How to Talk to Kids About Bullying

Learn how to handle a situation at home if your child has been bullied.

Posted on | By Erin L. Olivo, PhD | Comments ()
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Oz on Bullying (1:47)

If your child has been bullied, unfortunately she's not alone. More than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year and it’s estimated that 160,000 teenagers skip school each day because of bullying.

As a parent, you want to help stop it and also teach your child how to cope with bullying. But some of the most common things kids hear from adults, such as "ignore them” or “it’s just part of being a kid, and in the end it will make you stronger,” are the wrong messages to send. These are invalidating and damaging because they don’t empower children or help them figure out solutions to what is a very real psychological trauma. 

Here are some dos and don’ts for talking with your child about bullying.

Kids don’t have to handle this alone.

Kids are often embarrassed and ashamed that they’re being bullied, and worry that their parents will be disappointed or angry with them. One of the first tasks you have is to make sure your child knows how much you love and support them. 

Make it very clear that you will help them deal with this issue without judgment.

Reassure your child that nothing is wrong with them.

Bullying has far more to do with a challenge or struggle the bully is having, and much less to do with the child being bullied. Bullies tend to be emotionally immature, impulsive, and poor problem solvers who lack empathy. Many have been victimized too and resort to bullying to cope with their own emotional struggles.

It’s imperative to debunk the myth that kids are only victimized because they are weak. Kids who are victims of bullying tend to be sensitive, respectful, honest, creative, emotionally intelligent, have a strong sense of integrity and a low propensity to violence. It’s important to remind you child that these are all amazing qualities!

Resist the urge to step in and take matters into your hands.

You might want to confront the bully yourself or call the bully’s parents to intervene, but this rarely works and could actually exacerbate the situation. It’s also likely to make your child feel even more disempowered.

Instead, work with your child to brainstorm potential strategies and solutions. Involving the school in some way is also essential. That might mean alerting your child’s teacher or principal about what’s happening or even sitting down with the school psychologist to get some help.

Article written by Erin L. Olivo, PhD
Erin L. Olivo, PhD is an Asst. Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons