8 Things Kids Should Do When They Witness Bullying

Empower your child to be an effective bystander

One girl pulling another girl's hair on the bus
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In all bullying incidents, there is one person impacted who is often overlooked – the bystander. Although bystanders are not the primary targets of bullying, they are still affected. In fact, bystanders can suffer from guilt, anxiety, depression and feelings of helplessness.

Bystanders can even experience what is known as the bystander effect. The bystander effect occurs when people witness an event like bullying when a large group of people are around.

They are less likely to help the victim because they believe someone else will do it.

It is extremely likely your children will witness at least one bullying incident in their lifetime. As a result, it’s important to equip your kids with the ability to recognize that bullying is wrong. It’s also a good idea to give them appropriate tools for responding to bullying. Not only does an appropriate response to bullying help the victim, but it also helps your child avoid the negative effects of witnessing a bullying incident.

Here are some ways your child can respond to bullying at school.

Avoid joining in or laughing. Sometimes kids will chime in or laugh when bullying occurs. Explain to your children that you expect them not to join in the bullying. Even if they don’t feel brave enough to do something, they can at least avoid giving in to peer pressure and laughing.

Walk away. Sometimes bullies are simply looking for attention.

And, if they do not have an audience, they will stop. Tell your kids that sometimes all it takes is to help a victim is walk away from the incident or to ignore the bully. Still, remind your child to report the bullying to an adult so that it doesn’t happen again.

Tell the bully to stop. Usually if a bully is not getting positive attention from the crowd, he will stop what he is doing.

It only takes one or two people to show disapproval and the bullying will end. Tell your children to use this method only if they feel safe in doing so. If the bully poses a physical threat, another option might be to find help.

Get an adult. Encourage your child to calmly walk away from a bullying incident and go find help. This should be done discreetly in order to keep your child out of harm’s way.

Use a cell phone to call or text for help. Most tweens and teens have cell phones these days. If your child is one of these kids, tell him that he can always call or text an adult and ask for help. This keeps him from having to say something directly to the bully, but gives him a way to help the victim. Some schools have even implemented help lines where kids can text or call anonymously when someone is being bullied.

Request other bystanders to stand up too. Sometimes it is safer and more effective if a group of kids confront the bully. In fact, research shows that when peers intervene in a bullying incident, the bullying stops nearly 60% of the time.

Address cyberbullying. Remember, your child doesn’t have to be physically present to be impacted by bullying. Witnessing a classmate being targeted online can affect your child too. Be sure you teach her how to report cyberbullying. For instance, your child should save the posts and report the cyberbullying to an adult. What’s more, many social media sites have mechanisms for reporting abuse. Help her become familiar with how to report harassment.

Support the victim. Sometimes the best way to help is to be a friend to the victim. In fact, research shows that having at least one friend can deter bullying. Give your child ideas on how to be a friend to victims of bullying. This might mean walking to class together, sitting with them at lunch and inviting them to social events.

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