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Bullying: What Parents Need to Know

Posted Date: 10/28/2014
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Ask the Doctor
Staten Island Parent – October 2014
Dr. Clifford Mevs, M.D.

Bullying: What Parents Need to Know
National Bullying Prevention Month

Bullying among schoolchildren is certainly an old phenomenon. The fact that children are frequently and systematically harassed and attacked by other children has been described in literary works, and many adults have personal experience from their own school days.

PACER’s National Center for Bullying Prevention estimates that 10% of all U.S. children are the victims of bullying, and likely underestimated considering the amount of incidents that go unreported. Studies also show that 160,000 children stay home from school each day to avoid being bullied.

Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which one or several children repeatedly and intentionally intimidate or harm another child and who views that child as incapable of defending himself or herself. Types of bullying can include physical, emotional and verbal abuse. It is a pervasive and growing problem. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems as well as physical and emotional issues.

Children at risk for bullying are usually targeted because they are different. Generally, children who are bullied have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
  • Suffer from food allergies such as milk, eggs, peanuts, or wheat
  • Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
  • Are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem
  • Are less popular than others and have few friends
  • Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying, or provoking, or antagonize others for attention

    Keep in mind, that even if a child has these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that they will be bullied. The bullied is usually targeted not only because they are different but also because they are vulnerable or visibly frightened. The bully does not fear retaliation and usually continues the aggressive behavior.

    Cyberbullying has also become a serious problem. It occurs when a child is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by using the Internet, interactive technologies or mobile phones. This form of bullying can easily go undetected because of lack of parental/authoritative supervision. Many who are bullied in school are likely to be bullied over the Internet, and vice versa. Kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior because it can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Cyberbullying can be more devastating than the typical school bullying.

    Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied
    Unless your child tells you about bullying — or has visible bruises or injuries — it can be difficult to figure out if it's happening. The symptoms I see in patients typically associated with bullying frequently present symptoms of abdominal pain, sleep problems, and headaches.  Parents may notice kids acting differently, seeming anxious, not eating, sleeping well, or doing things they usually enjoy. Other signs to look for include: torn clothing, bruises and a need for extra money or supplies.

    Eliciting information from a child who is being bullied often requires an indirect approach. It’s important to approach the topic delicately. Questions I recommend parents ask their children might include:

  • Do you know other children who have been teased?
  • Have you ever been teased because of your…?
  • Who do you sit with at lunch time?

    If your child tells you about being bullied, listen calmly and offer comfort and support. Kids are often reluctant to tell adults about bullying because they feel embarrassed and ashamed that it's happening, or worry that their parents will be disappointed, angry, or reactive.

    Sometimes kids feel like it's their own fault, that if they looked or acted differently it wouldn't be happening. Sometimes they're scared that if the bully finds out that they told, it will get worse. Others worry their parents won't believe them or do anything about it. If your child comes to you and asks for help with a bully, take it seriously. Many times, if kids aren't taken seriously the first time they ask for help, they don't ask again.

    If you think your child is being bullied or if your child has told you that he or she is being bullied, you can help. Parents are often the best resource to build a child's self-confidence and teach him or her how to solve the problem.


    Don’t retaliate against the bully or his family. As tempting as it might be to take matters into your own hands and strike against the bully, don’t do it. This is where you have to set an example. It’s difficult to hear that your child is being threatened; of course you want to immediately stop the hurt. But remember, retaliating won’t help your child solve the problem or feel better.

    Here are a few ways you can help:

    • Talk to your child's teacher. If the teacher doesn't act to stop the bullying, talk to the principal.
    • Teach your child nonviolent ways to deal with bullies, like walking away, playing with friends, or talking it out.
    • Help your child act with self-confidence. Practice walking upright, looking people in the eye, and speaking clearly.
    • Don't encourage your child to fight. This could lead to them getting hurt, in trouble, and beginning more serious problems.
    • Involve your child in activities outside of school so they can make friends in different social circles.


When Your Child Is a Bully

It's hard for any parent to believe that their child is a bully, but sometimes it happens. But just because your child bullies doesn't mean that he or she will bully forever. Parents are one of the best resources to help their child stop this behavior and start interacting positively with their classmates.

Your child may bully if, he or she:

  • Lacks empathy and doesn't sympathize with others
  • Values aggression
  • Likes to be in charge
  • Is an arrogant winner and a sore loser
  • Often fights often with brothers and sisters
  • Is impulsive


What you can do to stop your child from bullying:

  • Take it seriously. Don't treat bullying as a passing phase. Even if you're not worried about long-lasting effects on your child, another child is being hurt.
  • Talk to your child to find out why he or she is bullying. Often, children bully when they feel sad, angry, lonely, or insecure and many times major changes at home or school may bring on these feelings.
  • Help build empathy for others and talk to your child about how it feels to be bullied.
  • Ask a teacher or a school counselor if your child is facing any problems at school, such as if your child is struggling with a particular subject or has difficulty making friends. Ask them for advice on how you and your child can work through the problem.
  • Ask yourself if someone at home is bullying your child. Often, kids who bully are bullied themselves by a parent, family member, or another adult.

It's important to take bullying seriously and not just brush it off as something that kids have to "tough out." The effects can be serious and affect kids' sense of safety and self-worth. If you feel your child may be a victim of bullying, or to learn more contact Richmond University Medical Center’s pediatric department at 718-818-1234.

Dr. Clifford Mevs, M.D. is Board Certified in Pediatrics & Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics. He is the Section Chief of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Richmond University Medical Center and the Medical Director of the Elizabeth W. Pouch Center for Special People.