Psychiatrist offers tips for dealing with bullies

A bully can turn what should be an exciting new school year into a nightmare. If your child is the target of a bully, there are ways to stop the bullying or lessen the impact.

What is bullying?

There are many forms of bullying. Bullying is intentional tormenting through physical, verbal or psychological actions. Bullying is repeated oppression toward a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group.

Direct bullying can be physical or verbal. Examples of physical bullying are:

  • Bumping
  • Shoving
  • Holding back or restraining
  • Shoving someone into a locker, etc.

Verbal bullying involves:

  • Name calling
  • Belittling
  • Threats

Indirect bullying can be:

  • A group of friends turning against a person
  • Starting a rumor or doing or saying something to affect a person’s social status
  • Hurtful graffiti
  • Displaying negative body language
  • Excluding someone from social groups


Cyberbullying is using technology to oppress or harm someone through texting, voicemail, email, photos, videos and other technology. Cyberbullying may occur one-on-one or information may be distributed to a whole group.

Male bullies tend to be more physically aggressive than girls. Girls tend to operate under the radar and often act in groups, trying to inflict psychological pain on their victim. Girls target a perceived weakness in another girl and may make negative comments about her clothing or appearance.

Bullies tend to prey on children who are less assertive. Bullies may have an emotional perception of weakness in their victims or they may feel jealous of their victims.

Signs that your child may be a victim of bullying: 

  • Unexplained injuries, ripped clothing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Child is hesitant about going to school; child may be more clingy
  • Child is sad, tearful, depressed or anxious during the school week, then feels better on weekends
  • Child fakes illness to avoid going to school
  • Child wants to change route to school or mode of transportation
  • Child asks for extra money all the time
  • Child needs to take extra food for lunch
  • Take bullying seriously. Educate your child that bullying exists and explain bullies often are unhappy or insecure. Lay the groundwork for open discussions about possible bullying and let your child know if bullying occurs, you want to know and you will help them.

Explain bullying can happen at school, recess, church, at after-school activities or in the neighborhood. Bullying tends to peak in middle school. If your child recognizes a bullying situation, empower your child to speak up for the victim when possible. If your child is the victim, encourage your child to tell you, a teacher or another trusted adult. Many schools now have bullying prevention programs.

Recognize some children are afraid to tell on bullies because of possible repercussions. Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Stay very involved in your child’s life and ask questions to draw them out.

Monitor your child’s cellphone, social media and online activities and make your child aware you are doing so for their general safety. As a parent, you have that right and responsibility, especially when your child first begins using social media.

Many parents are not aware of the prevalence of bullying and of the capabilities bullies have to use technology and social media to exert power over victims. The consequences of bullying are real. Studies show that victims of bullies often are susceptible to joining gangs for acceptance and protection. Also, it is estimated many childhood suicides are directly related to bullying.

Bullying is a power play. Talking about bullying with your child is an important step in protecting your child and identifying problems before they progress.