Beating Bullies

If your child is the victim of a school bully, you are far from alone. One in six children are bullied at least once a week, and recent research suggests about a third of victims rarely consider school a safe haven.

It’s no wonder, when you consider the potentially traumatic nature and effects of bullying.

Teasing, threats, verbal abuse, harassment, exclusion from play, pushing, pinching, tripping and extortion can all lead to a significant loss of self-esteem.

Children may become anxious and shy around other children, feel sick, suffer stomach pains, nightmares and sleep problems, or refuse to go to school.

As parents we naturally want our child protected from such an experience and it is our responsibility to do something about it. Bullying should never be ignored or left to be sorted out by the young victims themselves.

However it is often difficult to know exactly what to do when you discover your child is being bullied. Do you contact the bully’s parents when your child fears that this tactic will only result in more bullying for being a “tattletale”?

This issue is a very real difficulty for children as well — one in five children don’t tell anyone they are being bullied.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, or if they tell you outright, try to remain calm and not overreact. It is important that children feel they can talk to their parents about the problem without mom or dad immediately threatening to march up to the school demanding answers, “or else...”.

And make sure you don’t also immediately assume that it is all the bully’s fault. Your child may have teased or provoked the bully.

It’s best to start by listening to your child’s description of how the bullying occurs, asking them specific questions so that you can clearly understand what happens — what the bully does, what your child does, how they feel about it, what they have tried to do about it so far. Any strategy you adopt to tackle the bully will be more effective if you enlist your child’s aid when working it out.

If the bullying is occurring at school you should also talk with your child’s teacher. Many schools now have anti-bullying programs in place. These programs ensure all children understand bullying is not acceptable and help them learn coping strategies such as assertiveness, problem solving and basic social communication.

To help your own child deal effectively with a bully, encourage them to figure out reasons as to why it might be happening. Children will be more likely to try a new way of handling a problem if they understand why that problem is still occurring. For example, you might tell your child: “It sounds as if when they tease you they are getting attention from the other kids, so maybe they do this to show everyone else how tough they are.”

You and your child can then decide on a number of strategies for dealing with the bully such as: ignoring and walking away as soon as it occurs; making friends with other children and playing with them during lunch breaks; or being assertive. If necessary, practice these strategies with your child by acting out the roles so that they become confident with their behavior.


Teaching your child to fight back when they are being physically bullied isn’t helpful as it can lead to more bullying. Children who are being bullied may not be as physically strong as their tormentor so their fear of losing a fight can be quite real. That doesn’t mean however that you don’t encourage your child to be assertive and selfconfident in the face of teasing.

Dr. Matthew Sanders is a clinical psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and founder of the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program.