  • Listen carefully to what the child is saying. As adults, we have an urge to jump in after hearing only a few seconds about the situation, with advice about what the child should do. It’s important to hear what the child has to say. What are his/her concerns about the situation? What does s/he think should be done or want to see done about the issue?
  • Never tell a child to deal with it on his/her own. If a child is talking to you about being bullied, in all likelihood s/he has exhausted all other avenues. Children should never be given the message they are solely responsible for their own safety. Explain the difference between telling (to get help for someone) and tattling (to get someone into trouble). While it is important to help build a child’s self-esteem and empower him/her, ultimately adults play the biggest role in keeping children safe. Suggest to the child that s/he stay close to a supervising adult (e.g., teacher, bus driver).
  • Help the child to problem-solve. Are there things a child could say or do to help him/herself?
  • Suggest that the child walk away from the bully, and to go toward friends or a helpful adult. Stay clear of places where the bully hangs out, and avoid being the last one to leave an isolated area. Walk/play with a friend or in a group, and try to go to the washroom and locker with a buddy. Sometimes talking to the bully or making a joke may help, “Yeah, my hair is a mess, I’m having a bad hair day.” Bullies are looking for a reaction – this type of response often throws them off. The child should not carry expensive items or a lot of money.
  • Help build the child’s self-esteem by getting him/her involved in extra-curricular activities. There are any number of programs (e.g., art, drama, music, sports) that might appeal. Becoming involved in other activities and experiencing success will help a child feel more positive about him/herself. The key is finding an activity the child enjoys – let the child experiment with a few choices until s/he finds a match.
  • Encourage the child to invite friends over. Often children who are bullied feel isolated at school/child care. Help build support with friends by having them together in another setting. This is also a good way to build relationships with other parents/caregivers.
  • Tell the child not to use his/her fists, and to not fight back physically or verbally. Getting angry and/or hitting will only escalate the bully’s aggression and the child may get hurt. Bullies are typically bigger and/or stronger than the children they target. Encourage assertive but non-violent responses, including online communications. If cyber-bullying is occurring, advise the child to: leave the website/chat room; sign off the computer; and block the bully. Save and print any emails/message logs with unkind or threatening statements.
  • Let your child know you’d like to talk with school/centre staff. The child may initially object to you contacting the school/child care centre, and may feel embarrassed or fear the bully may find out about the report, and hurt him/her more. It’s important to be sensitive to the child’s wishes, however, it’s also important that you explain you’re concerned for his/her safety and the safety of the other children. Explain that you also want to help the child who is bullying. Adults can help if we all work together until the situation is resolved.
  • Reinforce that it’s critical that the child tell someone s/he trusts if further bullying occurs.
What you can do if you find out or suspect a child is bullying other children:
  • Stay calm. Discuss your concerns with the child. Keep in mind that s/he may try to deny or minimize his/her wrongdoing.
  • Let the child know that bullying is unacceptable. Discuss the negative impact bullying has on the other child(ren) (e.g., afraid to come to school/child care, thinking s/he doesn’t have any friends, being labeled as a “sissy”) and on the child who is a bully (e.g., other children not wanting to play with a bully, having a reputation among the children and adults as “a mean person”). Don’t accept explanations like “I was just kidding” or “she deserved it, she was bothering me.” Often children who bully need help to develop empathy.
  • Help find ways to express anger that don’t involve verbally or physically hurting others. Let the child know that it’s okay to feel angry, but not okay to hurt others. Suggest s/he talk with you or another adult (e.g., teacher) about why s/he feels the need to bully others. Help identify what triggers his/her temper. Remind him/her that an adult may be able to do something about what is causing him/her to be angry. Praise the child for exhibiting self-control, cooperative and respectful interactions and effective problem-solving skills.
  • Increase supervision of activities and whereabouts, and who s/he is “hanging out with.” Spend time with the child and set reasonable rules for their activities. This includes monitoring computer use.
  • Decide on logical, non-violent consequences for the behaviour that fits with the child’s actions and that are age and developmentally appropriate (e.g., apologizing to the child who has been hurt, using allowance money to replace money taken from the child or to buy new possessions that were taken/broken). Avoid harsh physical or verbal punishment, as these do not change a bully’s behaviour.
  • Model the kind of behaviour that you want to see. Children who are exposed to violence in the family may display the same behaviour (both physical and verbal) in other settings.
  • Monitor viewing of TV, movies, Internet sites and video games. Viewing violence leads to violent behaviours, and exposure over a period of time could desensitize a child to violent and aggressive actions.
  • Encourage the child to invite friends home where patterns of interaction and social skills can be monitored, so he/she can learn appropriate interaction and peers can model acceptable behaviours.
  • Involve the child in activities as a positive outlet for his/her energy. Find enjoyable activities that are supervised by adults who model positive leadership and social skills, and who encourage team building and cooperative learning.
  • Let the child know you’d like to talk with the staff at the school/centre. Reassure that your purpose in speaking with staff is so everyone can work together to support him/her and to find ways to resolve conflicts peacefully.
What you can tell bystanders:
  • Help bystanders understand their role in bullying situations. Bullying happens most often in the context of a peer group. Peers can play a number of roles in a bullying scenario by: passively watching; supporting the bullying by cheering him/her on; and/or becoming excited, joining in and assisting the bully.
  • Acknowledge possible reasons why bystander(s) may not intervene. Although most children acknowledge that watching bullying makes them uncomfortable, some reasons they don’t intervene are: fear of retaliation from the bully; thinking it’s none of their business; and/or fear that the peer groups will label him/her as the next possible target.
  • Bystanders should never join in! When other children join in, the bully’s power in the peer group is reinforced.
  • Offer strategies on how bystanders can help a child who is being bullied: speak up and/or offer support (e.g., pick up the child’s knapsack and hand it back); try to defuse the situation (if it’s safe to do so); invite the child to join the bystander or the group; and privately support a child who has been bullied (e.g., with kind words).
  • Help children understand that by doing nothing about a bullying situation, they become part of the problem. Tell children to get help and tell a trusted adult whenever they become aware of a bullying situation. And let children know that both children who are bullied and bullies need help.


Safe Kids Safe Families, Samantha Wilson

The Self-Esteem Teacher: Seeds of Self-Esteem, Robert B. Brooks

The bully, the bullied, and the bystander, Barbara Coloroso

Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

The Successful Child: What Parents Can Do to Help Kids Turn Out Well, William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N.


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