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Of all the challenges that school brings for students and their parents, one of the most unwelcome and worrying is bullying.

Bullying starts as early as first grade and peaks in middle school. About 1 in 5 students report being bullied each year, and figuring out how to respond is difficult. A parent’s first impulse—whether to fly into a rage and call the bully’s parents or dismiss the whole thing as “kid stuff”—is not necessarily the right path.

There is new understanding of bullying as a complex, multifarious problem that doesn’t lend itself to one-size-fits-all responses. Educators and psychologists are placing more emphasis on teaching students coping skills, encouraging children to tell adults when they’re bullied, and having parents work with teachers and school administrators to resolve problems.

Many children avoid telling their parents because they’re afraid Mom or Dad will contact the bully or the bully’s parents, sparking further embarrassment and retaliation, research shows. Most children who are bullied don’t report it to their teachers either, according to a National Academy of Sciences report on preventing bullying, released in May.

For a child, asking a bully to stop is hard. He may fear—sometimes rightly—that it will lead to retaliation. Still, when the bullying isn’t severe, some children are able to stand up to bullies themselves, with a little coaching and encouragement. Solving the problem on his own can increase a child’s self-confidence.

– Sue Shellenbarger

Read more: When a Bully Targets Your Child