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Bullying: When Your Child is the Victim



  • Children who bully act aggressively toward others. The aggressive acts can be physical, sexual, or verbal. They can also be done through social media or online (cyberbullying). Bullying can lead to serious school, social, emotional, and physical problems for your child. Some victims attempt suicide. If you think your child is being bullied, don’t ignore it.
  • Teach your child what bullying is and what to do if it happens.
  • Check with your school to see what kind of anti-bullying programs they have and how you can help. Talk with the principal, guidance counselor, and teachers if you have concerns.


What is bullying?

Children who bully act aggressively toward others. The aggressive acts can be physical, sexual, or verbal. They can also be done through social media or online (cyberbullying). Those targeted are called victims.

  • Physical bullies may hit, pinch, kick, shove, bite, or pull a victim’s hair.
  • Sexual bullies may make sexual comments or threaten unwanted sexual acts. Sexual bullying may also include unwanted touches, such as snapping a bra strap.
  • Verbal bullies may insult, start or spread rumors, tease, and make threats.
  • Cyberbullies use the Internet, social media, cell phones, or other devices to send or post text or pictures meant to hurt or embarrass another person. The text or pictures can reach hundreds of people.

The result of growing up a victim of bullying can be very severe. Victims may suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. Their school progress may be slowed. As they grow older, victims may become involved in relationships in which they are abused. Some victims attempt suicide, believing that no one will help them. If you think your child is being bullied, don’t ignore it.

How to find out if your child is being bullied

To find out if your child is being bullied, talk with your child about bullying and look for these signs:

  • Making excuses to not go to school, sports, or other activities, and avoiding questions about how things are going
  • Wanting to take something such as a knife or gun to school for protection
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Torn clothing
  • Needing extra school supplies or money or always “losing” belongings
  • Problems sleeping
  • Becoming withdrawn, moody, or unusually sad, or talking about suicide
  • Sudden loss of appetite
  • Quality of schoolwork suddenly goes down
  • Showing secretive or sullen behavior or temper outbursts
  • Being very hungry after school because someone keeps taking your child’s lunch or money
  • Getting upset after using a cell phone or computer
  • Making a lot of trips to the school nurse, especially during lunch or recess
  • Rushing to the bathroom after school because your child is scared to use the bathroom at school due to threats
  • Running away from home

Ways to help your child avoid bullies

  • Teach your child what bullying is and what to do if it happens.

    Children who recognize bullying are more likely to report it. Let your child know that bullying is wrong and teach your child how to respond. Encourage your child to speak to a trusted adult if being bullied or seeing others being bullied. Talk about ways to stay safe.

  • Teach your child self-respect.

    A confident child is less likely to become a victim. Help your child think of self in positive terms, such as "I am a kind and caring person." Teach your child to focus on things your child is good at and things that make your child feel proud. Teach your child to give himself or herself a silent pep talk when feeling picked on.

  • Encourage your child to make friends.

    There is strength in numbers. Bullies tend to go after a child who is alone. Encourage your child to walk down the hall, into the lunchroom, or out to recess with others. Joining clubs or playing sports can be a good way to make friends. Friends can help protect one another. Your child should stay near others even if they are not close friends.

  • Stress the importance of body language.

    Bullies are more likely to pick on a child who looks meek. Encourage your child to stand up straight and hold his or her head high. If a bully approaches, your child shouldn't freeze. It is best to walk away and join a group of children.

  • Do not encourage physically fighting back.

    Bullies are usually stronger and may have a lot of friends. Often, if victims fight back, the bully will take revenge.

  • Teach your child to tell an adult.

    Ask your child about the school day and listen to your child talk about school, social events, classmates, and problems your child may have. Make sure your child knows that you support him or her and let your child know that being bullied is not your child’s fault.

    If your child gets a phone call, text message, email, picture, or voicemail message that makes your child uncomfortable, teach your child to report the cyberbullying to an adult. Also teach your child not to pass along cyberbullying messages. Keep copies of all email, texts, and chats related to bullying.

  • Let the school know your safety worries.

    Build a good relationship with the school. Keep records of names, date, time, place, what happened, and how it was handled. Report bullying. Try not to get defensive or blame, but don’t back down either. Talk with the principal, guidance counselor, and teachers about your concerns.

  • Teach your child "HA HA SO" strategies to help deal with bullies:

    H - Help. Get a friend or adult to help you.

    A - Assert yourself. Use an "I" statement to tell the bully that the behavior is not OK and look the bully in the eye. For example, "I don’t like it when you steal my sandwich. Please stop."

    H - Humor. Use humor. Do or say something funny or even something crazy to throw the bully off balance. For example, if you are called a "chicken," start walking like a chicken and flapping your arms.

    A - Avoid. Stay away from bullies. If you see a bully and can take another path across the playground, do that.

    S - Self talk. Give yourself a silent pep talk, reminding yourself of positive things. For example, you might think of something like, "I may not be good at track, but I'm great in band."

    O - Own it. If the put-down is about clothing or something you can change, just agree with the bully. Say something like, "Yeah, I don't like this sweater either. I wore it because my aunt made it and she is visiting this week."

  • Practice how to respond.

    Problem-solve and practice ways to respond with your child at home. Something that has been practiced is easier to use in a stressful situation.

Bully proofing your school

There are programs to help schools called "Bully Proofing Your School." Programs cover early childhood, elementary, and middle school. These programs can help children feel safe and secure and encourage children to defend those who are picked on. Check with your school to see what programs they have and how you can help.

If you cannot cope with your child’s problem on your own, see your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Get emergency care if your child seems unusually sad or has serious thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2018-12-17
Last reviewed: 2018-09-18
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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