It’s no mystery that being bullied hurts. Whatever form the abuse takes—whether it’s being tripped, teased, excluded, mocked, insulted, gossiped about, or ridiculed, in-person or via social media—the target suffers. Beyond the short-term pain, such mistreatment can have lasting mental and physical health effects as well, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Parents also struggle. Though desperate to help their ailing child, parents can’t lurk in hallways and lunchrooms waiting to protect their off-spring from social harm.

Compounding the difficulty is the child’s own resistance to calling in Mom and Dad for aid. “Kids don’t want to be viewed as rescued by their parents,” said James Dillon, a retired school principal and author of Reframing Bullying Prevention to Build Stronger School Communities. They also recognize that a parent’s anger might make things worse.  And when the peer nastiness dwells in the child’s online world, adults are often clueless and shut out of this alternate universe. As one beleaguered middle school principal told me about the social machinations that play out on Facebook, Instagram, and Kik, “it’s like they live under the sea. They are living in a different world than we are, and we don’t know it.”

Given these challenges, what can a parent do to help ease a child’s misery brought about by bullying?

Pre-empt as much as possible. Parents need to be proactive in helping prevent bullying incidents. With social media, that means setting limits on kids’ online use, monitoring it when possible, and being clear about family rules for Facebook, Instagram and the all the rest. What’s most important, says Dr. Debra Koss, a child psychiatrist, is talking to kids about social media, in all its changing forms, and keeping that conversation going. When kids make it home after school, don’t limit the conversation to academics and classmates. “Ask how it’s going on social media, not just ‘how’s school,’” Koss advises. “If parents are proactive, it’s easier to respond when bullying happens,” she added. Pre-emption also means modeling civil behavior and sound relationships, so that kids don’t accept rudeness and aggression as acceptable social conduct.

Encourage them to talk. And listen patiently when they do. Having open exchanges is vital, so that parents can help their children navigate the mysteries of growing up and forming relationships. Young people need guidance, and parents are best suited to offer it, provided they actively encourage conversations. They might also share stories about their own path to adulthood, advises Lauren Pardo, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. “Telling them about our mistakes, our failures, our embarrassments, our experiences, why there are positives in making yourself vulnerable,” Pardo says, can also dispel the notion that feeling confused and hurt is wrong or weird. What about during the teenage years, when kids separate and close up? “You can still model healthy relationships and healthy social media use,” Koss said.

Help them build a positive identity. “Many kids often think that they might deserve, or must endure, the bullying,” Dillon said. Parents and other adults need to assert unequivocally that no one deserves to be bullied, and that no one need suffer through it. Help the child identify existing strengths and find new ways to express and develop them, including outside the school environment. When kids have activities beyond school in which to spend time and make friends, they have new opportunities to strengthen their shaken identities. Volunteering, taking martial arts classes, pursuing the arts—any healthy activity outside school can be a refuge for kids who suffer in the classroom. “Building competence and confidence outside of school is part of this positive identity,” Dillon said.

Teach them how to calm themselves and problem-solve. Even young children can learn how to quiet themselves and to take problems apart and come up with rational solutions. Nancy Willard, director of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, suggests that parents help children go through a series of mental exercises as a way to figure out next steps. For example, once calmed, children can be asked to identify their goal, select strategies to get there, evaluate that strategy for likelihood of success and coherence with the child’s values, and then, after trying it out, reassessing the strategy for effectiveness. This collaborative problem solving, which can be done with a parent or caring teacher, helps children think things through and learn how to self-regulate. Willard provides a free program for schools that teaches kids these and other important skills.

Foster gratitude. Bullied children may not be feeling thankful for the good things in their lives, but their outlooks will brighten if they spend time expressing gratitude. Years of research, much of it carried out by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown that consciously focusing on one’s good fortune can lift mood and improve relationships. Parents can encourage children to demonstrate gratitude in many ways, including writing a thank you letter to a deserving adult and keeping a daily gratitude journal. Behaving generously, even by those most in need of it, builds good feelings within the giver.

Seek professional counseling if necessary. “Some adolescents are going to be more vulnerable to bullying and its impact,” Koss said. Parents need to pay close attention to children who already prone to anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges, as bullying may exacerbate those conditions. Kids who won’t open to their parents about a problem at school might be more willing to talk to a counsellor who is skilled at listening.


When Kids are Bullied, What Can Parents Do? 29 April,2016Linda Flanagan

  • Steph

    I agree with the points in this article about parents being proactive and taking on preventative measures in order to minimize the chance of bullying…like monitoring social media uses and encouraging children to talk. I also feel parents need to be cautious and not label everything as bullying. I personally have seen where parents claim bullying when in fact the issue is more about normal discord among children. We as adults, as parents must teach problem solving strategies and create a reasonable perception of common discord and more extreme, repetitive conflict characteristic of bulllying.

  • Good advice. Building on this we also need to recognize that sometimes parents bully their own children. Parents can support kids who are bullied by outsiders but who will support the victims of parental bullying? The loss of extended families leaves many children without advocates today. Is anyone looking at this problem?

  • Huli

    Happy people don’t bully. We need to find more ways to support children who have problems before they end up bullying someone to relieve their misery. Children don’t have developed emotional intelligence yet. They might not notice their feelings or know what to do with them. That’s what adults need to help them with. What parents often do when children shows any negative emotion? Shuts them down. Don’t cry, don’t be angry, be perfect and happy always. When they don’t have support or safety to feel their feelings and if they don’t learn that feelings aren’t bad at itself they go and revenge their feelings on someone who didn’t cause them. Children may think that someones shirt colour is annoying and it makes them feel bad, even when its not the cause, but something they see annoying while they are feeling bad. And think thats a good reason to bully someone and they relieve their misery by making someone else miserable. Adults need to teach children to notice and understand where their feelings come from and what they can do to affect their mood other than beating up their classmate. It’s ok to beat up a pillow when you have a bad day, but it’s criminal to beat up someone else because of your bad day. Parents and teachers could help their children to learn self care and life skills. For bullied children, if they don’t know what relieves their bad feelings, they might end up hurting themselves or passing the misery on and become bullies themselves. Both bullies and bullied people would benefit from learning how to understand and express their feelings. I think both need support and therapy. Bullies have problems and bullied people will have problems because of bullying. Children could for example have a moment in school where they could learn to journal, write or draw about how the day went and how they feel. If adults are interested in their child’s school days and supportive instead of always arguing and demanding and putting them down and listen for once when they have something to say, teens don’t have the need to close down and withdraw entirely. It happens more likely when they notice they don’t get support or can’t trust their parents. I read from news article that practicing acting and taking a role has shown to help children to imagine how others might feel. It also would give courage for bullied children to stand up and speak up. Also read about how instead of punishing children, they were allowed to go to meditate and calm down. Meditating in the beginning of the lesson might help children to calm down, gain focus and relieve their stress and nervousness. If it becomes a daily habit, it becomes a tool that carries them through their lives and they know they have a way to affect their feelings. For children it could be listening calming song, stretching or sitting eyes closed for five minutes. They could listen a calming song or nature sounds or guided relaxation audio. And instead of always stressing about competing, children could go for a relaxing hike from time to time. Also children should learn that if they are jealous about someones new toy or phone, that it would be good savings goal and stealing from classmate is wrong. If they are jealous about someones skills they should be told, that they can learn that too, if they put as much as time and energy to learning it. Sometimes children bully because they are jealous whether its new cloth, skill or toy or something. Children need to be taught that different looks are not good reason to hate someone. One person who was mean towards me when we were children told me that he was mean to everyone because he had problems with family, school and friends. He also had been bullied in school. He didn’t mean to bully me and he said that he didn’t hate me. It was relieving to hear that I wasn’t bullied because I was hated. Hearing what made him act really mean towards other people made me understand his point of view. I forgave the person I had feared the most. Keep looking for solutions and trying out what helps children to learn to understand their feelings so that they don’t need to start bullying and bullying doesn’t affect the victim so much. I have seen what bullying does to people, I saw what it did to my friends. Living in fear made me more prone to depression, self harm, sleeping problems, burn out, self hate and I still can’t trust people. I can still see some effects of it after ten years. Not so bad anymore. Support children in learning emotional intelligence and they can choose what helps them more than bullying. Bullying someone doesn’t fix their problems that made them feel bad in the first place. This is just my opinion based on what I have learned witnessing it and later trying to think solutions. Please, if you come up with any solutions, keep telling about those ideas and keep the conversation going. Tell teachers and parents if they ask. Collect every idea you hear on a post and share it. (Sorry. I’m not native English speaker, there might be mistakes in my comment. I hope it still helps.)

  • Ashley

    Perhaps of this issue parents are now enrolling their children to Virtual home school.


Linda Flanagan

Linda Flanagan is a freelance writer, researcher, and editor. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Wall St. Journal, Newsweek, Running Times, and Mind/Shift, and she blogs regularly for the Huffington Post. Linda writes about education, culture, athletics, youth sports, mental health, politics, college admissions, and other curiosities. She also reviews books and conducts interviews.

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