ASK THE EXPERTS

My Son Is Being Bullied

By Dr. Lisa Hunter, Child Psychologist

Question:

My son seems to have less confidence in himself and gets picked on at school. At times he has been picked on by his schoolmates in the playground or other places, such as the lunch area. He is afraid to tell them to stop or to go to a teacher. When I asked him why, here is what he has to say:

1) "The teacher doesn't say anything to the other boy. She just says, 'Oh don't do that,' and that is it. But that doesn't stop the other boy from hitting me with the ball."

2) "If I tell him to stop or do something to stop him, he might go and tell the teacher on me and I would get in trouble."

How can I handle this situation?

Answer:

Bullying is a serious problem in schools that requires adult intervention. The most successful approach to bullying is a school-wide program that addresses the problem on multiple levels. The Bullying Prevention Program developed by Dan Olweus is such a program. It addresses bullying through interventions that target entire school classrooms, and individuals who are the perpetrators or victims of bullying. For more information see the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

Your son's school may not be ready, willing or able to implement a program like the Bullying Prevention Program, but there are things you and his teacher can do to help him. Speak to your son's teacher about your concerns to get her perspective on the problem. During this conversation, ask the teacher if she has noticed your son being bullied by other students. If so, how does she typically handle the situation? Depending on her response, it may be necessary to offer some suggestions about how to handle bullying.

Here are some specifics:

  • Have classroom rules about bullying.
  • Lead classroom discussions about bullying and what to do about it.
  • Have clear consequences for bullying.
  • Encourage students to intervene when they notice bullying.
  • Make sure areas like the cafeteria and playground have sufficient adult supervision.

If your son's teacher is not receptive to any of these suggestions, it may be necessary to speak to the principal about the problem.

In addition to the suggestions above, I would also recommend working with your son to help him deal with the kids who pick on him and become more assertive in school. There are many books on these topics that you can read with him. Some suggestions are Blue Cheese Breath and Stinky Feet: How to Deal with Bullies by Catherine DePino, Ed.D. and Why is Everybody Always Picking on Me? A Guide to Handling Bullies by T. Webster-Doyle.

Dr. Lisa Hunter is an assistant professor in the department of child psychiatry at Columbia University and the director of school-based mental health programs at Columbia University's Center for the Advancement of Children's Mental Health. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and evaluation of school-based mental health and prevention programs. In addition she is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She specializes in cognitive behavioral treatment for children and adolescents.

 

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.