Putting a STOP to Bullying – What Parents Can Do to Put a Stop to Bullying


We all hear about bullying and the negative impact on kids and their self-confidence, but until it happens to you, it’s difficult to imagine how it feels as a parent knowing your child is the victim and not some abstract story you hear about on the news.

I didn’t think much of it when I picked my 10-year-old up from basketball camp when he was a little quiet because he was bound to be tired from the 9-hour days at camp. When he was still quiet when I gave him the milkshake, I thought something may be going on, wondering if it was more than the exhaustion from non-stop basketball drills were the reason he barely even touched it.

So I asked, “Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” Silence. I knew something was wrong, and in 5-4-3-2-1 seconds, I knew exactly what it was – bullying.

Shedding a tear, he said, “Mom, a lot of guys were taunting me today. It was terrible. They made fun of my jersey, told me my favorite player sucked and then said I sucked because I missed a bunch of shots. Then I got bullied on the court and pushed down. It went on all day.” By then the tears were flowing full stream.

My heart sunk. I wanted to protect my boy. I wanted take away the pain. And, in all honestly, I wanted to yell back at the boys who had bullied my son. But I didn’t do any of that.

Instead, I pulled the car over, looked directly at him and said, “I’m so sorry, Finn. That stinks. Big time. There are so many things I could say to you right now about how to handle yourself. First, though, I think it is more important to let you cry. Get all those feelings of frustration out. Then, I think a big sip of your shake is due. Also, finally, if you want, I’d love to give you a giant hug.” He took advantage of all three, and once he calmed down, we were able to talk.

Bullying is still seen by some as normal behavior that is “not big deal,” and while many cases of bullying do resolve themselves, bullying should not be taken lightly. Overreacting is not a good idea either. It’s important to assess the seriousness of the situation and respond accordingly.

How to STOP the Bullying Without Singling Your Child Out

#1: Keep your feelings in check – As a parent, you want to protect your child at all costs, especially when he or she is hurt. However, your child wants to protect you as well. When you show how upset you are, it adds more charge to the situation.

A parent overreacting can fuel any insecurities or anxieties your child is feeling causing him or her to shut down. Your child can feel like they are to blame for causing you grief. Instead, save those feelings until you are alone, and ask yourself, “What does my child need from me right now?”

#2: Provide a safe space for your child to express his or her feelings – Young people are emotional warehouses. They are filled with happiness, sadness, joy, frustration, calm, anger and so much more. As a parent, let your child know that it is okay to express those emotions.

Give him or her permission to cry or yell or just sit. Releasing those emotions in a safe space allows your child to move through the situation rather than hold it in or ignore it.

#3: Talk it out – Children are often reluctant to talk about being the victim of bullying so it is important to reassure them that talking about it will help and that you care about their well-being. Also, many kids think that telling their parents or teachers about being a victim of bullying will only make it worse so be sure to take positive steps that will not instigate the problem.

Ask your child what he or she has tried to do to stop the bullying and give them other ways to stop it. Give your child permission and suggestions on how to stop bullying themselves: using humor, or just remaining calm will stop bullying. When children react confidently and assert themselves to a bully, he will often stop without adult intervention.

Bullying is not about being right or wrong. It’s about feeling heard. Bullies want to feel heard. And, contrary to popular believe, bullies do not have low esteem. Actually, bullies generally feel good about themselves. They bully others for power.

Encourage your child to understand that just because someone says something about him or her doesn’t make it true. If your child diffuses the situation by shrugging it off or laughing – even if it is at oneself – it shows confidence. Again, the bullying isn’t really about your child. It’s about the bully feeling powerful, and bullies are less likely to feel powerful around those who feel confident.

#4: Continue to support your child in other ways – One of the best self-esteem boosters is to cultivate a habit of gratitude. Realizing your blessing can help to act as a shield against negative responses.

A few good exercises in gratitude include having a gratitude board (use a white board and write your blessings on it each day), a gratitude jar (write down notes of gratitude in a jar and pull them out at dinner), or just sharing what you are grateful for each day at breakfast, dinner or bedtime.

#5: Depending on the severity, report the bullying – If your child is a victim of bullying and it is cruel enough to cause physical, emotional or self-esteem damage, then you and your child should inform your child’s teacher and principal about the situation.

Schools have no tolerance for bullying and if they are aware of what is going on will work with parents and students to create a solution. Confronting the parent of your child’s bully may or may not be a good idea, so talk with the school first.

Sometimes the parents of a child who is bullying others will be unaware of what is going on and will be willing to help. Other times, those parents may deny that there is a problem or not want to help. Children are often afraid that they bully will find out that they told on them and bully them even more severely. While it is a legitimate fear, taking the proper, positive action will usually not result in more bullying.

Thankfully for us, there is a happy ending to our story. The next morning, as my son got ready for his last day of basketball camp, the tears were gone. They had been replaced with a renewed sense of worth.

As he put on a basketball jersey similar to the one he wore yesterday, I asked, “Is that the shirt you are wearing today?” His reply was, “Yep. I don’t really care what these kids think or say. I’m going wear my shirt because I like it. And, if they tease me, I’m going to say ‘Dude, really’ cuz bottom line is I don’t care if they like me because I like me.”

Has your child experienced bullying? What steps did you take to support your child and stop the bullying? Please share your experience in the comments below!

Julie Watson Smith, MHS, is a Leadership Mentor and the founder of Character Clubs, an afterschool program designed to inspire character, confidence and community in kids, ages 3-13. Julie is a vocal advocate for creating a culture of character that helps children learn to lead at home, school and in the world. To start the conversation in your home, check out her workbook, Karmic Acts of Character, designed for families.


About Author

Julie Smith, adolescent and family counselor and parent educator, specializes in improving the parent-tween/teen relationships. She helps parents and educators understand tweens-to-teens, so they, in turn, can help these kids understand themselves. Every day, Julie shares tween-to-teen perspectives, insights and answers questions from parents in in the Flipside of Parenting community. For more information or to Meet your Tween, visit www.juliesmith.com.


  1. Hi Julie, Timely article with great advice. I have been contemplating just how best to handle bullying when it comes to my son who is almost 3. I want to teach him to protect/defend himself without punching back or making him the bully.

  2. Good article. My 14 year old son has experienced bullying. He won’t talk to me about it other than letting me know that he gets picked on. I asked what they say, or what they tease him about, and he clams up. I reassured him that at some time in their lives, everyone has experienced some form of bullying, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. I shared my own personal stories from when I was in high school. I will continue to talk to him about it, and hopefully he will eventually open up.

  3. I’ve been volunteering with a children’s organization for several years, and I have been trying to figure out how to help the kids be more inclusive. Year after year, even though the people change (some leave the organization and new people join) the ‘group’ behaves the same. They find ways to ostrasize the one person who is a little ‘different’ and while not overtly resorting to bullying, they do other things, like avoiding being their partner when we’re doing pair activities and not wanting to play with them. We’ve had some great group discussions where the kids all talk about bullying and about respect; and almost every child has a story to tell. Yet, every year it’s the same. Do you have any advice that can help?

  4. Hi Cathy,

    Thanks for your comment, Cathy. Feeling left out can negatively impact a child’s self-esteem just as much as bullying. I work with many organizations on establishing a TEAM approach in their programs. A TEAM approach is one where you teach, engage, acknowledge and model. In doing so, you are showing the kids what you expect. One of the ways to do this is simply greeting each child as they walk in the door. This shows that YOU value them and in turn their classmates will start to notice one another. It’s also a good idea to start each program with what I call Grins and Wins. Grins and Wins is a time where kids can (1) share something they are grateful for, (2) share what they appreciate about a fellow classmate (cannot be a compliment on a physical trait – when I see someone left out, I usually share something I appreciate about them to set the tone) or (3) share something positive going on in their life. This begins to connect the kids to one another.

    Depending on the age of the kids, you could have them establish guidelines for their group. This works well with K-5. They usually come up with a list that says things like: we share, we treat each other with respect, no name calling, follow the Golden Rule, everyone is important, etc. You can guide them a bit as well to create an expectation that no one is left out. Until these guidelines or expectations become a habit with all, I have the kids repeat them to the class each time we meet. This invites the children to have a choice and a voice in their environment.

    Once I was working with a group of preschoolers, I noticed a bit of teasing and ostracizing of a new girl in class who had just arrived from India. I knew I had to nip this behavior in the bud so one day, I declared that everyone’s name was now Sheema. Everyone had to answer to their new name. After about 15 minutes of this, two things happened: Sheema smiled and laughed with the other kids and kids started asking if they could just use their name. This led us to a discussion of the importance of us being different. We then created posters for the wall that showed all the ways we were different AND all the ways we were alike. By the end of the week, Sheema had found three girls that loved the same things as her.

    I’m not sure how your group is structured, but you may want to consider creating “mix it up” groups each week so kids begin to play/work with new people. This is a fantastic way for kids to get to know one another. It also takes the pressure off of them to make the first move in getting to know someone new.

    I hope this helps, Cathy. Please keep me posted on what happens. And, if you have additional questions, let me know!

    With gratitude,

  5. Hi Karin,

    Thanks for sharing. It’s tough to be a teenager and adding bullying to the mix makes it even more difficult. It sounds like you are doing the right things by sharing your personal stories while also giving him the space to process. Just make sure he isn’t completely isolating himself from peers,friends and family. If he has interests outside of school, continue to encourage those. Feeling that you have a safe space where you are accepted as who you are is important. Some kids won’t open up to a parent as they don’t want to worry mom or dad. So, it may be helpful for him to identify someone he does feel comfortable talking to: a teacher, coach, pastor, older sibling, etc. Hope this helps, and please know that I’m thinking many good thoughts for you and your son.

    With gratitude,

  6. Thank you Julie! I honestly think this is one of the best posts I’ve read about handling bullying. Your response to your son was so brilliant, I hope I can remember when one of my girls experience bullying for the first time.

  7. My granddaughter – lovely, delightful, helpful child – was bullied. Pushed into a locker and locked in! Had magic marker put all over her face – in full view of many other ‘people’… including adults, at her school. The boys (amazingly it was BOYS not girls, doing this) were reprimanded and even suspended. But, it went on. Her mom finally took her out of that school. ME – I would have prosecuted. What they did was assault. Plain and simple. Don’t care if they’re only 13 – assault is assault. Mind you, I would be happy with just a visit from the police and a stern talking to – inlcuding to the parents. But, clearly, suspension wasn’t working. Brings back MY school days – no, I wasn’t bullied. My younger brother was and… I took care of that. My granddaughter is such a dear – always standing up for the underdog. We think that’s why they bullied her. She’s working to save puppies from puppy mills. All the more reason it breaks my heart when she gets picked on.

    In the end, you have to look at the big picture. If this had been normal behavior – yes, kids pick on each other all the time – the parents should find a way to put a stop to it. But, when it’s true bullying – the answers are not so clear. Removing my granddaughter was our answer. I feel bad for the next kid these boys go after.

  8. It’s sad that the child being bullied has to leave the school instead of the bullies being forced to relocate. Kudos to your daughter for making the hard decision to pull her out. 

  9. I hate to even think that it can happen, but I am so grateful for Julie’s sage advice so I can deal with it proactively if it ever comes up!

  10. My daughter is still traumatized (24 years old now)by the constant taunting and relentless intimidation she suffered.From comments about her being called ugly to spitting and slapping.When she told it got worse.I was in another state going through my own abusive relationship, and my grandmother helped raise her.I feel like I wanna cry just thinking about it .She didn’t tell me till a few years ago because she didn’t want me to feel bad and she was afraid what I would have done.I would rather have taken it in my own hands rather than know that NO ONE helped her.She played the piano in a talent show and the booed her off the stage at 12 years old! She still has issues with self esteem.I went though it too in school.Girls can be vicious!

  11. The sad thing about is some people do it and they are adults! My daughter was bullied and assaulted in college and she never went back! She didn’t tell me about all the horrible things till later.she still suffers mentally and physically.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story, Christl.

    The cruelty does have lifelong impact. I am shocked at how mean kids can be for no apparent reason.

    With the new tools bullies have to torture and taunt their victims via blog sites and social media, it’s even more important to educate parents on what they can do to prevent bullying.

    I sincerely hope your daughter has found a supportive network of friends.

  13. my son was a victim of bullying…for several years!  And the main culprit was his “best friend” but since his bf started it…everyone followed along and as strange as it may seem he felt his bf was then his only friend so he put up with it.  And sadly…I had no clue 🙁  until the damage was done.  He has been in and out of adolesent mental hospitals three times now in the last 6 months.  Hes depressed and suffers from sever social anxiety.  I just dont know what to do?  He will rarely open up and talk about it, not even to his therapist.  Hes been in and out of three schools and the school yr isnt even over. 
    How do we stop this?  How do I get him the help when he wont talk about it?  Im so lost…..

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