Crying boy with several kids pointing at him.

Understanding and Combating Bullying at All Ages

Age-Appropriate Strategies For Recognizing and Dealing with the Torment

Throughout our lives, bullying can manifest in various forms, and addressing this issue is crucial for our emotional well-being. In this article, we will guide you on how to recognize and combat bullying, whether it’s happening to your child or you’re encountering it as an adult.

Early Childhood (Ages 3-7):

  • Start by teaching your child about kindness, empathy, and the importance of treating others with respect.
  • Introduce the concept using simple language and relatable examples, such as excluding others or saying hurtful things.
  • Encourage your child to express their experiences and feelings, assuring them that they can always talk to you.
  • Teach them how to stand up for themselves and others in a positive and respectful manner.

Late Childhood and Pre-Adolescence (Ages 8-12):

  • As your child grows, provide more information about different types of bullying, including verbal, physical, social, and cyberbullying.
  • Discuss the emotional impact and help them recognize signs of bullying in themselves and others.
  • Emphasize the importance of reporting incidents to a trusted adult.
  • Teach conflict resolution skills and how to assertively communicate boundaries.

Early Teen Years (Ages 13-15):

  • Delve deeper into discussions about bullying, including power dynamics that can contribute to it.
  • Address the influence of peer pressure and social media on bullying behaviors.
  • Encourage your teen to build a strong support network and be vigilant about online interactions.
  • Teach them about bystander intervention and how to support friends who may be experiencing bullying.

Late Teen Years (Ages 16-18):

  • Empower your child to take a leadership role against bullying as they approach adulthood
  • Discuss the importance of being an ally and standing up for social justice.
  • Encourage your teen to advocate for anti-bullying initiatives in their school or community.
  • Teach them about the legal implications of bullying and how to navigate reporting procedures if necessary.

Addressing the issue of bullying with your children is vital for their emotional well-being and for creating a safe environment. Bullying can take various forms, and it’s essential for parents to approach this topic with sensitivity and provide age-appropriate information.

Tips from Professionals:

  • Familiarize yourself with your child’s school policies regarding self-defense. Some districts encourage kids to stand up for themselves if they do not initiate fights, while others have a zero-tolerance policy where a child can be punished for defending themselves or others.
  • Avoid teaching children to be victims or bullies; instead, focus on building their confidence, assertiveness, and compassion.
  • Recognize that the advice of “just ignore them” or “defend yourself” doesn’t always work, and responses should be tailored to each situation.
  • If you suspect your child is being bullied, communicate with their teachers and ask for their support.

Consider enrolling your kids in a reputable martial arts program that addresses bullying. In Austin, Life Ki Do is a highly regarded program that offers parenting training and bully-proofing lessons. Quality programs teach valuable life skills like confidence, assertiveness, and compassion without promoting violence.

Types of Bullying

Physical Bullying

Bullying can make a child feel helpless. Some parents discuss with their kids that they won’t be punished at home for self-defense if they’re attacked at school. While violence should be avoided, it’s crucial to empower children to stand up for themselves or others being bullied.

Physical self-defense should be a last resort. Some parents advise kids to get away from the bully and inform a teacher, which is sound advice. But remember, reporting might lead to more bullying off-campus. Teach your child de-escalation techniques and, as a last resort, physical self-defense. High-quality martial arts programs often provide these skills.*

*In Central Texas, Life Ki Do offers valuable anti-bullying strategies.

Psychological/Emotional Bullying

Words can hurt deeply, and psychological bullies use words to break down their victims. This form of bullying derives power from psychological fear and submission. Don’t underestimate the damage a psychological bully can inflict; emotional scars take longer to heal than physical ones.


Cyberbullying refers to emotional abuse conducted over the internet, where the entire world can become an audience to digital ridicule. It often involves tactics like gossip, rumor-spreading, and threats. Cyberbullies use these methods to sow terror, making their victims anxious and fearful.

In today’s digital age, cyberbullying has become a troubling phenomenon. It allows cruel rumors, embarrassing pictures, hurtful notes, and humiliating videos to circulate globally within seconds. Vigilance in your children’s online activities is crucial, even if they resist your involvement. Keep an eye on their online interactions to ensure their safety. Be aware that seemingly harmless online games can also become breeding grounds for cyberbullying.

Post-Traumatic Stress and Bullying: A Real Concern

If you notice your child returning home with increasing signs of distress, it’s vital to recognize the severity of modern-day bullying and take it seriously.

Children facing bullying often hesitate to confide in adults due to feelings of vulnerability. They might have been threatened with more harm if they disclosed their situation. Bullying can lead to post-traumatic stress, and there are specific signs to watch out for.

Signs of Bullying and Post-Traumatic Stress:

  • Unexplained injuries, or injuries that don’t match the explanation
  • Lost money, books, etc.
  • Damaged property (books, clothing, etc.)
  • Your child coming home hungry because they didn’t eat lunch/snacks
  • Frequent headaches and stomach aches, often resulting in a desire to miss school
  • Unusual flinch reflex (i.e. you go to hug your child and they flinch)
  • Insomnia, nightmares
  • Social isolation. Avoidance of social interactions/gatherings
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Increased aggression at home. This includes aggression directed at pets
  • Running away and self-harming behavior

Conversations to Have with Your Child

Engage in regular discussions with your child to provide a solid framework for handling bullying situations. Look for opportunities in media or real-life situations to broach this topic, such as TV shows, movies, or public incidents of bullying. Encourage your child to share their perspective on how they would respond or offer advice to other kids facing bullying.

  • Strategic Avoidance

    While running from fear isn’t the goal, strategically avoiding the bully for a while can be wise. Sometimes, this causes bullies to lose interest. If the bullying persists, consider other strategies.

  • Buddy System

    Strength lies in numbers, and bullies are aware of this. They often target isolated victims. Encourage your child to stick with friends, as bullies tend to focus on individual targets.

  • Emotion Regulation

    Bullies thrive on fear. Teach your child to withhold reactions and not provide the emotional response bullies seek. Practice this skill together. Martial arts programs for children often incorporate these lessons. Nevertheless, it’s vital to equip your child with verbal and physical self-defense skills for extreme situations.

  • Assertiveness

    Encourage your child to stand up to the bully, but be cautious as bullies may escalate. Teaching your child to assert themselves firmly can convey strength and confidence, often deterring bullies. If they know self-defense, they can project even more confidence. Often, calmly telling the bully to “Back Off!” and walking away confidently can be effective. However, persistence may be required for the bully to realize your child is no longer a willing participant in their intimidation.

  • Communication with Trusted Figures

    Assure your child that talking to adults is not a sign of weakness. Share your experiences of dealing with bullies if you can relate. Highlight the importance of seeking guidance from trusted adults, friends, and mentors.

  • Engagement in Clubs and Activities

    Enroll your child in clubs or activities like martial arts schools, sports organizations, or youth groups. Many of these organizations actively teach anti-bullying strategies and provide opportunities to practice standing up to bullying. They also foster friendships that can offer support and solidarity.

Above all, focus on reinforcing your child’s self-esteem whenever possible. You don’t need to excessively praise them but take genuine opportunities to highlight their strengths. For instance, commend them when they assert themselves appropriately, resolve conflicts with friends or siblings, or discuss concerns with teachers. Positive reinforcement can boost their confidence and resilience in the face of bullying.

Guidance for Supporting a Child Affected by Bullying

Actions for Parents and Guardians

Recognizing signs of bullying and providing a safe space for your child to confide in you is crucial. Children often hesitate to discuss bullying due to embarrassment or fear of retaliation. Reassure them that it’s okay to talk to you or another trusted adult.

Be Supportive. Know Your Child’s Limits

Encouraging your child to stand up to a bully can be effective, but pushing too hard may overwhelm them. Trust your intuition and consult a counselor if needed. Focus on letting your child know they’re not alone, and reporting bullying doesn’t mean trouble for them.

Partner With Your Child’s School

Inform teachers and school administrators about bullying. Enroll your child in programs that teach confidence and self-defense, as these skills can deter bullies.

“What if I Suspect My Child is a Bully”

Recognizing whether your child is involved in bullying can be challenging, as there are various profiles, from overtly aggressive to seemingly “nice” bullies. Understanding these signs is crucial:

Signs of an Aggressive Bully

  • Frequent Aggression – Involvement in frequent fights or verbal conflicts with peers and teachers.
  • Academic Struggles – Demonstrating poor academic performance and rebelling against assignments.
  • Truancy – Skipping classes to evade potential academic failure.
  • Frequent Injuries – Displaying injuries consistent with fighting, like bruised knuckles or black eyes.
  • Damaged Clothing – Regularly having torn or blood-stained clothing.
  • Unexplained Purchases – Obtaining money without a clear source, possibly through bullying.
  • Angry Isolation – Demonstrating anger and distancing behaviors, both at school and home.
  • General Disrespect – Exhibiting disrespectful behavior beyond what’s typical for their age.

Signs of a “Nice” Bully

  • Reports from Other Kids – Receiving reports from other children about bullying behaviors, especially in online spaces.
  • Mean-Spirited Teasing – Overhearing mean-spirited teasing or taunting, even if your child claims it’s just playful banter.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Displaying fluctuating moods, potentially associated with underlying mental health issues.
  • Injuries – Engaging in physical altercations due to their darker side emerging.
  • Peer Group – Evaluate your child’s peer group, especially if they associate with a clique that gains popularity through pushing others down.
  • School Concerns – Receiving communication from your child’s school or extracurricular groups about concerning behavior.

How to Respond If You Suspect Your Child Is Bullying Others

If you suspect or confirm that your child is involved in bullying behavior, it’s essential to understand that they may be struggling internally, often due to stress within the home environment. To address this issue effectively:

  1. Seek Professional Help: Consult a child counselor or psychologist to understand the underlying issues. This may involve addressing your concerns as well since your behavior significantly influences your child’s actions. Your willingness to address these issues demonstrates your commitment to their well-being.
  2. Collaborate with the School: Work closely with your child’s school as they can provide insights and solutions. Remember that 80% of behavior change in a child is directly linked to changes in their parent’s behavior, underlining the importance of your guidance and modeling.
  3. Implement Natural Consequences: Instead of punitive measures, use immediate, natural consequences for undesirable behavior. Explain calmly that certain behaviors have consequences designed to motivate improvement. Consistency in enforcing consequences is crucial to maintain credibility and respect.
  4. Co-parenting: If you are divorced or separated, focus on effective co-parenting to provide a consistent and supportive environment for your child during this confusing time.
  5. Promote Positive Values: Encourage compassion, respect, and kindness in both yourself and your child as preventive measures against bullying.

Adults and Bullying: Beyond Childhood

Bullying is not limited to the schoolyard; it can also manifest in the workplace and social settings among adults. Addressing these situations requires a mature and thoughtful approach:

In the Workplace

Workplace bullying, whether from a boss or someone in a position of power, can range from annoying to infuriating. As adults, you have the advantage of engaging in calm, direct conversations to address the issue. Avoid accusations, as they can trigger defensiveness. Instead, aim for mutual understanding and necessary changes.

If you’re uncomfortable with this approach, consider discussing the matter with your supervisor or Human Resources (HR). In some cases, their intervention may be necessary, as an unsafe work environment benefits no one.

In Social Settings

Adults can also face bullying in social settings, such as bars, parties, or online discussions about politics. When alcohol is involved, aggression can escalate quickly. In such cases, it’s often best to gracefully exit. Trying to reason with an intoxicated person may not be productive. If you’ve been drinking, ensure you have a safe way to get home, such as calling a cab or a ride-sharing service.

Politics, and Social Media

In political discussions, emotions run high, and some individuals may vent their frustrations in ways that resemble bullying. On social media, this behavior might manifest as passive-aggressive comments, taunts, or thinly veiled ridicule. If these interactions bother you, resist the urge to engage in heated debates or respond with counterattacks. Instead, unfollow or mute individuals whose posts frequently upset you. It’s important to acknowledge that not every disagreement requires a response, and disengaging can be a wise choice.

If you’ve found yourself caught up in online disputes, it’s okay to privately message the other party and apologize if your responses were heated. Most people are understanding and have been in similar situations. While it’s not obligatory, it can foster a more constructive environment. If you’ve established a pattern of snarky, condescending, or offensive comments, consider making public or private apologies as a step toward improved interactions.


Bullying is a complex issue that affects people of all ages. As parents, we must educate our children about how it harms people, provide them with tools to deal with it and create an environment where they feel safe to share their experiences. Additionally, adults should be aware of bullying in the workplace and social settings, striving to address it calmly and responsibly.

By understanding the different forms of bullying, recognizing the signs, and taking appropriate action, we can work together to combat this pervasive problem and promote kindness and respect in our communities.

Bullying Resources

Bullying Resource Center – A source of information from the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Bullying Prevention – From the Austin Independent School District. Information on Bullying and Prevention.

Texas Education Agency – Coordinated School Health – Bullying and Cyberbullying. Information from the TEA regarding bullying and the law.

Center for Parent Information & Resources – A resource for parents to learn about bullying and how to help.

*Updated August 28, 2023

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Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level 2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.


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