Contemporary American society has become increasingly aware of the harmful effects of bullying—but unfortunately, bullying still occurs, so it’s important we remain vigilant, since both kids who are bullied and those who bully others may end up with serious, long-term problems. The first step is to be aware of what bullying actually is: We can define it as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. This behavior occurs repeatedly, or has the potential to occur repeatedly, over time.
What to Look For
We can watch for a number of risk factors that indicate the likelihood a child will experience bullying—though keep in mind, not every child with these risk factors will be bullied. These risk factors include children
- whose peers perceive them as different, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or unusual clothing, being new to a school or activity, or being unable to afford clothing and possessions many kids consider “cool.”
- whose peers see them as weak or unable to defend themselves.
- who are depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem.
- who are less popular than others and have few or no friends.
- who do not get along well with others, who antagonize others for attention, and/or whom other children see as annoying or provoking.
What to Say
One way to stop bullying in its tracks is to be proactive and talk about it before it starts! Whether at home, school, church, an extra-curricular program—or anywhere children gather—work on creating a culture where children lift each other up rather than tear each other down. Repeating the following phrases often, or even creating signs with these sayings on them, will help you create a place of positivity, kindness, and politeness:
- Put Yourself in Someone Else's Shoes
- Be Kind: Hold the Door Open for Others
- Talk to a New Friend at Lunch Today
- Invite Everyone to Play at Recess
- Embrace Uniqueness: Differences Make Us Special
- Be You!
How to Help
Children often cannot stop the bullying on their own and don’t know how to deal with its emotional repercussions. So as trusted adults, here are some ways we can help:
- When a child discloses to you that they are being bullied, listen calmly and offer comfort and emotional support.
- Praise the child for telling you about the situation. Children often hesitate to tell adults because they feel embarrassed, may blame themselves, might worry about how adults will react, or may fear repercussions from the bully. Help the child understand that the bully is at fault—not them!
- Let the child know they are not alone. Many children experience bullying!
- Tell an authority figure at the school, church, extra-curricular program, etc. where the bullying has occurred. These people are best positioned to solve the problem.
Additionally, advise children to:
- talk about it. Holding in hurtful experiences only causes more emotional harm to the child.
- not fight or bully back—this is likely to escalate the situation. It's best to walk away from the bully and tell a trusted adult.
- use the buddy system. Bullies are less likely to bother a child who’s surrounded by other kids.
- act as brave as they can. Responding to a bully with fear will only make the situation worse. It’s best to stay calm and walk away.
Most importantly, children need tools to help them recover from the trauma that bullying creates. You can assist a child in getting the help they need to recover, restore their confidence, and become stronger! For more information about resources in our community, click here.