Ask An Expert / Bullying

My sister is being bullied, but says it’s not that bad. Can I help without losing her trust?

The key is to talk to her about what's happening at school, give advice without judgment

Jamie M. Howard, PhD
Jamie Howard, PhD

Clinical Psychologist, Anxiety Disorders Center, Director, Trauma and Resilience Service

Child Mind Institute

My sister is being bullied, but says it's not that bad and it doesn't matter. How can I help without losing her trust?

This is a really good question. It sounds like you really want to help, but you don’t want to push, and you want to make sure she’s being honest — to find out whether or not it’s really bothering her without doubting that she is telling the truth. What you want to do is keep lines of communication open, and keep validating her and continue to check in with her.

If she says it’s “not that bad” and it doesn’t matter, ask her more specifically, “What exactly happened?” And if you’re her big sister or brother, you’re in a position to evaluate whether or not what she is experiencing is acceptable or not, and suggest courses of action. Like, “Should we talk to your teachers? Should we talk to mom and dad about this?”

And I would rehearse some strategies with her. If what’s going on is name-calling, you could say, “Put on that poker face and walk away. Act like you don’t care.” And, “Who are some good friends you have? Who are some friends that are consistently nice to you?” The idea is to support her, and try to get her to spend more time in a more constructive environment.

If she says it’s not that bad, I understand that you don’t want to push. But you can tell her that a lot of people might think that it is a problem, that it’s understandable if it did upset her, and if it doesn’t you can still talk about it and that you will be there for her and continue to check in on her.