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Categories: Pediatrics

Bullying Prevention and Intervention  

Breeanna Thames, LMSW

Many children and adolescents know or have dealt with a bully at some point in their lives, whether in school, a community setting, or online. The National Bullying Prevention Center statistics show one out of five students report being bullied, and 41 percent of those who are bullied think they will be bullied again. While males report a higher percentage of being physically bullied, females more often report being the subject of rumors or purposely excluded from activities or groups.

Bullying can look like verbal and physical attacks, spreading rumors, excluding someone from a group or activity, name-calling, or teasing an individual for their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical appearance, or academic performance. Cyberbullying involves a person who verbally threatens or demonstrates harassing behavior toward another person through electronic technology such as cell phones, email, social media, or text messaging.

A victim of bullying is at greater risk of developing mood disorders like anxiety and depression, which can affect their education, health, and safety. Youth who endure bullying may avoid school or other social functions, have lower grades, exhibit decreased concentration, and experience increased drop-out rates compared to those who have not experienced any form of bullying.

Whether you think your child is actively being bullied or not, it’s important to explore the subject from a mental health perspective and hear their thoughts about it. Open a discussion to normalize talking about bullying and provide a safe and judgment-free space to help a child process any thoughts, experiences, and feelings related to bullying.

Helpful techniques to explore include discussing appropriate social skills like advocating for oneself and others by asking the bully to stop, and not joining in when someone else is being bullied. Parents can also discuss and teach online etiquette, including only saying things online they would say in person, refraining from sharing personal information or photos of others without permission, not spreading false information about others, and only accepting friend/follow requests from people they know.

Other important topics to discuss about potential or active bullying include:

  1. Tell an adult. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you trust – a parent, teacher, or adult friend. Finding help for bullying is an important first step.
  2. Aim to not show the bully how you are feeling. A bully wants to get a reaction and is looking for a target. Aim to act neutral or unbothered. When you don’t show that a bully is bothering you, they are more likely to move on.
  3. Avoid the bully. When at all possible, do not engage with a bully. Bullies often like an audience, and if others ignore their bullying behavior, it shows them their actions are not cool or funny.
  4. Act confident. Bullies do not usually tease those who seem confident. Even if you are afraid and don’t feel confident, you can pretend. The bully will not know.
  5. Respond neutrally. If you have to respond, keep a calm, even tone. A bully may become bored with neutral responses such as whatever, I don’t know, or I don’t care.

Assertiveness and conflict resolution skills can be taught by providing hypothetical situations and having your child explore possible solutions. Encourage your child to role-play with a parent, friend, or family member. If a child has a planned response to bullying scenarios, they have a greater chance of acting positively rather than negatively. Role-playing also provides an opportunity to strengthen problem-solving skills.

Modeling positive self-talk and using daily affirmations could help build and strengthen self-esteem. It can also be helpful to increase healthy social outlets and find options your child is interested in, such as signing up for a club or recreational activity in or out of the school setting. Social connections can be an added protective factor.

Parents can be mindful of the possibility of bullying by observing their children and assessing for changes in their day-to-day mood, appetite, sleep schedule, socialization, and physical and emotional health. Some warning signs to watch for include, but are not limited to, avoiding school, withdrawn or isolating behavior, a decrease in academic performance, frequent complaining of stomachaches or headaches, sleeping more or less than usual, nightmares, self-harm or hurting others, and increased irritability and/or fear.

If your child is being bullied, they can develop coping skills to decrease anxiety or other mental health symptoms caused by bullying. Some of the coping skills include deep breathing, grounding techniques, and practicing mindfulness. Since the brain is not able to think of two things at the same time, focusing on breathing and surroundings or practicing mindfulness allows a distraction from the distressing situation. It can also be helpful to remind youth that emotions are a state, not a trait. This means emotions and feelings of anxiety are temporary and will pass. Sometimes knowing the negative feelings will pass soon can help lower the amount of anxiety felt. Teach your child to say and think, “I am okay,” or “This will be over soon.”

In addition to these skills, kids can implement a buddy system at school to ensure they have ongoing support. This would include having a friend, peer, or teacher present when going from one class to another, the cafeteria, or the playground. Children should have a trusted adult available to discuss experiences with such as a school-based therapist, guidance counselor, favorite teacher, or parental figure. In regard to cyberbullying, children can unfriend, unfollow, report, or block online bullies. Parents can also monitor social media, email, and texts for appropriate use of technology.

There are many free resources online, including the National Bullying Prevention Center for kids, teens, parents, and educators at

If your child is experiencing bullying or other mental health symptoms, it is crucial to contact their primary care provider to discuss counseling services and any additional interventions that could benefit the child. Kids and parents can utilize the 24/7 suicide and crisis lifeline when experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm by texting 988. Please remember you and your child are not alone, and help is available for bullying.

Breeanna Thames is a behavioral health consultant at HopeHealth Pediatrics in Florence. She works with children, adolescents, and families and is accepting new patients. For more information call 843-432-3700 or visit

Julia Derrick

Julia Derrick

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