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When Your Child Is Bullied

Teen sitting against lockers, alone

​​​Bullying victims can take steps to better protect themselves and make living with a bully easier. This includes learning how to be more assertive and confident. However, that's sometimes easier said than done. As a parent, you need to help your child find the courage and the confidence to overcome feelings of inferiority and victimization.

Here are some suggestions to help your child deal with a bully and stop being a victim:

  • Identify the situations where bullying is likely to happen. Avoiding certain individuals or areas is a strategy your child should use. But to do it, your child needs to be aware of the circumstances that might put him or her at risk. For example, one younger boy in an aftercare program was bullied whenever he played football with a group of older kids. His mother was quite distressed, but taking him out of the program was not an option. Fortunately in this case, there was an easier solution. The aftercare program had dozens of activities for the boy to participate in, so he didn't have to play football. For several weeks, he hung around other boys and played cards and did art projects. He kept his distance from the boys who bullied him. After a few weeks, the older kids forgot about him.
  • Teach appropriate responses to bullying. If your child reacts emotionally to bullies - crying or getting angry - he or she often invites more torment as bullies feed off the reaction. Therefore, it's important to help your child minimize emotional responses.  Humor and positive self-talk are two strate​gies that can help. A one-liner or little quip can inject humor into an otherwise threatening situation and make it appear as though your child isn't bothered by what a bully says or does. When victims stop giving bullies emotional responses, oftentimes the bullying stops.
  • Increase your child's social network. The more isolated your child is or becomes, the more likely he or she will continue to be a target. Increasing your child's social network involves helping him or her develop friendships and more peer relationships. This doesn't mean signing your child up for every activity or club. If that's all you do, then you're only adding more opportunities for victimization. You have to teach your child how to make friends, start conversations and be part of group activities.
  • Avoid remarks such as "Toughen up" or "Stand up and be a man." Cliche phrases are meaningless. In addition to the shame and embarrassment many victims feel, they also experience guilt because they're not living up to parental expectations. Your child can interpret glib remarks like these as confirmation that you consider him or her a failure or freak. No victim ever went to school with the intent of getting picked on. As a parent, you need to understand that if it were so easy to just "toughen up," bullying would not happen in the first place.
  • Identify characteristics or behaviors that may make your child susceptible to bullying.

Victims who are bullied for reasons that they have some control over must be willing to help themselves. This isn't about blame but empowerment. Children need to know if they are contributing to their own victimization. If they are, teach them what they can do differently so they are not such tempting targets.   

For additional advice, help and resources on parenting through a crisis situation, contact the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. Trained counselors are available 24/7.