Children Being Bullied

What is Bullying?

It means using some type of power and influence to hurt, frighten or intimidate someone. Bullying can be as minor as teasing or as harmful as physical violence. It can take many forms including:

  • Verbal - name calling, teasing
  • Gestures - threatening gestures or facial expressions
  • Excluding - conspiring with others to exclude a child from activities
  • Computer - threats and insults on line, and with instant messaging
  • Phone calls - harassing phone calls
  • Physical - hitting, but also pushing, tripping, pinching, blocking paths

When does it occur?

Bullying does not usually occur in preschool or the very early grades. When it occurs, it can be seen in 3rd grade, peaks in late elementary or middle school, and tends to fade after about 9th grade. But children can be bullied in any grade.

Why does it occur?

There are a number of reasons for bullying to occur. For some children, they are imitating behavior seen at home and elsewhere and they have learned that it is acceptable to bully others. Other children bully to gain popularity or fit in with a group. Some children have been bullied themselves in the past and now they do it to feel more powerful.

Children who are submissive, quiet, who cry or get upset easily are likely targets for bullies. Also children who are physically smaller or appear weak in some way may be bullied.

What are the effects of bullying?

Fear, loneliness, shame, poor self-esteem, anger and irritability are all outcomes from bullying. Some children develop physical symptoms including headache, abdominal pain, functional GI symptoms and school avoidance. Poor sleep and change in appetite are also outcomes. Sometimes children develop solitary interests to avoid bullies (e.g. become less social, spend all of their time playing video games).

Is your child being bullied?

Many children do not tell adults, they tell no one. Signs of possible bullying (these are also signs of other stressors) include avoidance of school or other places, poor self esteem, anxiety or worry, decreased school performance, isolating themselves and angry outbursts with no clear reason.

How to help a child who is bullied

You want to first listen to your child, so if you suspect bullying is going on, bring up the topic and leave your child chances to talk about it. They may deny it the first time, but try again. Stay calm when you find out what has been going on. Ask them what they have done to try and stop the bullying.

Go over what they have done, ask them about other possible solutions to the problem. Agree with your child that it is a problem. Summarize what they have told you, and suggest solutions. Go over and practice the solution, even role playing how you ignore and walk away from someone.

Possible solutions: Play with someone else, sit with someone else at lunch, ask your teacher to move your seat

Ask if you should help. Some children are reluctant, at first, to get their parents involved, but often you can help indirectly. For example if bullying occurs in a particular class, you can make the teacher aware of it so that the teacher can watch for it and manage the situation.

Ask your child what they want you to do.


  • Take some action, do not wait for it to get better on its own
  • Talk to teachers or others in charge where it is happening
    Work with your child, get their consent when you do something
  • Stay calm
  • Practice solutions to the problem

Article by W. Douglas Tynan, PhD
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