Being bullied can leave you feeling helpless, humiliated, depressed, or even suicidal. But there are ways to protect yourself or your child—at school and online—and deal with a bully.
Teasing is often part of growing up — almost every child experiences it. But it isn’t always as innocuous as it seems. Teasing becomes bullying when it’s repetitive or when there’s a conscious intent to hurt another child. It can be verbal bullying (making threats, name-calling), psychological bullying (excluding children, spreading rumors), or physical bullying (hitting, pushing, taking a child’s possessions). Victims of bullying are often shy and tend to be physically weaker than their peers. They may also have low self-esteem and poor social skills, which makes it hard for them to stand up for themselves. Bullies consider these children safe targets because they usually don’t retaliate.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is repeated aggressive behavior that can be physical, verbal, or relational, in-person or online. Bullies are often relentless, bullying over and over again for long periods of time. You may live in constant fear of where and when the bully will strike next, what they’ll do, and how far they’ll go.
- Physical Bullying – includes hitting, kicking, or pushing you (or even just threatening to do so), as well as stealing, hiding, or ruining your things, and hazing, harassment, or humiliation.
- Verbal Bullying – includes name-calling, teasing, taunting, insulting, or otherwise verbally abusing you.
- Relationship Bullying – includes refusing to talk to you, excluding you from groups or activities, spreading lies or rumors about you, making you do things you don’t want to do..
Boys frequently bully using physical threats and actions, while girls are more likely to engage in verbal or relationship bullying. But no type of bullying should ever be tolerated.
If your child is the victim of bullying, he may suffer physically and emotionally, and his schoolwork will likely show it. Grades drop because, instead of listening to the teacher, kids are wondering what they did wrong and whether anyone will sit with them at lunch. If bullying persists, they may be afraid to go to school. Problems with low self-esteem and depression can last into adulthood and interfere with personal and professional lives.
Bullies are affected too, even into adulthood; they may have difficulty forming positive relationships. They are more apt to use tobacco and alcohol, and to be abusive spouses. Some studies have even found a correlation with later criminal activities.
Whether you’re being targeted by bullies or cyberbullies, the results are similar. You’re made to feel hurt, angry, afraid, helpless, hopeless, isolated, ashamed, and even guilty that the bullying is somehow your fault. You may even feel suicidal. Your physical health is likely to suffer, and you are at a greater risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, or adult onset PTSD. You’re more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school to avoid being bullied. In many cases, cyberbullying can be even more painful than face-to-face bullying because:
Cyberbullying can happen anywhere, at any time. You may experience it even in places where you’d normally feel safe, such as your home, and at times when you’d least expect it, like during the weekend in the company of your family. It can seem like there’s no escape from the taunting and humiliation.
A lot of cyberbullying can be done anonymously, so you may not be sure who is targeting you. This can make you feel even more threatened and can embolden bullies, as they believe online anonymity means they’re less likely to get caught. Since cyberbullies can’t see your reaction, they will often go much further in their harassment or ridicule than they would if they were face-to-face with you.
Cyberbullying can be witnessed by potentially thousands of people. Emails can be forwarded to many, many people while social media posts or website comments can often be seen by anyone. The more far-reaching the bullying, the more humiliating it can become.
Why am I being bullied?
While there are many reasons why bullies may be targeting you, bullies tend to pick on people who are “different” or don’t fit in with the mainstream. While your individualism is something that you will celebrate later in life, it can seem like a curse when you’re young and trying to fit in. Perhaps you dress or act differently, or maybe your race, religion, or sexual orientation sets you apart. It may simply be that you’re new to the school or neighborhood and haven’t made friends yet.
Other reasons why kids bully:
- To make themselves popular or to gain attention.
- Because they’re jealous of you.
- To look tough or feel powerful.
- Because they’re being bullied themselves.
- To escape their own problems.
Whatever the reasons for you being targeted, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Many of us have been bullied at some point in our lives. In fact, about 25 percent of kids experience bullying, and as many as one third of teenagers suffer from cyberbullying at some point. But you don’t have to put up with it. There are plenty of people who can help you overcome the problem, retain your dignity, and preserve your sense of self.
How to deal with a bully
There is no simple solution to bullying or cyberbullying, or a foolproof way to handle a bully. But since bullying or cyberbullying is rarely limited to one or two incidents—it’s far more likely to be a sustained attack over a period of time—like the bully, you may have to be relentless in reporting each and every bullying incident until it stops. Remember: there is no reason for you to ever put up with any kind of bullying.
- Don’t blame yourself. It is not your fault. No matter what a bully says or does, you should not be ashamed of who you are or what you feel. The bully is the person with the problem, not you.
- Try to view bullying from a different perspective. The bully is an unhappy, frustrated person who wants to have control over your feelings so that you feel as badly as they do. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t make a bullying incident worse by dwelling on it or reading cyberbullying messages over and over. Instead, delete any messages and focus on the positive experiences in your life. There are many wonderful things about you so be proud of who you are.
- Learn to manage stress. Finding healthy ways to relieve the stress generated by bullying can make you more resilient so you won’t feel overwhelmed by negative experiences. Exercise, meditation, positive self-talk, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises are all good ways to cope with the stress of bullying.
- Spend time doing things you enjoy. The more time you spend with activities that bring you pleasure—sports, hobbies, hanging out with friends who don’t participate in bullying, for example—the less significance bullying or cyberbullying will have on your life.
- Unplug from technology. Taking a break from your smartphone, computer, tablet, and video games can open you up to meeting new people.
- Find others who share your same values and interests. You may be able to make friends at a youth group, book club, or religious organization. Learn a new sport, join a team, or take up a new hobby such as chess, art, or music. Or volunteer your time—helping others is a great way to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.
- Share your feelings about bullying. Talk to a parent, counselor, coach, religious leader, or trusted friend. Expressing what you’re going through can make a huge difference in the way you feel, even if it doesn’t change the situation.
- Boost your confidence. Exercise is a great way to boost your self-esteem and reduce stress. Go for a run or take a kick boxing class to work off your anger in a healthy way.
If the problem persists, or the everyone ignores your concerns, and you tend start to withdraw or not want to go to school, consider the possibility of “therapeutic intervention.” Ask to meet with the school counselor or psychologist, or request parent for seek a referral to the appropriate school professional.
Anti-bullying Books Recommended for Kids
- You, Me and Empathy by Jayneen Sanders
In this gem, young readers are invited to explore their feelings and discover their ability to understand not only their own emotions but also the feelings of others. Written in first-person narrative with every-day examples of situations that might cause uncomfortable feelings like worry, anger, sadness, or fright, this text with reflection questions sprinkled throughout is sure to spark and ignite some dynamic conversations about empathy, compassion and kindness.
Teaching Children about Empathy, Feelings, Kindness, Compassion, Tolerance and Recognising Bullying Behaviours. Helping young people to recognize their own emotions and to see them in others, Jayneen Sanders uses lively couplets and easily relatable scenarios at home and on the playground in You, Me and Empathy.
- Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry
Stick and Stone is a delightful book about two characters who are lonely but who discover the benefit of reaching out. Stone is a “zero” and Stick, a “one”. Then they meet Pinecone who begins to bully Stone. And that leads Stick to stand up to Pinecone. Suddenly Stone and Stick do not find themselves alone. Instead they both discover a new friend.But when Stick gets into trouble, can Stone return the favour.
Illustrator Tom Lichtenheld has created delightful, expressive pictures in Stick and Stone using pencil, pencil crayon and watercolor to accompany Ferry’s simple story. The message is simple: friendship can be found in unexpected places. As Stone and Stick discover, some of the best adventures happen unexpectedly. This sweet picture book will appeal to parents, educators and librarians but most especially to readers of all ages.
- Willow Finds a Way by Lana Button
In this simple but substantial picture book by Lana Button, shy, quiet Willow silently wishes she could find a way to say no to her bossy classmate Kristabelle’s demands, but the words never seem to come when she needs them. That is, until Kristabelle starts using the powerful threat of un-inviting children from her ?fantastic? birthday party to keep them in line, and Willow decides she’s finally had enough. Surprising everyone, even herself, Willow steps up and bravely does something shocking, and it changes the entire dynamic of the classroom.
This child-friendly and relatable story about bullying is elegantly told with honesty and heart. The simple artwork by Tania Howells beautifully captures the subtleties of the story; the children are the main focus of the spare illustrations, allowing their body language and facial expressions to leap off the page and showcase exactly how they’re feeling. This is a book that will have young children on the edge of their seats at storytime, deeply sympathetic to the dilemma faced by Willow and her classmates. What makes this book particularly helpful is that it presents a model for how any child, even a shy one like Willow, can find his or her own way to deal with a bossy or bullying classmate. It offers a pitch-perfect lesson on how to stand up for yourself, terrifically aligning with character education lessons on courage. The empowering message here also helps promote individual self-awareness, self-esteem and good decision making.
- My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig
A touching, inspirational story targeted for 5- to 11-year-olds, My Secret Bully instantly draws young readers into Monica’s world where she is bullied by a friend and learns how to cope and thrive. Relational aggression is an act of emotional bullying hidden among tightly knit networks of friends. Instead of using knives and fists to bully others, emotional bullies employ relationships, words, and gestures as their weapons of attack. Emotional bullying is often dismissed as a normal rite of passage, but research shows it is as harmful as physical aggression, with devastating, long-term effects.
Name-calling, humiliation, exclusion, and manipulation are some bullying tactics Monica’s friend Katie employs. Monica learns to face her fears of betrayal and social isolation and reclaims her power from the bully with the help of a supportive adult – her mother. Included in this wonderful resource for children, parents, teachers, and counselors are helpful tips, discussion questions, and additional informatio
- The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party… until, that is, a new kid comes to class.
When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.
From esteemed author and speaker Trudy Ludwig and acclaimed illustrator Patrice Barton, this
gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource.
Includes backmatter with discussion questions and resources for further reading.
Helpline to report against bullying: call 1098 to seek help for bully against children