What to Teach Kids about Bullying

Facts and advice to help kids overcome bullying

Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around, such as in between classes, at lunch or recess, after school, and online. Still, bullying rarely takes place without an audience - kids are around to see bullying 85 percent of the time. But even though they see it, kids usually don’t try to stop bullying, and may even be unknowingly encouraging it.

Most of the time that kids witness bullying, they stand by passively. This causes bullying to last longer because it reinforces the bullies’ power and status, two reasons that people bully. Most kids don’t want to watch bullying, and don’t want it to happen at all. But many kids don’t know how to do this and worry that by stepping in they might become the next victim. These worries, and witnessing verbal and physical abuse, take a toll on bystanders.

Possible Effects on Bystanders:

  • Feel angry, helpless, and guilty.
  • Don’t feel safe where bullying takes place, like in certain hallways in school, on the bus, in the park, or online.
  • Fear of becoming the next victim

Two out of three kids want to help when they see bullying, and helping out is one of the most effective ways to stop bullying and prevent it from happening again. When friends help out, 57 percent of the time bullying stops in 10 seconds (Hawkins, Pepler, and Craig, Social Development, 2001).

There are effective and safe ways for kids to step in and help others being bullied.

Some work better in certain situations than others. You can help kids decide when to use each method by role-playing bullying situations with them. Remember to emphasize that kids should only step in when they feel safe.

  • Walk away. This shows bullies that their behavior is not funny or okay.
  • Speak up. Tell bullies that what they are doing is wrong. By saying, “that’s not funny, let’s get out of here” or something similar, kids can stand up for each other. This may also give other bystanders the confidence to speak up or walk away.
  • Be a friend. Sometimes kids get picked on because they don’t have any friends or anyone to stand up for them. When kids befriend someone being bullied, bullies are less likely to pick on them. Friendship can also give children the support and the confidence to stand up for themselves.
  • Ask others to help. When more kids stand up to bullies, the bullies will be more likely to realize their actions are not okay.
  • Get an adult. Sometime kids who are bullied are scared to ask an adult for help because they think it will make the bullying worse. Kids can help by telling an adult what is happening, or going to speak to an adult with kids being bullied.

What You Can Do

Standing up to peers is a hard thing to do for people of all ages. But you can make it easier for kids by giving them the confidence and the support they need to do so. Here are some ways parents can help children develop these traits:

  • Teach children to be assertive. Emphasize peaceful ways to solve problems and encourage kids to stand up for themselves verbally, not violently.
  • Show kids safe ways to help others. Make it clear that you expect kids to take action if they see someone being hurt, or if they are hurt themselves.
  • Hold kids accountable. If children stand by and watch someone being bullied, make it clear that their behavior hurts the victim too.
  • Get to know their friends. Encourage your children to invite their friends to your home or accompany you on family outings.
  • Be a good example. If you see someone being bullied or hurt, help them.
  • Build empathy in your kids. If you see examples of people being bullied or hurt in movies, television, or books, talk with your children about how these people must feel. Ask your children how they would feel in that situation and what they would do to make it better. Point out ways characters helped out, or didn’t, and have your children think up different ways to help.
  • Help them develop social skills. From a young age, encourage your children to play with others and to be friends with many different people. Have them spend time with people of different ages, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, and mental and physical abilities.
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