Every parent fears that their child will have to deal with a bully. A bully can take a toll on the confidence of even the most outgoing children, and the effects of bullying can be extremely serious. If you’re finding yourself in a situation where your child has a bully, here are some steps you can take:

1. Understand Why

When you realize your child is being bullied, your first emotion is likely anger. It’s normal to be upset about a bully; the consequences for the victims of bullies are very serious. However, it’s important to understand why bullies act the way they do. This can help you view the issue more objectively and also help guide the actions you take against bullying.

Typically when someone is bullying others, it’s because of unhappiness or insecurities in their own life. Putting others down, threatening violence, or even physically hurting others is not healthy behavior, so it makes sense that the people who do these things aren’t healthy themselves. Particularly for children, the feelings of insecurity and extreme need for attention that leads them to bully is indicative that they are also hurting.

Children who bully often come from homes where they are neglected, exposed to drug or alcohol abuse, or do not receive positive affirmations. They may live in poverty or have parents who suffer from mental illness. Bullies often have low self-esteem and feel relief from taking power from others.

While understanding why children bully doesn’t justify the actions of a bully, or make you feel better if your child is a victim, it can help put things into perspective. Understanding where a bully is coming from can be very productive in resolving conflicts, particularly if you plan to speak with the offender’s parents.

2. Communicate with Your Child

Bullying affects victims in many different ways, which is why it’s important to talk to your child about how they feel.

The high levels of stress associated with bullying can cause physical symptoms. This is why when many children are bullied, they will say that their tummy hurts to avoid going to school — it’s probably true. You can relate to unpleasant feelings of anxiety, which can make it hard to focus on the work you need to do, which is why victim’s grades often suffer.

Kids who are bullied might be nervous to talk to their parents or teachers about what’s happening out of fear of making the bullying worse. However, it’s important to connect with your child and discuss what is happening to them and to take steps towards ending the harassment. When your child feels comfortable talking to you about their feelings about the bullying, you can help them work through them, and reaffirm that they are important, valuable, and do not deserve the abuse they’ve received.

Take time to do some special activities with your child where you emphasize that differences should be celebrated. Talk about the things your child is good at, and tell them why you’re proud of them. Building up your child can give them the confidence to stand up to a bully.

3. Reach Out at School

If your child encounters a bully at school, it’s very important to alert school officials as quickly as possible.

Sometimes the effects of bullying, especially long term, may result in a situation where the victim would best be helped by a professional. School counselors are properly equipped to deal with the trauma of bullying and to deal with bullies themselves. Counseling can help a child cope with bullies, and school counselors can work as a neutral intermediary between your child and their bully. School counselors are also often on site, so they can work to combat bullying when it’s happening.

Your child’s teachers will also be key in helping you deal with a bully. A teacher who’s aware of bullying can stop the bully the moment they observe abusive behavior, work to separate the bully from the victim, and discipline the bully when they act. Teachers can often work with both sets of parents to alleviate the harassment.

Your school may also provide a parent directory, where you can find information about where to contact the parent of the bully. Speaking calmly and objectively to the parent of your child’s bully can often do a great deal of good. Parents of bullies often feel horrible about the actions of their child and will work to help stop the abuse.

4. Build Skills

It is never a child’s fault when they are the victim of bullying, so there isn’t anything you can do to guarantee that your child won’t be bullied. It can be easy to go into full helicopter parent mode in your attempts to protect your kid, which can actually be more damaging to your child’s self-confidence and independence. However, bullies often target individuals who they feel are vulnerable or who are different from them. By helping your child feel confident and teaching them that their differences are good, you can build skills that will boost their ability to deal with a bully.

One of the best ways to prevent bullying is to encourage children to stand up for other children who are bullied. When a victim of bullying is surrounded by support from their peers, a bully is likely to stop the abuse. Intervention from peers is much more powerful than that from teachers, parents, or counselors.

If the issue is cyberbullying, encourage your child not to reply to the bully. If you can find out who the cyber bully’s parents are, contact them, as well as the child’s teachers if they attend the same school. Save the messages the bully sends your child, but don’t keep them where your child can access or re-read them — dwelling on the hurtful words won’t help them recover.

Most importantly, remind your child that they didn’t do anything wrong and that they are not the issue. Building your child’s confidence won’t always make the bully stop, but bullies often back down if their victim stands up for themselves. Let your child know how loved they are and celebrate what makes them unique, and they’ll begin to realize that their value isn’t defined by their bully.