Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(9):1729-1730

What is a bully?

A bully is someone who does or says mean things to get power over another person. Bullying is not just hitting, shoving, or kicking. A bully might call someone names or say bad things about them. A bully also might leave people out of activities on purpose or refuse to talk to them. Some bullies start rumors, threaten people, take things away from them, or force them to do things they don’t want to do.

Why are some people the victims of bullies?

Bullying can happen to anyone. Some bullies pick on people who seem different, whether it is the color of their skin, the way they talk or dress, their size, or their name. Some people are bullied because they have a disability. Sometimes bullies are mean for no reason we can see.

Why is bullying a problem?

Some adults think bullying is just a normal part of growing up. But this is not true. Bullying makes children feel lonely, sad, and afraid. It can make them think there is something wrong with them. They might not want to go to school or play with other kids. Some children who are bullied might even get sick.

What are some signs that my child is being bullied?

Some children who are bullied try to avoid certain things, or people, or places. They might stay home from school often or have trouble doing their school work. They might get a lot of headaches or stomachaches, or have trouble sleeping. They might start to wet the bed.

Some children who are bullied become quiet and keep to themselves. They might not have many friends. Some children who are bullied start causing trouble in school or at home. Some children act afraid or do not talk when they are asked about certain things or people.

Torn or missing clothes can be a sign that a child is being bullied. So can cuts, bruises, and scratches that the child can’t—or won’t—explain.

How can I help children who are being bullied?

You can tell children who are being bullied that it is not their fault. Try to make them feel better about who they are. Teach them how to stand up for their rights. But do not teach them to fight back. Tell them to try to ignore the bully.

Tell them that the problem can be fixed, but don’t expect the children to work it out on their own. Tell them that it is OK to ask for help. If the bullying happens at school, tell them to get help from a teacher, a principal, or other adult. Try to get involved at your child’s school, and see if there are programs there to help stop bullying. Getting children involved in sports teams and clubs also can help.

How can I stop my child from bullying others?

Do not let your child get away with bullying. Set clear rules and make sure your child follows them. Reward good behavior. Make sure you know what all of your children are doing and where they are. Know what they watch on TV, which movies they see, and which video games they play.

Think about the example you set as a parent. Make sure you control your temper and don’t use physical punishment (like spanking) or harsh language.

Look for warning signs in your child’s behavior such as angry outbursts, fighting, teasing other children, being mean to animals, setting fires, and using alcohol and other drugs. If you see any of these signs, talk to your doctor or your child’s school counselor.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor or school counselor.

Cyberbullying Research Center

The Nemours Foundation

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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