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Bullying - What Children Should Do if They Are Bullied

It's 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.

Face-to-face and cyberbullying

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:

  • Talk to the bullying child if it feels safe. Look him or her in the eye and say strongly but calmly, "Leave me alone" or "You don't scare me."
  • Walk away from the bullying child or children. Children who are being bullied should not run (even though they may want to). It may strengthen a feeling of power in the bullying child.
  • Tell an adult about the episode. It might help for children to identify an adult at school to tell if incidents occur. Children who see another child being harmed also should seek help from an adult right away.

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.

If your child gets left out

Bullying happens 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 an adult.

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 way.

Although there is no easy or foolproof solution, it may help to try some of the following strategies.

  • Recognize the behavior. Trying to ignore it won't make it go away. Help your child accept that there is a problem and know that you will help him or her through this difficult time. Help your child understand that he or she is not to blame.
  • Role-play. Practice, practice, practice ways to respond to hurtful comments or actions until they come naturally. Help your child think up different scenarios and different ways to respond in them. Have fun with this—make up absurd or outrageous situations. Also, practice using humor as a way to be assertive. Sometimes saying things like, "Oh, please! You've been watching too much TV!" or simply, "I don't need that!" and walking away can stop bullying. This creative thinking can help your child relieve tension and gain some feeling of control.
  • Encourage your child to pursue interests in a different environment. Assure your child that he or she will meet friends who value him or her. Help your child look for areas of life where he or she feels accepted, likable, and normal. And help your child find opportunities to develop well-balanced friendships.
  • Talk to school leaders. If the bullying occurs in certain social situations or school activities, sometimes it is just best to remove your child from the situation. It is not always in a child's best interest to "stick it out." Often, in fear of causing disappointment, children do not want to tell their parents that this is the solution they prefer. Ask your child if he or she really wants to continue to be in the activity. If the bullying occurs in a general school setting, work with teachers and counselors to help your child not be around those who bully.
  • Stay out of groups who bully others. Sometimes a child who was shunned before will suddenly be "invited" into or back into a group. Talk about the fickle nature of such friendships. Ask your child how he or she would feel if pressured to exclude another person. Help your child discover the qualities of long-lasting and true friendships.
  • Let your child know you are always there for him or her. You may not be able to come up with the perfect answer for the problem. But you can help by telling your child that you will always be there to listen and to help him or her think about new ways to handle being bullied.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 25, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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