Witnessing a Bullying Incident

Here’s What to Do Next

Though previous generations were taught to "let kids work things out for themselves," new studies on the long-term impacts of bullying indicate that a more active response is critical to helping our children cope.  The first instinct of most adults is to step in and prevent harm where kids are involved, and in the case of highly emotional and potentially physical bullying, that is exactly what the experts recommend. But it can be difficult to know what is helpful versus harmful when addressing an altercation as the adult in the room.  Here is a quick checklist of what to do the next time you are a witness:


  • Intervene immediately. Get another adult to help if needed.
  • Create space between the kids, and 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.


  • Don't ignore it – kids should NOT be left to work it out without help from adults.
  • Don't immediately try to sort out the facts; wait until calm is restored.
  • Don't force bystanders to say publicly what they saw (fear of bullies will influence).
  • 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.*

Immediately afterwards, bring the incident to the attention of teachers, counselors, and administrators who are trained to deal with the situation.  Encourage them to provide constant adult supervision and implement bullying prevention programs if not already in place.  If you feel that your concerns are not being addressed, bring them to the attention of teachers' groups as well as the PTA.

Finally, recognize that kids are always watching.  Lead by example and train those in your sphere of influence to be positive representatives of empathy, sensitive to the challenges and differences of others and always treating people with respect.  You have no idea how many will be helped simply by the power of your example…

If this article was helpful to you, please check out the others we've prepared to help bring awareness to the terrible problem of Bullying (October is National Bullying Prevention Month):

*Respond to Bullying, Stop Bullying on the Spot, www.StopBullying.gov