Expert Tips from Just Ask Children's


August 2015 JAC Banner

Keep your kids healthy with answers to parents’ top questions from the experts at Children's Hospital Colorado. Different popular topics are highlighted each month in our Just ask Children's eNewsletter.

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This month's topic: Bullying/Cyberbullying

We sat down with our panel of experts from Children’s Colorado to have a candid conversation about bullying/cyberbullying. Here are the top questions from parents and answers from our experts.


What do I need to know about bullying?

Look for the signs:

  • Isolation from peers or family, withdrawal from normal activities, loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, irritability, changes in behavior, negative statements about oneself, loss/decline in self-confidence or self-esteem.
  • Younger children may show their distress in more externalized ways (i.e., by acting out).
  • Adolescents may become more withdrawn or internalize their distress. These behaviors can be signs of a problem at any age.

When does it start:

  • Bullying can begin early in elementary school years and is problematic at any age.
  • Cyber-bullying tends to be more of a problem in adolescence as teens become more actively engaged with social media, cell phones and the internet.
  • Younger teens and children may still be exposed to cyberbullying through technology such as online video games or other activities that expose them to online communities.

What makes a child a bully?

  • The development of bullying behavior, aggression and other problems usually depends on a combination of factors related to the child’s disposition and experiences.
  • Media violence does not create bullies nor are children just “born” this way.
  • However, media violence can desensitize children to real violence and normalize interpersonal aggression. 

Dealing with a bully:

  • Usually a parent should first reach out to other adults before confronting a child bully. Try to talk directly with the bully’s parents or teachers and school counselors about addressing the problem.
  • Ultimately, it’s important for the bully to know that their behavior is not acceptable.

Additional tips on preventing bullying

Phillip O’Donnell, psychologist, Children’s Hospital Colorado


Is it bullying or just kids being kids?

Bullying is any unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. There is a substantial range in the intensity and impact of bullying, from mild taunting to overt physical violence.

The three most common types of bullying are:

  • Verbal — teasing, name-calling, inappropriate comments or threats of violence
  • Social or relational — excluding someone on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors or embarrassing someone in public
  • Physical — hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping or pushing

Bullying can happen during or after school as well as online. Cyberbullying can be messages posted anonymously and sent quickly to many people.

  • Once these messages have been sent, deleting any comments or pictures from the Internet is incredibly difficult, so discuss these dangers with your child as he or she becomes more technologically savvy.
  • Monitor your child’s online interactions frequently and set limits on the amount of time he or she spends engaging in social media.
  • Encourage more face-to-face peer interactions.

Learn more about bullying and cyberbullying 

Natalie Walders Abramson, PhD, pediatric psychologist, Children’s Hospital Colorado


It’s never been an issue, but I want to keep it that way. How do I prevent my child from being bullied?

A new setting with new people often creates a new social dynamic. Changing schools or participating with a new peer group can set up a bully situation. Even if the players haven’t changed but bullying could still present itself.

The following are some ways to prepare your child and prevent bullying:

  • Encourage him or her to be a friend and to make new friends.
  • Some kids might worry about making new friends and “fitting in." Finding a safe, welcoming group is a great foundation for dealing with the ups and downs of school. Learn more about helping your kids make friends.
  • Help your child understand that every part of building friendships is a skill, so the more they practice, the better they will get. Some of the skills may be: introducing yourself, showing interest in others’ comments, finding common ground from which to build upon, inviting people to do things, etc.
  • One person's "joke" can easily be another person's hurt feelings. Coach children on considering how their words and actions could be interpreted by others. Set expectations early on for appropriate behavior, and listen to how they interact with their friends.
  • Teach your child empathy and how to be a good friend.
  • Research shows that hostility between siblings is not innocent and can leave a lasting, detrimental impact. Do not tolerate bullying or aggression between siblings.
  • Know your child’s online world – check their postings and visit sites they frequent.

See Children's Colorado's infographic on bullying.

Natalie Walders Abramson, PhD, pediatric psychologist, Children’s Hospital Colorado


How do I know if my child is being cyberbullied?

Cyber-bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that takes place using electronic technology (phones, tablets, computers, as well as social-sharing sites and apps). This type of bullying tends to be more of a problem in adolescence as teens become more actively engaged with technology. Younger teens and children may still be exposed to cyberbullying through online video games or other activities that expose them to online communities.

Five ways to find out if your child is being cyberbullied:

  • Ask them. It’s always best to promote an open dialogue with children about things that might make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable on and off-line. Just asking a child directly if they have been bullied or made to feel uncomfortable, threatened or unsafe online can be the best way to start this conversation.
  • Pay attention to changes in mood and behavior. This can be a signal that something is wrong. If a child is becoming more irritable, withdrawn, sad or anxious, this can be a sign of cyberbullying or that your child is dealing with other stressful situations in his or her life.
  • Be aware of what your child is doing online. Ask them to share with you the websites they like to visit and people they connect with online. Although close supervision is very important when children are engaging in unsafe online activities, parents can usually monitor their children’s online activities simply by expressing a genuine interest in learning about what they like to do online.
  • Set limits on when and where internet accessible technology can be used. Use computers, tablets, and internet-connected phones in shared spaces at home (kitchen, den, living room) and keep children’s bedrooms technology-free. This creates important boundaries around technology use and also helps parents better monitor their children’s online activities.
  • Talk to your child about safe and unsafe online practices. Children may not be aware of the risks associated with cyber-bullying or other unsafe online activities. The internet provides a sense of anonymity that can increase the risk that children will fall victim to bullying or predatory behaviors. 
Find out if your child is being cyberbullied

Phillip O’Donnell, psychologist, Children’s Hospital Colorado


I think my child IS the bully – what can I do?

You got a call no parent wants to get. Your child’s teacher, coach, or the parent of his or her friend has called because there was an incident, and your precious child was… the bully! Parents play a key role in preventing and responding to bullying behavior.

The 5 Ways to Respond If Your Child is Bullying Others:

  • Take it seriously and be an active part of the solution. It’s important that parents – of bullies or victims – do not minimize the problem. Bullying should not be dismissed as “character building” or “just part of growing up.” 
  • Talk to children about the consequences of their behaviors. Cyberbullying is very harmful to its victims and in some cases may result in legal charges. When bullying happens online, children may not realize the impact of their actions. It is important for parents to help their children understand that the victims of online bullying are real and so are the consequences.
  • Work with other adults involved in the situation, including the parents of the victim(s) and school personnel. If appropriate, talking with the victim’s family about an appropriate response to the problem may help repair some of the damage done and teach children about accountability for their behaviors.
  • Increase supervision of your child to ensure that he or she does not have opportunities to continue the bullying on or off-line. This may require more close supervision of their online activities, cell phone use, and communication with other parents or teachers.
  • Remain vigilant. Bullying tends not to be isolated to one victim or incident. Continue to be watchful of your child’s behavior over time. Praise your children when they are treating others in safe, respectful and appropriate ways.

See for additional suggestions on how to take a proactive stance to prevent bullying.

More resources for parents with their own child as a bully.

Phillip O’Donnell, psychologist, Children’s Hospital Colorado