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5 Ways to Bully-Proof Your Child

How to keep your kid from becoming a bullying target

A young boy in a blue shirt and jeans plays nicely with other kids at a playground, showing how not to be a bully.

How to keep your kid from becoming a bullying target

Bullying — intentional aggressive behavior among school-aged children — has made warranted national headlines in the United States, whether it happens at school, on the local playground, during sports or online. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, one out of every five students ages 12 - 18 has experienced bullying at school. School officials, pediatricians and families are hoping to reduce that statistic by raising awareness of the issue and taking steps to stop bullying and keep children safe. 

“It’s important to take bullying seriously,” says Brian Scull, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest. “The effects of bullying can be serious and affect kids’ well-being and self-esteem.”

Try these strategies with your child to prevent bullying.

1. Talk about it

Children look to their parents and other caregivers for help and advice, so the first thing you should do is to engage your child. “Spend some time every day touching base with your child and ask open-ended questions about their social life. Talk about bullying directly so that you can understand if and how it is affecting your kid,” says Dr. Scull. 

Ask your child with whom they spend time at school, what they do in between classes and at recess and who are their lunch buddies. If you find out that there is an issue at school, discuss it with your child’s teachers and the principal to figure out a solution.

2. Remove the temptation

If the bully is targeting your child for lunch money, for instance, start packing his or her lunch. This can help neutralize the situation and remove your child from the bully’s radar. 

3. Teach your child how to respond to a bully

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if a child is being bullied, he or she should tell the bully to stop and then walk away. AAP recommends that children:

  • Look the bully in the eye.
  • Stay calm.
  • Walk away.

Some phrases they can use to address the bully include:

  • “I don’t like what you are doing.”
  • “Please do NOT talk to me like that.”
  • “Stop doing that now.”

“Bullies like to scare their victims and try to get them to cry or become visibly upset,” says Dr. Scull. “If your child cries, that will encourage the bully to continue. A child who isn’t easily flustered has a better chance of staying off a bully’s radar.”

If your child is not used to speaking firmly, rehearse the situation. 

4. Teach your child about cyberbullying

Online bullying occupies a category of its own, and children may not understand cyberbullying. Cyberbullies use cell phones, instant messaging and social networking sites to intimidate, harass or threaten someone. 

“Cyberbullying is as harmful as physical bullying,” says Dr. Scull. “A simple litmus test you can teach your child about posting online is that if you wouldn’t say it to someone in person or you wouldn’t want your parents to see it, then don’t post it.”

If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, some methods of stopping it include:

  • Ignore the messages and don’t respond.
  • Cut off communication if you can. Block the email address, phone number or whatever communication method they are using.
  • Save the evidence of cyberbullying, such as emails or text messages. 

5. Use the buddy system

Advise your child to team up with a friend when the bully is nearby. Sit with a friend on the bus, walk to classes together in the hallways and play together at recess. “Always let your child know that whatever a bully says or does, it doesn’t change how important and valuable your child is,” says Dr. Scull.

“Reassure them that you will figure out what to do together and that telling a parent was the right thing to do.” Also talk with your child about being a friend to someone who is being bullied and report it to an adult.