Preventing Bullying

Approximately 25% of children are affected by bullying at some point in their school careers. Bullying is a significant problem that can lead to negative self-esteem, depression, and increased risk of suicide. Bullying is not a normal part of growing up. Steps can be taken by school staff and parents to create an environment of acceptance and help prevent bullying.

What is bullying?

Bullying occurs when a student is repeatedly harmed (psychologically or physically) by another student or group of students. Bullying involves more than isolated events of teasing. Additionally, bullying is not when two students have difficulty getting along and engage in reciprocal behaviors to hurt each other. Bullying involves an imbalance of power. This power can take the form of social, physical, or emotional power where one individual (the bully) uses power to negatively affect another individual (the victim). It is this power, whether real or perceived, that sets bullying apart from other childhood conflicts.

What are common forms of bullying?

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (2012), bullying in schools most often takes one of the following forms.

  • Verbal aggression: This is the most common form of bullying and includes repeated name-calling, teasing, threats, and offensive comments.
  • Physical aggression: This includes hitting, pushing, kicking, spitting, etc. It also includes damaging or taking another’s belongings.
  • Relational/Social aggression: This involves spreading rumors and/or excluding an individual from a social group. This form of bullying tends to be more common with girls.
  • Cyberbullying: Bullying that is carried out through electronic medium (i.e. text messaging, posting pictures or video clips, chat rooms, social networking sites, etc.)

More on Cyberbullying…

Cyberbullying is a relatively new form of bullying that has gained more recent national attention due to multiple suicides by victims of cyberbullying. It is a very real form of bullying that is often overlooked by adults because it may not be as easily observable. Approximately 10-40% of children report some experience with cyberbullying, while 20% of children admit to cyberbullying others (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010). Victims of cyberbullying have increased risk of low self-esteem, school problems, school violence, and delinquent behavior.

Cyberbullying often has a serious impact on the victim because the victim is unable to identify who the perpetrator is or why they are being targeted. Because a cyber-attack can be viewed by a multitude of people, the victim is often left with the perception that everyone knows about it. Victims may feel hopeless and devastated leading to anger, depression, violent behaviors, and suici

What if my child is the bully?

It can be very upsetting and difficult to accept if you hear that your child is bullying others. However, there are things that parents can do to help children change bullying behaviors. It is important to work with the school and your child to stop this behavior. Bullying not only has an impact on the victims, but research indicates that children who bully others are also at risk for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and suicide (Roberts, 2000). Additionally, children who bully others are at greater risk for becoming abusive spouses or parents later in life, as well as engaging in criminal activities as adults (Sassu, Elinoff, Bray, & Kehle, 2004).

If you suspect, or hear that your child is bullying others, find out exactly what has occurred. Talk with school staff about what your child is accused of doing. Also talk with your child to find out what he will admit to doing. Calmly talk about these behaviors with your child making sure that your child understands your expectations for how to treat others. It may help to talk with your child about why he is engaging in these behaviors. Some children bully others out of a fear of being bullied themselves or because of social pressures. However, it is important that your child hears you say that bullying is never acceptable.

Discuss alternatives to aggressive behaviors and role play various scenarios with your child so that she learns a different set of skills in relating to peers. Role play can help children gain a better understanding for how bullying hurts others. Work with your child’s school to set up a contract for your child’s behavior. The school psychologist or counselor should be able to help you with this. It is important to establish consequences for breaking the contract, such as loss of privileges at home. Setting firm limits on your child’s behavior and following through with non-physical consequences shows your child that you take bullying behavior seriously

What if my child is being bullied?

If you suspect that your child is being bullied, talk with your child’s principal and teacher so that they know about the situation and can help to stop it. School staff needs to be aware of any bullying behaviors so that they can watch out for your child’s safety.

Work with your child to teach a different response to bullying. Often, children who bully others find satisfaction with the emotional responses from their victims. Teach your child how to look the bully in the eye, use a firm voice, and say a phrase such as, “Stop!” or “Leave!” This will not be easy for your child. Skills must be practiced in a non-threatening environment in order for your child to transfer them to real-life situations. Other responses include walking away, telling an adult, and joining a peer group. Bullies rarely target children in groups.

It is important not to encourage your child to fight back. Certainly, if your child is in the middle of a physical conflict, self-defense is acceptable. However, bullying situations can easily escalate and become extremely dangerous. It is best for your child to walk away. It is also important that you not confront the suspected bully. As a parent, your first response is to protect your child. However, confronting the bully rarely stops the behavior and generally makes things worse for your child. Working with school staff is more effective in diffusing bullying behaviors.

What if my child is a bystander?

Bullying creates a climate of fear for all students. Even if your child is not directly being bullied, he or she can be negatively impacted by bullying happening to others. Additionally, bullying behaviors are often fueled by reactions from bystanders. Students watching who laugh or cheer for the bully contribute to the isolation felt by the victim. Even when bystanders quietly watch a conflict, they contribute to the behavior by allowing the bully to be the center of attention. Encourage your child to tell an adult about any acts of bullying. Bullying typically occurs when adults are not present; therefore, it is difficult for school staff to stop the behavior if they don’t know about it. Also, encourage your child to befriend the victim. Children in a group setting are significantly less likely to be a target of bullying.

What can schools do to prevent bullying?

Schools have a responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all students. It is important that school staff create a culture of acceptance to reduce acts of bullying. This can be accomplished by a school-wide preventative program focusing on appropriate behaviors. A “zero tolerance” for bullying or tougher consequences will not in itself produce a positive culture. School culture is established when all staff model behaviors for students and consistently recognize desired behaviors. School psychologists are equipped to work with students who may need additional support in developing empathy for others, building self-esteem, or learning social skills to relate to peers.

School administration should investigate all reported incidents of bullying. All staff needs to be briefed on how to respond when a problem is reported. It is counterproductive when victims are encouraged to tell an adult if the adult does not respond appropriately. Students being bullied are not “tattling” when they report these acts. Staff should reinforce the student by thanking him or her for helping to keep the school safe.

Finally, school staff should never conduct mediation between the bully and the victim. Because of the imbalance of power, having the two students together to discuss the problem is not helpful to the victim. Both the bully and the victim should be addressed separately.


Bullying is a problem that affects many students every year. It increases the risk of depression, anxiety, school problems, and suicide for both the bully and the victim. Because of the devastating consequences of bullying, it should never be viewed as a normal part of growing up. Children have a right to feel safe. Bullying threatens a sense of safety and has negative effects on school climate and overall learning. By partnering together, parents and school staff can be preventative to address the problem of bullying.


Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Cyberbullying: identification, prevention, and response. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from

NASP Position Statement: Bullying Prevention and Intervention in Schools. National Association of School Psychologists. Retrieved September 27, 2012 from

Roberts, W. B. (2000). The bully as victim. Professional School Counseling, 4, 148-156.

Sassu, K. A., Elinoff, M. J., Bray, M. A., & Kehle, T. J. (2004). Behavior problems: Bullies and victims. National Association of School Psychologists. Retrieved October 2, 2012 from




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