How to Deal With a Bully at School

Written by dad - 14 Comments

How do you teach your kids to deal with a bully? Our oldest son, who is currently ten (nearly eleven) years old and in 5th grade, told us last night that one of the kids in his class has been picking on him and calling him names.

A bit of background

While the name-calling has been pretty run-of-the-mill stuff so far, we don’t want it growing into something larger. Moreover, the kid in question apparently told our son that he’d “get him” during recess if he told a teacher. Given this, we’ve decided that it would best to nip it in the bud right now.

It seems that the protagonist is an equal opportunity bully, in that he’s been picking on and threatening a number of kids in the class, including a number of our son’s friend. From the sound of things, he’s a bit of a loner, and I suspect he’s lashing out because he feels left out.

Anyway, enough pop psychology…

Standing up to a bully

Rather than inserting ourselves into the situation, we’ve decided that it would be best for our son to try and work this out on his own, at least at first. To that end, we had a chat with him last night before bed and suggested some possible responses the next time this happens.

We certainly don’t want him to escalate things, so we’ve advised him to steer clear of this kid as much as possible. However, if confronted, we would like to see him stand up for himself, so…

First and foremost, we suggested that he respond to any further name-calling by simply making eye contact and telling the other kid (firmly and confidently) to:

“Stop calling me names.”

If asked what he’s going to do about it, we suggested that he respond matter-of-factly with:

“Tell the teacher.”

If he’s then greeted with a playground threat, we advised him to respond with:

“Stop threatening me. I’m not afraid of you.”

It doesn’t hurt that the kid is actually considerably smaller than our son, and he’s not actually afraid of him — he’s more annoyed than anything else. And to close with:

“If you don’t stop, I will tell the teacher.”

And then make good on his promise by telling the teacher.

The goal here is to be firm, confident, and non-provocative. In my experience, the vast majority of incidents like this happen because the protagonist enjoys getting a rise out of their mark, and they are further emboldened when their victim shies away from the confrontation, so… Say it like you mean it, and then act on it.

This is all new territory for use, so we’ll see how it goes.

Published on September 11th, 2008 - 14 Comments
Filed under: Child Safety,Daily Life,Education
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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. I hope it goes well for him. Keep us posted

    Comment by Melissa — Sep 11th 2008 @ 8:38 am
  2. Are you kidding? You aren’t going to step in after this kid has threatened violence? My 6th grade son called me crying from home yesterday due to a bully following him home from school throwing rocks the whole way and calling names. We’ve contacted the school and learned that this problem has been going on for YEARS. We’ve now contacted the police since the school isn’t following their “zero tolerance” policy. Who is to say that just because he stops bullying your child that he won’t start on another? I’m sorry if I come off harsh, but bullies need to be stopped at once, not left to bully someone else. I hope your sons bully stopped.

    Comment by A concerned parent — Sep 25th 2008 @ 1:46 pm
  3. I think your advice to your son is spot on. And the pop pychology probably isn’t far off.
    I suspect the stand-off will bode well for your son.
    Why not take it one step further and suggest to your son that he ask the kid to join their group and play ball or something and if the kid says no suggest he try again. Remind your confident well-adjusted healthy son that others are not always as blessed as he.
    Offending and defending is just battle —
    BEFRIENDING is the challenge that will ultimately win the war!

    Comment by mother of twin girls — Oct 14th 2008 @ 11:16 pm
  4. Zero tolerance is a crock unless it means the amount they will address the problem. Does it mean ignore it and it will go away? It’s a “normal, childhood rite of passage”? This seems to be the stance schools are taking. I cannot say use violence against this bully and he will leave you alone.
    “I’m sorry to hear you still wet the bed.” that worked for my daughter, the boy said, “How did you know?”

    It’s true that past bullies only wanted to be his friend, but I don’t know about this more recent one. “I will tell the teacher” is what these kids do all day to the point that it is difficult to discern which issues should be addressed.

    Thanks for listening.

    Comment by mjvc — Oct 23rd 2008 @ 9:22 am
  5. I like what you say about having him stand up to the bully first. He’ll learn from it! If you were to just sort out his problems yourself, what does he learn, right?

    I like what you have to say! I’ll be back! 🙂

    Comment by Trevor — Nov 12th 2008 @ 12:12 am
  6. Please follow up on this story and let us know how things go. This is exactly the type of thing I hope parenting blogs will discuss.

    My kids haven’t started school yet, and I’m in Japan where bullying has a somewhat different nature from bullying in the U.S.z Though I suspect that similar methods can be used to address it.

    I hope it works out, and maybe the bully in question can get some help as well!

    Comment by jay — Dec 2nd 2008 @ 3:47 am
  7. This is a critical part of growing up and these things affect a child’s psyche in a major way. Asking your child to stand up against bullying is always a good lesson for them to learn for now and for future so they don’t become pushovers. I love this saying I read somewhere- “Never fight with a pig- he likes it, and you get dirty!”

    Comment by Emily — Dec 3rd 2008 @ 5:53 am
  8. Wow. This brought back many memories of myself at school when I was 12. I was beat up regularily in the area I lived in just for having white skin and my parent never intervened so it never stopped. Looking back now my choice then was only to fight back but I never did, oddly enough tho I was passive all through school I am the opposite as an adult lol. I guess I got walloped to a breaking point between then and now. I have to say fighting back usually will resolve bullying tho. It did for my own son.
    keep us posted!

    Comment by Deb Young — Dec 3rd 2008 @ 10:13 am
  9. My nine year old son has had the same kid picking on him and calling him names since Kindergarten. His teacher has prohibited the two of them from sitting together during lunch or being in close range on the playground but that doesn’t stop ‘Trevor’ from standing a few kids behind mine in line to the restroom or lunchroom and calling him names in front of the other kids.

    Like the child mention in the original post, my son is quite a bit taller and heavier than the child doing the name calling so he’s not afraid of him, he’s just tired of being insulted by and embarrassed by him.

    I’ve had enough…when I take my son to school tomorrow I’ll be going in with him to have a talk with ‘Trevor’ and their teacher.

    Comment by Phillip's mom — Jan 7th 2009 @ 5:01 pm
  10. Hi, I’m Isaac Yassar and I help people reach success in self development, business, and blogging for free. Thanks for sharing, it’s interesting to read your article about your son and the bully. I enjoy reading it.

    Comment by Isaac Yassar — Jan 14th 2009 @ 4:29 am
  11. Hi, my son is 7 years old and just told me that someone in his gym class told him he liked boys and that he was born this “way”. Yeah, he called him gay. I am not upset at what was said to my son, but I am upset that my son looked so sad when he told me. Being gay is not something that should be used as an insult, this is how i feel, and I think hat this should be brought to his parent’s attention so they know how their son is using this word and see if they even care. I do not want to tell a parent how to raise their child, but when my son is involved, THEY WILL DEFINITELY HEAR ME OUT!

    But I have cooled off and thank heavens I came across this page to see that maybe I should just let this one instance go. I did talk to my son and tell him what was suggested here. I also warned him that he better not tease others or start any name calling himself. Kids will be kids and even though name calling/bullying is common in elementary school, I don’t want to even think that someone is making my son feel bad. I told him that he needs to let me know if it happens again so that I can go to his school and talk to someone to put an end to this and let his parent’s know how their son is treating other kids. Maybe they have no idea their son is saying this awful things just as I don’t know if my son ever teased someone ’cause if he did or does, he will hear me out…so thanks again for the info!

    Comment by Iliana — Feb 10th 2009 @ 7:37 pm
  12. Dear Phillip’s mom… Please let us know how your story ends/ended.

    Comment by MaIsabel — Feb 23rd 2009 @ 3:48 pm
  13. My son just told a bully if he didnt stop he would find my son’s foot up his butt. Problem solved. At the middle school level, it sometimes makes it worse when the parents are involved. Sure the direct bullying goes away, but the stigma of having mommy help is always there.

    Comment by Jim — Mar 6th 2009 @ 3:09 pm
  14. Wow. That seems like very good advice, though at some point violence may ensue from this bully despite your family’s best efforts.

    Perhaps a bit of advice regarding self-defense would be a good idea. If you don’t have much time or expertise, rent “The Karate Kid” and let us know how that one-legged maneuver works out. Good luck!

    Comment by Mark Gavagan — Aug 1st 2009 @ 2:03 pm

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