Responding to Social Bullying

What to do if your child is excluded by peers.

Responding to Social Bullying


You cry inside when your child tells you, “Nobody wants to be my friend.” We can give our children many things, but the gift of peer friendship is not one of them. A child’s social network is his entrance into the world of social connection, allowing him to learn and experience the simple joy of playing and connecting with a peer outside of the family unit.

There is no rule that all children must like each other. However, once a child attempts to influence how others perceive and treat someone else, based on their own dislike of that person, that child has crossed the line and is engaging in social bullying.

Social bullying or bullying by exclusion can happen in every child’s life. Canadian researcher Debra Peplar reports that bullying occurs every seven seconds on the playground. However, these statistics only record overt bullying, that is, physical or verbal aggression. Social bullying is much more difficult to measure because, in most instances, it is not a “viewed” interaction. The child who is left off the sleep-over or birthday party list or the one not invited to the after hockey party rarely show up in statistical data.

Social bullying is not a new phenomenon; children have long been involved in socially isolating other children. It is only over the last few years, however, that we have begun to understand the deep-rooted effects this type of bullying can have on the emotional health of children, such as a higher risk of depression, psychosomatic ailments, school avoidance, and low self-esteem.

Social bullying is most often acted out by a group in which one child is seen as the leader. This leader holds the power within the group, which enables her to dictate how others will be treated within their social network. Group members must decide whose side they are on. They have only two choices. Speak out, draw the wrath of the leader and be ousted from the group, or take the easier road and go along with leader, reinforcing her views and further humiliating the victim.

If your child is a victim of social bullying, what can you do? First and foremost, you need to help your child understand that it is not her fault. The fault lies with the leader and the peer group that supports the leader’s actions.

Here are some suggestions to re-engage your child in a social network if they are being bullied:

  • Try to boost your child’s self esteem by having him recognize his own strengths and positive attributes.
  • Have your child volunteer or list kind deeds she does for others to increase her sense of self-worth.
  • Remember not to bully the bully. Do not badmouth the bully – this sends the message to your children that it is acceptable to put others down. You are only contributing to the cycle and perpetuating the problem.
  • Be a good role model when it comes to treating people the way you want to be treated.
  • Have your child participate in activities where she can connect with children with similar interests.
  • Encourage him to interact with other peers at school and within your community. Give him opportunities to invite new friends over to create bonds.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher and let him or her know what is happening.
  • Suggest that the topic of social bullying be covered in class.

The best thing we can do to protect our kids from social bullying is to ensure they have a strong sense of self-esteem so that they are not dependent upon the acceptance of others to feel their own self worth.

Author: Debra Cockerton

Debra Cockerton is a writer, counsellor and workshop facilitator. She can be reached at

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