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  1. Home
  2. How to Prevent Bullying
  3. Respond to Bullying

Respond to Bullying

Stop Bullying on the Spot

When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time. There are simple steps adults can take to stop bullying on the spot and keep kids safe.

Do:

  • Intervene immediately. It is ok to get another adult to help.
  • Separate the kids involved.
  • Make sure everyone is safe.
  • Meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.
  • Stay calm. Reassure the kids involved, including bystanders.
  • Model respectful behavior when you intervene.

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Don’t ignore it. Don’t think kids can work it out without adult help.
  • Don’t immediately try to sort out the facts.
  • Don’t force other kids to say publicly what they saw.
  • Don’t question the children involved in front of other kids.
  • Don’t talk to the kids involved together, only separately.
  • Don’t make the kids involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot.

Get police help or medical attention immediately if:

  • A weapon is involved.
  • There are threats of serious physical injury.
  • There are threats of hate-motivated violence, such as racism or homophobia.
  • There is serious bodily harm.
  • There is sexual abuse.
  • Anyone is accused of an illegal act, such as robbery or extortion—using force to get money, property, or services.

Find Out What Happened

Whether you’ve just stopped bullying on the spot or a child has reached out to you for help, follow the steps below to determine the best way to proceed.

  • Keep all the involved children separate. 
  • Get the story from several sources, both adults and kids.
  • Listen without blaming.
  • Don’t call the act “bullying” while you are trying to understand what happened.

It may be difficult to get the whole story, especially if multiple students are involved or the bullying involves social bullying or cyberbullying. Collect all available information.

Determine if it's Bullying

There are many behaviors that look like bullying but require different approaches. It is important to determine whether the situation is bullying or something else.

Review the definition of bullying. To determine if this is bullying or something else, consider the following questions:

  • What is the history between the kids involved? Have there been past conflicts?
  • Is there a power imbalance? Remember that a power imbalance is not limited to physical strength. It is sometimes not easily recognized. If the targeted child feels like there is a power imbalance, there probably is.
  • Has this happened before? Is the child worried it will happen again?
  • Have the kids dated? There are special responses for teen dating violence.
  • Are any of the kids involved with a gang? Gang violence has different interventions.

Remember that it may not matter “who started it.” Some kids who are bullied may be seen as annoying or provoking, but this does not excuse the bullying behavior.

State law and school policy may have additional guidelines for defining bullying behavior.

Once you have determined if the situation is bullying, support the kids involved.

Date Last Reviewed