How can I help my daughter deal with bullies?

My 10-year-old is being bullied constantly at school. A group of three girls takes her lunch or lunch money and calls her names. She pleaded with me not to say anything to the principal for fear that they will retaliate even more. But it pains me just to sit by and do nothing!

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Dr. Ellen Rome is a board-certified pediatrician who was among the first in the U.S. to be board certified in adolescent medicine. She... Read more

Doing nothing will not help her build her self-help skills or increase her self-esteem. You have several options that you can pursue. First, help pin down what her fears are when she is approached by these girls. Then help coach her on what she can do at that moment. If she fears being beaten up, then enroll her in karate or another self-defense class to build her confidence and teach skills. If she fears name calling and lack of respect from her peers, you can tell her that she will be more likely to earn her peers’ respect by being able to stand up to the bullies, making sure these bullies are appropriately disciplined, which will protect the next kid and give her pride in herself and her ability to “take care of business.” You can also try having her enlist friends to support her, since there is safety in numbers. For the isolated kid, this is harder, but to quote JoAnn Deak (author, educator and speaker), anything that promotes competence, confidence and connectedness helps to promote self-esteem.

Give her a short time span for trying her own solutions, with the stated caveat that the school will not want to tolerate bullying or violence if they know about it. Some schools have a zero tolerance for bullying policy, whereas other schools may still be finding their way. If after two to three weeks there is still an issue, recruit other families who are against bullying, and make it an issue at a PTA meeting, asking parents to help generate solutions and getting the school’s buy-in with positive pressure: “What kind of school do we want to support? One that condones bullying and does nothing to help the underdog as well as the bystander? Or do we want to teach positive values, with proactive solutions?” The American Academy of Pediatrics has a recent policy statement that further elaborates how to help the bystander, the victim, and the bully.