What parents can do about childhood bullying

An expert explains how to determine if your child is a bully or a victim — and how to take appropriate, effective action!

By Marlene Snyder, Ph.D.

If you're a parent concerned about bullying, it's important to recognize the signs that a child is a bully, as well as the signs of one who is being victimized. This is especially true if your child has a learning disability (LD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), conditions which make kids more vulnerable to bullying. Being alert and observant is critical, since victims are often reluctant to report bullying. Many victims don't report it to their parents or teachers because they're embarrassed or humiliated by the bullying. They may assume that adults will accuse them of tattling or will tell them to deal with it themselves. Some victims believe there is nothing adults can do to get the bully to stop. Naturally, bullies don't discuss their misdeeds with their parents or teachers. If their bullying behavior is reported and their parents confront them, bullies usually deny their involvement.

The victim: signs and symptoms

A child who is a victim of bullying may display one or more of the following behaviors at home*:

The bully: signs and symptoms

A youngster who is bullying other kids may display one or more of the following behaviors at home*:

* Adapted from Bullying at School

What can parents of the victim do?

If you know or suspect your child is being bullied, but his school hasn't communicated with you about the situation, you should contact your child's teacher(s) right away. Keep in mind that your primary goal should be to get the school's cooperation to get the bullying to stop. Knowing your own child is being victimized can evoke strong feelings, but you'll get much more cooperation from school personnel if you can stick to the facts without becoming overly emotional. While you may want assurance that everyone involved is punished severely, try to focus on putting an end to the bullying!

If your child is a victim of bullying, try helping him with the following strategies:

Your attitude and actions

Teaching your child safety strategies

  1. What is being done to him that makes him fearful or uncomfortable
  2. Who is doing it
  3. What he has done to try to resolve the problem or to get the bully to quit
  4. A clear explanation of what he needs from the adult (or what he wants the adult to do) to get the bully to quit.

Nurturing your child's self-esteem

When should the victim's parents contact school authorities?

If the bullying occurs at school, then the main responsibility for achieving this goal lies with the school officials. It's important, however, that the parents of the victim collaborate with the school to implement an agreed-upon plan for solving the problem.

If your child has been the victim of bullying at school, here are some suggestions for reporting the problem to school authorities:

What can the parents of the bully do?

Parents of bullies should understand that children who aggressively bully peers are at increased risk for engaging in antisocial or criminal behavior in the future. It is therefore important to try to help bullies change their negative attitudes and behavior toward others.

Your attitude and actions

Holding the bully accountable

Helping a bully change behavior

What can — and should — parents expect the school to do?

Whether your child is a bully, victim, or bystander, you should expect the following from his school:

Finally, be aware that bullying prevention programs in schools are often a very effective way to stop bullying.

Building a bully-free future

Even though bullying has existed in schools for decades, that is no excuse to continue to allow children to be bullied. Researchers have gained new understanding of the dynamics of bullying and the roles of all those involved. The long-term negative outcomes of children who are bullied are too serious to ignore. For example, the CIA has reported that fully two-thirds of recent school shooting incidents in the United States were committed by youth who had experienced severe bullying by their classmates.

Parents and teachers hold the power to work together to put an end to bullying and provide a safe learning environment for all children. In many cases, it will be the parent who must take charge of bringing the bullying incidents to the attention of school authorities. Parents should expect full cooperation from the school to resolve the problem. The result of reducing bullying in our schools is an improved school environment that is friendly and welcoming to all students. In schools where children feel protected from bullying, they are free to spend their days learning, building friendships, and dreaming about all the possibilities for their lives.