Beating the Bully

What to do if your child is being bullied.
What You Can Do

Teach your child how
to respond to bullies.

Of all parenthood's trials, perhaps the most vexing is knowing that your child has become the target of a bully. The "target child" is typically small for his or her age, quiet, sensitive, and well-liked by adults -- the type of child who "wouldn't hurt a flea." Although not necessarily unpopular with other children, the bully's victim rarely can claim a lot of friends. Consequently, other children aren't likely to come to his or her defense.

Further complicating matters is the fact that a bully's parents often deny the problem. They defend their child or rationalize the behavior. Because the bully is rarely held responsible, the aggressive acts tend to become increasingly outrageous, if not dangerous, over time.

When occasional taunting turns into conscious harassment, it's time for parents to step in. But what can you do? If you complain to school authorities, the bully is likely to find out and become that much more determined to hurt your child. If you complain to the bully's parents, you'll probably run into a brick wall.

There are several important things to keep in mind when deciding how to help your child deal with a bully:

  • Any direct intervention on your part may backfire. Bullies become even more determined when adults get involved.
  • Bullies can't be reasoned with. They tend to be very troubled children with poor self-concepts, poor social skills, and tumultuous family situations. Most of them are starved for affection and acceptance.
  • Bullies do understand force. If all else fails, consider asking law-enforcement authorities to get involved.
  • The bullying should be stopped as quickly as possible. The longer it continues, the longer it will take for the victim's emotional scars to heal. Also, some target children eventually begin expressing their anger toward younger and smaller children, or in more violent ways.

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