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HomeHealth & BehaviorBullying

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.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

04/25/2012:
"need the school to hold a meeting on bulling and follow up on it. The article was good: but Haughton middle school needs help . For;' tired of this msg. being deliver with no response. "
03/19/2012:
"This bullying has to stop! I have a 12 year old son who comes home everyday crying because he said the bullies hung him by his underwear on a sign post. I have complained many times to the school but these kids continue to give my boy wedgies. Some of the things my son tells me are almost ridiculous such as he claims that these bullies pulled his "tightie whities" over his head. Someone has to do something about this "
03/8/2012:
"I'm a middle schooler, yes. I go to a middle school in Georgia. There's lots of bullying, and it sucks. . There is an active anti-bullying gig going on at my school. I'm trying to be a part of it. So far it has been almost completely ineffective. The reason is because it does not apply to kids on a basic level. You cannot have a long-term bullying program, you must simply get rid of it where it roots. Like a game of Whack-a-mole. Bullying should be punished harshly. Another reason that it is so ineffective, is that for example, a kid will make fun of some other kid for race or religion or something, and then the teacher will remind him to stop. The bully will stop until the next class period, where he will continue it again. Teachers must not give 'warnings' for things such as this. It must be punished harshly, and immediately. "
02/24/2012:
"Growing up, I noticed Teachers, especially PE teachers, tend to either ignore the bullying or downplay the incident with a simple verbal warning, which the bully of course never takes seriously. Maybe the teachers didn't want to do the paperwork involved in reporting a student to the Principal "
02/21/2012:
"Hello... I really don`t know where to start... Well I have a son. he is 8 yers old. He is a 2nd grader. Excellent student. He is shy and he is been picked and bullied by four classmate and other students friends of his classmates.. during class, lunch, reeses, in the bus.. we need help.. We have talked to Principal, assistant Principal, Teacher, and the director of School Security and Bulling program. It`s been 6 months since the first inccident and all has been escalating to the point that my son got staved with a pencil in his hand.. chased and held by two kids and choked during reeses. and been call all type of names.. I don`t know where to look for help.. The school seems to care, but honestly not enough "
11/7/2011:
"If a student punches with a fist - he should be removed from campus. Proof is the black eye. My kid had several. ISD appears to be untouchable as government employees but don't give up parents. Keep fighting for our children's rights to a safe environment - To make (school) care givers responsible for our children's mental and physical well being. Give em hell - They don't mind letting our kids get daily doses of it. "
10/12/2011:
"my daughter is bulling people in her class how can i stop her from doing that.and my other daughter is afraid to go to middle school what can i do??? "
10/3/2011:
"I spoke to the schools counselor about my son being bullied in third grade because when he would report the bullying, he was told not to tattle on others. During an "evaluation" with my son, he was asked if he was being bullied and my son replied no. It seemed that no matter what approach I took with this school to get issues resolved, it only created more problems for my son. I noticed a change in his performance and behavior and asked the counselor for help. The teachers claimed he was ADD and he was placed on medication. The medication made his grades and emotional wellbeing plummet. He was sent to the office to complete his school work for which he recieved zeros, even though they had been completed. He was retained even though he passed the taks, stating that he had "gaps" in his grades (due to the zeros he recieved). I believe this school is completely incompetent and wreckless in providing a safe, quality learning environment. The medication was discontinued for the! next school year and he was withdrawn from Decker Prairie Elementary in Magnolia Texas. His performance and confidence was regained at another school. "
09/26/2011:
"Schools want Texas Education Agency to see a good safety data ratings and that is why BULLYING and ASSAULTS is swept under the rug. My son from age 7 - 9 for 3 years was bullied and assaulted repeatedly ignored by teachers at Kerens TX ISD. Stress related anxiety, Black eyes, lumps on his head from being pushed into concrete walls, sent home on the bus without a call from school. Sick - Sick - Sick! After level 1,2,3 formal grievances to the school board members, Superintendent and Principal there was no change - no removal of bullies to alternative school as school policy requires, student code of conduct requires. The law is that a student has a right to a safe environment. Enforcing this law??? No one will unless Parents sue. They will only tell you what you want to hear and laugh at parents concerns. They appear to have a superior feeling that they are untouchable. My son is now being home schooled to prevent injury. Unfortunately I am not a qualified DYSLEXIA teacher an! d he continues suffering in reading frustrations. Without paper documentation, pictures, doctors reports,saved emails, faxes, certified mail, formal grievance procedures you can do nothing until you have exhausted the school board meeting procedures. Must read ===== Chapter 37 school policy MANDATORY DAEP for harassment, Bullying, Assault. "
09/20/2011:
"Making rules in class about bullying just will make bullying more secretive and worse. Kids will get beat up for tattling. It's all about raising extremely confident kids, and being an extremely confident parent. You need to teach your kid good social skills, and have them passionate about something in life. I could talk about this all day but it's better you just check out my stuff. "
08/3/2011:
"wow! "
06/30/2011:
"I was bullied, not as bad as some people, but why let such cruelty continue?I speak from expiernces, and I must say, the teachers, principle and even the superattendant did NOTHING that put a complete end to the form of crulety called bullying. We NEED law enforcments or somthing better than the bullying prevention thing because even it will not stop the bullying. Does it stop kids from killing themsevles because of bullying? NO.I left blue ridge in search for a better EDUCATION AND SAFTEY IN ALL WAYS. And i did so, when I found this wounderful school called The Jefferson Academy. Evry single kid had great morals and were kind, there were no insaults at all and the teachers were so good in so many ways, the only reason why I decided not to go was because it was far to get there and I just didnt feel it was right for me, but i assure you, if you sent your child there he or she would love the kindness at the least. "
04/5/2011:
"Ok, there is a problem with bulling. Our Superintendent wants to push it under the table. And I have seen gang related dessing there. Thats in the elementary school. They say its a lot worse in middle school. A lot of latinos have came straight to our town from the border and we know of MS13 activity in our small town. The plant that used to employ them closed last year.I want someone to start doing something at the elementary level now and work their way to the middle school. If I do anything more they will take it out on my son or ban me from the school. What should I do?"
04/4/2011:
"I am a parent and my child safety is what I always wanted. I want him to feel safe all the time. Thanks to my sister who introduced me to Safekidzone a mobile safety service which provides a quick emergency response method for the kids to use from their mobile phone in case of danger in just a press of the panic button they can notify their friends and family members and the nearest 911 if they are in danger. If you want to check this out, this is a safety solution for my kids http://safekidzone.com/ "
01/24/2011:
"My son has come home (age 9) and told me several times about the same boys who are calling him names, pinching his nipples, and hitting, kneeing and punching him in his penis. I have told the teachers, principal, and afterschool program directors about this. When he tells the teacher about the boys messing with him, she tells him to just stay away from them. The same solution came from the principal. My son has no friends at school, his grades have dropped, constantly complains of headaches and has nightmares. He now sleeps with me at night. He has tried to just walk away but still these boys tease and taunt him. He is not short or small in size but a quiet child.It hurts to see him this way. Tonight when he told me about the incident at school, he went to his room and hit the wall with his fist. This behavior is not like him at all. What do I do when I nor he gets support from school officals?"
10/25/2010:
"My son has been having problems, with some of the boys in his class bullying him. These boys are on a local city football team, they are constantly teasing him because we do not live in that city. I told my son, to just walk-away from them and go to an authority figure at the school, or myself and we will stop this problem. I have alerted the principal's office and the teacher about this matter. It seem's to be working so far. The bullying has slowed down a lot! My son is a good student, I want him to succeed in life, not have a complex about what others say or think!"
08/31/2010:
"well im a 12 years old and i know how that feels. but in april of 2010. My class and I showed the whole school how bad bullying could be. so We went to other schools and showed them how bad bullying could be if you do it to other kids. i know i might be young but tell your son that tell the principal bout starting a caring community or do the pproject that that the 5th graders at my elementry school did. if that doesnt work tranfer to another school"
07/19/2010:
"My grandson does not like school...because of the 'bullying'. He is not an outgoing person...bothers no one. He says that he does not like to 'tell' be- cause he is labeled a 'tattletell'. Even some of his teachers has told him not to be a 'tattletell'. So what is a student to do. IF teachers do not stand behind a student when they come to them for help...I see how easily a they would not want to go to school. Feeling that there is no help for this kind of activity. Kids can be mean...and do horrible damage physically and emotionally. No discipline at home...OR too much discipline at home...can cause students to take out their own emotions on kids they see they can bully. WE teach our children not to fight...and not to say anything back to someone...no matter what they say to them. And to just walk away if they can. There was an incident that a boy tried to choke my grandson. Another student came to his aid. (VERY good idea) Find students and have them make a pledge to watch out for others that are being bullied. There can be all kinds of articles and books written...but until someone puts these good ideas into action...what are they worth?? All schools should implement the RACHEL'S CHALLENGE Program. Check it out....it works!!"
08/11/2009:
"This is a big concern of mine as well,it seems to me that middle school has the worst rate of Bulling problems.This should be addressed by the entire staff and to make sure they are ell aware of the signs of Bulling.Also the school should not hessitate to take immediate and full coarse action against these students.Up to and including expulsion.Are students MUST be make to feel and be safe at school."
05/4/2009:
"Unfortunately, this sounds like typical non-advice. This article spends most of its time talking about school-wide prevention programs rather than offering any actual, tangible, concrete advice. I suspect person who asked the original question was left as unsatisfied as I was. I've talked to the teachers and the principle and it's just not been very effective. I need concrete advice for how I can help my son learn to stand up for himself in the face of bullying. He doesn't want to be a taddle-tale or a cry-baby and yet he feels like he's not big enough to stand up to these kids - the kids pick on him because of his size. "
05/4/2009:
"My questions is... My 9 year old daughter always picks the girls that are mean to her to hang with. At school they ignore her one day then call and want to come to our house the next day. It has become so emotional for my daughter that some days she is sick in the stomach from nerves before school. I have tried to keep her away from them but that does not work during afterschool activites. What are your suggestions?"
12/17/2008:
"hi, my brother has been getting picked on for the past year or so by a boy 2 years older than him this boy and his family only bring trouble and my brother is a bit of a trouble maker but this boy is messed in the head there have been many incidents involving death threats and beatings to my brother and he's the only one who gets punnished because the school is scared of the parents after a teacher was charged for asult for grabing their sons arm, the father is compleetly phsyco and his son is becoming more and more like him, as this is going on im becoming more and more worried that this boy just might seriously hurt my brother is there anything i can do to MAKE the school do something??"
12/17/2008:
"What happens when it is a teacher bulling your child?"
12/3/2008:
"My little brother is being bullied at school, and the teachers arent doing anything about this. He seems to be getting blamed or the teacher will not make it a big deal. I am very concerned about this because I am afraid of my sons saftey. He seems to be getting picked on at school because of his race and religion and teachers are not doing anything about it. I dont know what to do anymore.....if the school wont do anything should I take it up with the board of education?"
10/21/2008:
"i'm a parent of two children,one of which is getting picked on at school,this is happening during recess i've went to the principle two times so far. in my sons situation the bully was giving my son wedgies. the first time i went to the principle and she was like 'oh no not him he's too quiet to do something like that' i thought the quiet ones are the one's u have to watch out for??? so ne ways i kept asking her wat was going on and she kept going into that they were looking for him. i just went last week and now it's gotten worse this kid is now pushing my son. i'm so irritated at this and am thinking about going to the head board and calling the cops so this can all stop."
10/13/2008:
"would if the principal doesn't seem to take the situation serious? what can we do as a parent?"
04/24/2008:
"My son is in the 4th grade and we have been butting heads with the principle for months, well let me just tell you 5 documented cases as of todays date. They are not taking this situation seriousily and i dont know what to do next. The school district got involved and they dont seem to be handeling it either. You would think after loosing a 2 million dollar law suit by a student in the school district would teach them to take this seriously but apparently they are not. Can someone help me understand why do they try to make the victim the bully? 'what did he do' 'what is goig on at home' I dont understand. Our son is not innocent, but i do know that it takes alot to push his buttons. The problem we are having is with the same child day in and day out. And the crazy thing is that the principle has not even made this childs parents aware of what is going on. I dont understand. Is it time to get a lawyer? Is it time to put a restraining order on a 9year old? Can someone just ple! ase give me advice. me and my family are so done with this whole situation. I feel bad for him, and any child that has to deal with anything like this. Our children are suppose to be safe at school. Our children are not suppose to cry to go to school our children are not suppose to vomit and feel sick some days of school. I have thought about changing his schools, why do that to my child when all my kids go to this school. Thanks for listening please give me advice if you can. "
03/10/2008:
"3/6/08: My son is getting bullied daily We've finally had enough. The same kid is a problem and nothing is done. He is talked to put on 'in school' suspension yet he continues. I hope they expell him! My son has been pulled out until the current issue is resolved. WE had to foce the principal to take action after a threat of shooting my son was brought up by another third grader!!! The principal interogated my son and started out by 'Have you ever seen the show Law and Order? She later belittled him that his problem was that he interrupted and that the whole class would go off on a tangent. She made the mistake of saying this in front of my husband. He told her not to talk to our son like that again. He has adhd and that is normal for him. This kid gets all A's. His teacher hasn't said one thing negative to me about him - ever! In fact his behavior is usally 0-2 daily. Zero being perfect and 2 acceptable. I feel that this principal hasn't done enough at this s! chool and would rather not have to deal with these issues at all. First, why would my nine year old watch Law & Order. Second, why would you belittle a child who is coming to you about bullying further? I am sickened by her actions and will be adressing the school further. I am embarassed that this would be allowed at any school."
10/17/2007:
"My 2nd grader/8 year old son was being picked on during bus rides to and from school for a few weeks. The child that was picking on him was in 5th grade, much older. The bus driver would not listen to my son (he asked to have his seat moved; the bus driver said 'No.') I finally decided that I would introduce myself to this 'bully'. I tried reverse psychology. I told the kid that I appreciate how nice he is to my son on the bus and how it means alot to mean that an older kid looks out for him. The same day, the boy was nice and apologized! "
08/19/2007:
"There're always going to be mean bullies, but you can fight back without striking them dead. Look for their weaknesses, and bring it to the attention of others and these bullies will forever stop being a bully because they don't want others to know any secrets they may have that can make others make fun of them. So you can fight back without physically hurting the bully."
08/9/2007:
"We had a situation where a boy was targeting my son for overly aggressive tactics, and my husband and I both went up to the school and talked to the vice principal. We let her know that we are serious about finding a way to stop this problem. I also talked to my son, and had him practice saying to me, 'Stop it!'. I encouraged him to be forceful, loud, and look me in the eye when he said it. My son was also concerned that if they were in line and he told the other boy to stop it, that my son would get in trouble for talking in line. I told him that it would actually be a good thing to draw the teacher's attention to the situation, and that if he got into trouble, we would deal with that when it happened. For the parent who wrote that her son was being bullied, if the teacher isn't doing anything to stop it, then I would make an immediate appt with the principle or vice principle. If your child isn't able to stand up for himself yet (sounds like my son) then you'll have to show him how it's done. Also, we put our son in Tai Kwon Do, and he eventually became a black belt. This gave him the confidence to walk away from confrontation without feeling weak, or cowardly. "
08/9/2007:
"You've to let the bully know you aren't going to take it anymore. I tell my children to talk to the teacher, and if they don't listen they'll have to talk to me or the daily newspaper reporters. A student needs to be in school without knowing someone is trying to bully them all the time. The teachers need to listen to the children because a lawsuit can be quite expensive to the school district, and if that's what it takes than it'll be the resolution to open the eyes of these teachers."
08/9/2007:
"We have a very active bullying program here in our small town in Texas but I'm afaid that didn't keep my 4th grader from being bullied. The first time was early in the year and the bully has since become her best friend, thanks to the teacher handling it immediately and effectively. Unfortunately, the second time was not as positive. The principal had to get involved and it was very difficult for my daughter. What made it worse was that the bully was in her after school club and causing problems there as well. My husband and I take it very serious and take action quickly, while also understanding we're only getting one side of the story. But I would love some advice to give my daughter on how to handle these situations better. "
08/9/2007:
"this in reply to the bullying issue. at my childs school it seems to be the girls are the worst about bullying and stealing. they do not care how they hurt others feelings or what they do or say or act. in my opinion i think girls have more of a problem in this area now than boys."
08/9/2007:
"I have a 10 year old that was getting bullied at sports camp. I told the coach and still it(coaches and teacher cant be everywhere) did not stop. Bullies will not bully where they can be seen! So I called the Mother. The 2 boys sat down with thier mothers and we found out the bully, is a good kid just getting bullied somewhere else. He appologized, and hopefully they will be friends come the new school year. You have to protect your children all ways. I think the old fashioned way of the parents having a conversation with the children and all parties involved is a good way to go. You have to let your children know you are always there to protect them if need be."
08/9/2007:
"This type thing , happen to my daughter in Jr high , I told her to make friend with the ass.t/ vice ( THE AP) of the school. BY saying hello and see if there any project she can do for the school during lunch time etc,, . and she did , so when the children pick on her , she hada one on one realatship with the AP. so if anyone pick on her she would tell the AP, and a it all seem to stop ,when the bullies of the school ,was call in the office with their parents . The AP understood why some of the children were bully because their parent was or were Bully. he told them this need to stop and if not he would send the children to another school.This just did not just help my daughter , but help all of the other shy children.overall it was a sucess , this happen 10 years ago."
08/8/2007:
"My child is in the second grade here in Ripley,TN. He is also bullied. He tells me the same thing that your child says. I think that their are a lot of teacher in these schools that just dont want to be bothered with tattle telling. I understand this, I know that kids have a way of annoying but when my child feels unsafe of no good about himself it really ticks me off to hear that the teacher was told and all that was done is nothing. This happens alot on the playground. Last year my child was pushed in the mud, but when I was called to come pick him up from school I was told that he had an accident and fell in the mud. It was when we left the school that my son started to cry and told me the truth. So, I called the teacher and asked and she confirmed that this was true. I was ferious. Why was I not told this when I picked him up, instead he sat their thinking that it was his fault. This also is why a lot of kids do not tell. And it just gets worse."
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