Parenting with a PhD: Bullying, the Bystander Effect

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and we here at Birmingham Mommy want to provide you and your kids with some resources to help keep them and their peers safe from bullying. Happily, not all children experience true bullying at school; however, most witness it at one time or another. Research has found that one of the most significant tools for stopping bullying is bystanders involvement. Unfortunately, we are all subject to the “Bystander Effect,” the phenomenon in which people are less likely to offer help to a victim when others are present. We convince ourselves that someone else has already gone for assistance or is better equipped to help than we are and so we do…nothing.

For some particularly notable examples of the Bystander Effect, check out this Wiki page: Bystander Effect (WARNING: Some examples are graphic). Empower your child to be the one who helps instead of stands by watching with these tips. Talk about them together and review every so often.

1. Discuss options for getting help without getting hurt. It may not be safe for her to step between the kids involved but she can go get a responsible adult.

2. If it’s safe to do so, encourage your child to intervene verbally. Practice phrases he could use to diffuse the situation like, “Stop that. Leave him/her alone.”

3. Help your child understand how important it is that she not quietly watch, laugh at, or cheer on bullying. These kind of behaviors embolden the child who’s bullying and make worse abuse more likely.

4. Encourage your child to go for help right away. Talk about the Bystander Effect and how your child’s brain might convince him that someone else will do something or that it’s not his job to tell. Explain that your family does not tolerate bullying and that each member of your family has individual responsibility to get help for someone who’s being hurt. If you have a personal example of a time you intervened with bullying (or wish you had intervened), share the story with your kids. Explain how harmful bullying is for victims and how it can have life-long negative effects.

5. If the first adult your child tells is dismissive or admonishes her for “tattling,” encourage her to go immediately to another adult and to keep doing so until someone listens and intervenes. Explain that telling an adult when someone is being hurt is not tattling but is the right and brave thing to do. They might consider taking a friend with them to help them feel more comfortable.

6. Talk about being supportive and inclusive of children who are bullied. Explain that it can be hard to include someone others make fun of but that it will make a huge difference to that child and is unlikely to have a harmful effect on your child’s social standing.

7. If your child tells you about a situation where another child was being bullied, try to approach his story with a neutral tone and don’t blame your child if he didn’t get involved. Talk about what he can do differently next time. Remind him that other kids are likely thinking someone else will help so he needs to take responsibility to get an adult himself.

8. Be prepared to intervene if you see someone being harassed or hurt in the community, especially if your child is there watching. Your child will learn a lot from your words but even more from your example.

If you’re concerned that your child might be participating in bullying check out this article that will help you identify the signs

For more information on preventing bullying in your child’s school and community, visit , , or

About Kristen:

Kristen Berthiaume, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with Grayson and Associates. She obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky. She completed a predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post- doctoral fellowship in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) Program at Duke University Medical Center. She specializes in providing assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families dealing with the following issues: ADHD, learning disorders, social skill deficits, organizational problems, behavioral difficulties, anxiety, and depression. She generally focuses on behavioral and cognitive- behavioral techniques, but maintains a flexible approach to therapy. Her other day job is as mom to her daughters, ages ten and four, and seven-year-old son.

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