Grandparents: 5 Ways to Deal With a Bully (or Bullied) Grandchild

Bullying has been in the news far too much lately. It's heartbreaking, life-changing and all too often life-ending.

What constitutes bullying and how prevalent is it? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2009 that 20 percent of high school students nationwide experienced bullying. The National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics reports 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 experienced bullying in 2008-09.  The federal government-run website,, defines bullying as:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose." Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles."

How can family members help kids who are bullied? And just as importantly, how can we prevent kids in our family from doing the bullying? It's an issue that families are increasingly concerned about and they are getting involved. A recent AARP Grandparent Study found that 53 percent of grandparents surveyed have talked with their grandchildren about peer pressure and bullying. Interviews with grandparents also tell us that they worry about the health and safety of their grandkids. As family members, we want to help but often feel powerless.

Here are 5 ways to start:

  • Is a child in your family is at-risk of being bullied? It's hard for us to see children in our family as being vulnerable to bullying. They all seem perfect in our eyes - and they are. But their peers have all sorts of perceptions that are driven by issues we can't control. Children who are seen by their peers as being different (which could mean anything from wearing glasses or braces to being overweight, less popular, smarter, shorter, taller or dressing differently,) weaker (physically or emotionally - including those who may have a mental illness,) or who have annoying or provoking behaviors are often at -risk for bullying.
  • Do you have a potential bully in the family? Having a bully in your family can be just as agonizing as having a child who is bullied. Bullies may fall into two extremes:
    1. Those who are high in social power among peers and are very concerned about their popularity and like to dominate and be in leadership role; and
    2. Those who are more isolated, feel insecure and have a hard time connecting with others.

Bullies may have more aggressive tendencies and may have been bullied or abused themselves by family members or friends. They may have friends who are bullies. They may have a marked lack of empathy and inability to put themselves in the position of others. Their strength may be physical but not necessarily - they try to be in a position of power in other ways as well.

  • Talk with kids about bullying. Many kids don't report bullying. They're embarrassed, scared of retaliation or afraid family members won't understand or will make it worse.
    • They might talk to their peers about bullying, but as a family member you may have to initiate the conversation.
    • Stay calm and minimize the drama.
    • If a child is being bullied, discuss how to react, get help, stay safe and report bullying.
    • If you suspect a child is a bully, make sure they know it's not acceptable and you can help them find other ways to behave and make friends.
    • Get them counseling and support from a qualified professional outside the family if needed. If a child is witnessing bullying, encourage them to treat the child being bullied with kindness and support.
  • Educate yourself and the kids about all types of bullying.Visit websites about bullying together (see below) and read books together.
    • Watch the award-winning film, "Bully," out in movie theaters across the nation and encourage schools to use the discussion guide available from
    • Attend school and community forums on bullying.
    • Contact the child's school and ask what they are doing to prevent and respond to bullying - and be sure to report bullying if you see it happening.
    • Learn about cyber-bullying and how to keep kids safe on the internet.
    • Remember that bullying behavior can start very young, so take advantage of resources for young children as well.  
  • Be a role model: Show how to accept and treat others with respect. Family members have the most power of all over children's behaviors, so use it wisely and know that everything you do is a visible influence.
    • Encourage kids to be kind by doing so yourself.
    • Foster empathy and compassion by showing kids in your family that you accept people who are different than you.
    • Give them reinforcement for helping others, not taking advantage of or being better than others.
    • If you see someone being bullied - stop it.

Additional Resources:

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