A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Get bullies to back off

Illustration - kid stuffed in a locker - Is your child being bullied?

Bullying at school can cause anxiety and depression.

Bullying can take many forms: Playground fights, name calling, spreading rumors and excluding someone from a group on purpose. Cyberbullying through texting and social media is becoming more common.

Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior that is harmful to a child’s emotional and social development.

“I don’t buy the mindset that boys will be boys or girls will be girls and a certain amount of bullying is expected,” said Brennan Young, Ph.D., a Marshfield Clinic child psychologist. “It’s a very serious matter that’s a factor in a large portion of teen self-injury behavior and suicide.”

Being bullied causes anxiety and depression, is damaging to self-esteem and makes social situations hard. Signs your child is being bullied include:

  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Withdrawing from friend groups
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Declining grades
  • Trouble concentrating

Ignore, be assertive, tell an adult

“Initially, it’s best to coach kids on how to manage the situation themselves,” Young said. “Doing so helps them build self-confidence and gives them social skills they can apply to other settings.”

Try these tricks to get a bully to back off:

  • Be assertive, not aggressive. Tell the bully you don’t like how they treat you and that they need to stop.
  • Ignore it. Bullies get bored and leave you alone if they don’t get the emotional response they want.
  • Stick with a group of friends. A bully is less likely to target you in a crowd of people who are on your side.
  • Take a break from social media. Similar to ignoring, the bully is more likely to stop if you don’t respond on social media.

If these strategies don’t work, tell an adult. It’s up to teachers and parents to send the message that bullying isn’t okay.

“Some kids worry about retaliation if they tell an adult,” he said. “Getting an adult involved can save other kids from being bullied and save the bully from the effects of eventually not being well-liked.”

Avoid being a bullying target

Having a best friend is one of the best ways to avoid being bullied. Kids who spend a lot of time alone are bullying targets because they don’t have a buddy to stick up for them.

Playing near a recess aide or sitting near the lunch monitor station can help. Bullies are less likely to act out in front of adults.

What if my child is the bully?

Dealing with a child who bullies other kids is a two-step process.

First, let your child know you don’t approve of his behavior and it needs to stop now. Talk about how bullying makes other kids feel. Create and follow through with consequences if the behavior continues.

Second, find out why your child is treating others badly. Is he seeking attention? Does he have low self-esteem and he’s trying to make himself feel better? Work on positive ways to get attention and feel confident that don’t involve bullying.

Consider involving a counselor

Schedule an appointment if anxiety or depression caused by bullying is interfering with your child’s functioning at school or socially, or if your child is the bully and continues the behavior after you try to stop it.

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