How to Talk to Your Child About Bullying

mother and daughter having a conversationDid you know that children who witness bullying can be as impacted by it as the victims themselves? A majority of children will experience, participate in, or witness bullying at some point during their school years. Bullies, victims, and witnesses are all at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and other negative psychological consequences.

Talking to your child can help raise awareness and promote prevention. Here are five suggestions when talking to your child about bullying:

1. Be Proactive

You don’t have to wait until something bad happens. Talk about bullying BEFORE it occurs.

Be proactive in safeguarding against bullying in your family. Maintain open, supportive communication with your children about the things that matter to them. This sets the stage for important communication when difficulty arises. Model an environment of inclusion, support, and empathy.

2. Know That Children Do Not Always Speak Up

An alarming number of children do not ever tell an adult when they are bullied. Children may fear retaliation from a bully or worry that they will be accused of “tattling.” Children may be embarrassed about what is happening to them or fear that the bullying is somehow their fault. Others fear that adults will not believe them or they simply desire to handle the situation on their own.

It is important not to assume that your child will tell you right away if he or she is being bullied. Watch for signs that bullying may be taking place.

3. Notice the Signs

Learn to recognize the signs that something may be wrong. Watch for changes in mood or behavior in your child. This could include changes in eating and sleeping patterns, a withdrawal from social activities, or an increase in tearfulness or anger. Don’t be afraid to trust your instinct if you feel that your child isn’t himself/herself. You are an expert on your child.

Sudden reluctance to go to school may be a warning sign, as are unusual academic struggles. You may also notice an increase in physical complaints, such as frequent stomachaches or headaches, and avoidance of social situations. Keep an eye out for missing or damaged property and unexplained bruises or other injuries.

If your child is old enough to use social media, it is important that you be mindful of accounts and online activity. Cyberbullying occurs when someone posts mean messages, spreads rumors, pretends to be someone else, or distributes embarrassing pictures or information online. Cyberbullying is on the rise and can easily go undetected if adults are not clued in to online activity.

Any signs of self-harm or suicidal ideation, even if they don’t seem credible, should be taken very seriously and call for immediate intervention.

If your child tells you that he or she is being bullied, the most important thing you can do is listen.

4. Listen

If your child tells you that he or she is being bullied, the most important thing you can do is listen. Unless you have a very good reason not to, your default position should be to believe what your child tells you. Respond supportively by repeating back a summary of what you hear. Express empathy with phrases such as “I’m so sorry that is happening” or “That must be frightening for you.” Remind your child that it is not his or her fault.

Unless the situation clearly calls for swift intervention on your part, resist the urge to swoop in and try to fix it. Instead, be an ally and offer your support, while empowering your child to take meaningful and safe steps to change the situation.

5. Be an Ally

It may be appropriate to offer your child some coaching and practical help. Help your child make plans that minimize time alone. Children are more likely to be bullied when they are alone than when they are with a friend or in a group. Bullies typically look for victims to cry or show fear. Help your child practice not giving that response.

Encourage your child to ask for help from adults, if needed. Coordinate with school teachers or administrators to ensure that school is safe for your child.

Finally, resist instructing your child to ignore the bully or to fight back. Ignoring is rarely effective in situations of ongoing bullying, and fighting back can backfire and result in injury or trouble for the victim.


Facts About Bullying. (n.d.). Retrieved from

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Betsy Smith, MEd, LPC-S, Bullying Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Roberta

    June 15th, 2015 at 9:19 AM

    Your children have to know that you are on their side. I have seen parents before who automatically assume that their child is the one doing something wrong, that they have done something to invite the behavior and that is completely not true. No matter how one child behaves that doesn’t mean that someone has the right to bully them.

  • Burke

    June 15th, 2015 at 10:35 AM

    It is so hard to watch your child going through this and becoming the victim that you never wanted him or her to be. It is crucial that you not ignore it, that you acknowledge together what is going on. I also think that it is important for you to help the child figure out new ways for realign with the bullying in his life, because there are going to be times when he has to be able to stand up and do this alone. There may come a time when you as a parent have to step in but I always think that it is better to start with the children and see if they can resolve some of it on their own.

  • collin

    June 15th, 2015 at 3:26 PM

    You really have to make an effort to know your child and see when something is bothering them instead of just trusting that they will say anything to you.
    Kids are naturally going to be pretty reserved about these types of things so pay close attention to them if you see any differences in them.

  • Connie

    June 15th, 2015 at 5:07 PM

    In my opinion much of this comes form simply learning how to be a good friend and advocate for your child. That doesn’t mean that they can run over you, but wouldn’t it be nice for them to know that whenever something goes wrong, their mom and dad are sure to have their backs?

  • walt

    June 16th, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    Plain and simple you just have to keep the doors open to having the conversation.

  • Darian

    June 17th, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    My truth is that I have a hard time knowing exactly where to draw the line with being proactive and being a busy body mom. I don’t know how to stop right before that red line has been crossed because of course I want only the best for my kids and I do not want someone to be mean to them or take advantage of them. I also think that it is critical that we let them learn how to handle certain situations on their own, so how do you know when you are hovering too much or when you instead need to get involved?

  • jamone

    June 20th, 2015 at 2:06 PM

    This is a conversation that I believe will be very hard for me because I was bullied myself as a child and so it is going to bring up a lot of tough memories that I do not wish to ever have to relive.
    I suppose that I should probably look at it as a chance to talk to my kids about something that could be very valuable to them because I do have a first person experience with it and know how it can make another person feel.
    At the same time I have never had any resolution form it myself so I know that I still have a lot of unresolved emotions about it that I am afraid would come up.
    How can I be objective when I know I still need to deal with my own stuff?


    August 17th, 2015 at 6:08 AM

    So, what is the right thing to do? If they suggest not ignoring, or fighting back, then what do we have to do? I´d really like to know.

  • Liliana

    March 3rd, 2016 at 7:30 AM

    Great article, Betsy! I have shared it with my colleagues at work. Insightful and applicable.

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