Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

Bully Busters

“I told my son, ‘You cannot continue to run from bullies. You have to stand up for yourself if you want them to leave you alone,’” Tianna Onyebuagu testified during her son, Kenneth London’s murder trial in Tennessee.

London, 13, had been fighting with another teenager on the basketball court after an incident of bullying. When he returned home and told his mother, she immediately brought her son back to the basketball court and told the boy to resolve the conflict himself, which he did by picking up a rock, walking to the other teen and hitting him on the head. Within 24 hours the boy was pronounced dead.

There’s been an endemic growth of bullying in our society that has left parents and educators at a loss on how to effectively deal with the onslaught. Like Ms. Onyebaugu, many parents advocate the idea of “standing up for yourself” as a deterrent to bullying, but what exactly does it mean to stand up for yourself, and how can we help bully-proof our children?

First we have to look at what puts a child at risk of being bullied. According to The Pacer Center’s National Center for Bullying Prevention, targets of bullying typically have four traits in common:

  1. They act vulnerable. When bullied, they become visibly frightened, cry, or do not have an appropriate response. That is just what the child who bullies wants; it becomes an invitation to even more bullying.
  2. They have few or no friends. Children who are socially isolated make easy marks. The child who bullies knows that no one is likely to come to the target’s aid.
  3. They are not assertive. To the child who bullies, people who are not assertive seem weak or easily dominated. Targets are also less likely to tell someone about the bullying.
  4. They have low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. Children with low self-esteem may feel they deserve the bullying.

While we may not be able to prevent bullying all together, we can in fact empower our children and lessen their chances of becoming victims.

The stakes are high. Children who are routinely victimized exhibit higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than do non-victims. Statistics highlight the importance of being able to identify at-risk kids and provide interventions. We can no longer think kids will just be kids.

Warning Signs that Your Child is Being Bullied at School

  • Doesn’t want to go to school. May begin to skip school or claim illness to stay home.
  • Has unexplained bruises.
  • Comes home from school with torn and/or dirty clothes.
  • Is reluctant to talk about school.
  • Experiences a slip in grades.
  • Is missing belongings.
  • Starts “losing” lunch money.
  • Exhibits emotional disturbances such as outbursts, despondency, frequent crying, difficulty sleeping.

Previous research has shown that, without intervention, bullying behavior persists over time: a child who is a bully in kindergarten is often a bully in elementary school, high school and as an adult.

It may show itself in a variety of ugly ways: hitting, taunting, stealing, name-calling, rumor-spreading, cyber-bullying. It can originate with one person or a group; it can be verbal or physical. Once thought of as the province of boys, it’s increasingly clear that girls are bullies too— spreading gossip, rejecting and excluding—and physical bullying by girls is becoming more common.

Bullies have become an everyday part of our kids’ lives and seven out of 10 children are victimized. If we are going to help it is critical that we recognize the signs and know what to do if a child is becoming the victim of a bully.

  • Believe your child. Take his complaints seriously. Don’t overreact: listen calmly and encourage him to tell you if it continues. (One study reported 71 percent of incidents go unnoticed by teachers)
  • Don’t blame your child and explain he’s not alone. Tell him one out of seven kids is bullied these days.
  • Gather facts. Find out who was involved, when and where it happened, how often it happens, and how your child responded to the bully. It will help you determine the problem’s severity.
  • Teach bully-proofing skills. Bullies rarely just go away; kids need to learn ways to deal with them and stop their abuse. Coach a few assertive strategies to your child to empower her to handle the bully.
  • Build his self-esteem. Find positive outlets to nurture her self-confidence such as a new friend, martial arts, or a team sport.
  • Urge him to stay with others. There is greater safety in numbers: bullies usually pick on single kids… hallways and bathrooms are prime bullying spots.
  • Tell him to stay calm. This is hard but bullies love power. When a victim looks upset, it fuels the bully even more.
  • Don’t tell him to fight back. Experts say it is unwise: your child could be seriously hurt.
  • Don’t promise to keep it a secret. Explain you may need to report the bully and get help.

Efforts to stop school bullying have been gathering steam for several years, but there’s still much work to be done. Does your school have a bullying policy and educational program? If you’re not sure, ask. If they don’t, contact your administrators and PTA and campaign for one. The third annual Bullying Prevention Awareness Week is October 5-11. We can start now to make sure our schools are participating.

Programs that are most effective promote an attitude change from the principal to the recess monitors to the parents. They range from presentations to entire schools to discussions with individual students about how to respond when they are bullied or when they see someone bullying another student. As parents we play a critical role in helping to teach children appropriate responses and providing a moral compass.

Positive peer pressure is a critical component of effective intervention. The more students who step up and let a perpetrator know that their behavior is not acceptable, the more difficult it is for a bully to function. Bully-proofing our children includes teaching them to be active participants in building their school community, and not to be onlookers when another classmate is victimized. When other kids walk away and don’t speak up, it may seem like they approve of what’s happening.

Conversation Starters

  • Whom do you sit with at lunchtime?
  • How do you feel when you hear kids putting each other down?
  • Have you ever gotten a mean e-mail or an insult on IM?
  • Do you ever see someone picking on another kid? How? What happens?
  • Whom could you get to help a kid who is being bullied? How? What happens to a student who helps or gets help for someone being bullied?
  • When you get angry with someone, what do you do? If someone gets mad at you, how does that person act?

Each of the four target traits identified by the Pacer Center grows from a foundation of self-worth, or lack of. Providing an environment in which our children learn to believe in their self worth is essential. Helping our children to realize they have a voice, that they do in fact have power, is the best way to help them stay safe, on the schoolyard and beyond. The best time to start bully-proofing our children is now.

Where do children learn to be assertive, social and self-confident? They learn it from us, their parents. If you have a school-age child who projects vulnerability and low self-esteem, there is no better time for you to access your own behavior, body language and communication styles. Is there physical violence in your home? Is intimidation part of your parenting repertoire? Do you walk with your head held high?

Simply advising our children to tell a teacher or to fight back if he or she experiences bullying does not provide actual tools for the child to effectively deal with a situation, and it doesn’t provide a proactive solution for long term safety. In April, a 12-year-old Brooklyn girl hanged herself in her closet after being repeatedly tormented by schoolyard bullies, including one classmate who cut off her hair. The single commonality authorities identified amongst students who walked into their schools carrying guns and massacred their peers? They had all been victims of bullying.

International speaker and educational consultant, Dr. Michele Borba provides proven tools to help empower children in her new book, Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing.

Borboa explains the best thing to do is to teach our children how to deal with their tormentors and in doing so we’ll show them there are effective ways to resolve conflicts without losing face and without resorting to violence.

1. Listen and gather facts.
The first step is often the hardest for parents: listen to your child’s whole story without interrupting. Your goal is to try to figure out what happened, who was involved, where and when the teasing took place, and why your child was teased. Unfortunately, teasing is a part of growing up, but some kids seem to get more than their fair share of insults. If your child appears to be in no immediate danger, keep listening to find out how she reacts to the bullying. By knowing what reaction didn’t stop the bully, you can offer your child a more effective option.

2. Teach a bully-proofing strategy.
What may work with one child may not with another, so it’s best to discuss a range of options and then choose the one or two your child feels most comfortable with. Here are six of the most successful strategies to help kids defend themselves:

Assert yourself. Teach your child to face the bully by standing tall and using a strong voice. Your child should name the bullying behavior and tell the aggressor to stop: “That’s teasing. Stop it.” or “Stop making fun of me. It’s mean.”

Question the response. Ann Bishop, who teaches violence prevention curriculums, tells her students to respond to an insult with a non-defensive question: “Why would you say that?” or “Why would you want to tell me I am dumb (or fat) and hurt my feelings?”

Use “I want.” Communication experts suggest teaching your child to address the bully beginning with “I want” and say firmly what he wants changed: “I want you to leave me alone.” or “I want you to stop teasing me.”

Agree with the teaser. Consider helping your child create a statement agreeing with her teaser. Teaser: “You’re dumb.” Child: “Yeah, but I’m good at it.” or Teaser: “Hey, four eyes.” Child: “You’re right, my eyesight is poor.”

Ignore it. Bullies love it when their teasing upsets their victims, so help your child find a way to not let his tormentor get to him. A group of fifth graders told me ways they ignore their teasers: “Pretend they’re invisible,” “Walk away without looking at them,” “Quickly look at something else and laugh,” and “Look completely uninterested.”

Make Fun of the Teasing. Fred Frankel, author of Good Friends Are Hard to Find suggests victims answer every tease with a reply, but not tease back. The teasing often stops, Frankel says, because the child lets the tormentor know he’s not going to let the teasing get to him (even if it does). Suppose the teaser says, “You’re stupid.” The child says a rehearsed comeback such as: “Really?” Other comebacks could be: “So?,” “You don’t say,” “And your point is?,” or “Thanks for telling me.”

3. Rehearse the strategy with your child.
Once you choose a technique, rehearse it together so your child is comfortable trying it. The trick is for your child to deliver it assuredly to the bully–and that takes practice. Explain that though he has the right to feel angry, it’s not okay to let it get out of control. Besides, anger just fuels the bully. Try teaching your child the CALM approach to defueling the tormentor.

C – Cool down. When you confront the bully, stay calm and always in control. Don’t let him think he’s getting to you. If you need to calm down, count to twenty slowly inside your head or say to yourself, “Chill out!” And most importantly: tell your child to always get help whenever there is a chance she might be injured.

A – Assert yourself. Try the strategy with the bully just like you practiced.

L – Look at the teaser straight in the eye. Appear confident, hold your head high and stand tall.

M – Mean it! Use a firm, strong voice. Say what you feel, but don’t be insulting, threaten or tease back.

We can’t ask our children to assume all the responsibility for stopping a bully. In some situations adult intervention is the only way to curb a bully’s appetite for power. If you find your school is unresponsive or dismisses your concerns, don’t give up. Quickly climb the chain of command. Assert yourself, call your representatives, call your local media and explain the situation (reporters knocking on the door will quickly get a school administrator’s attention).

If you have a success story to share, tips for kids, or can provide additional resources for parents and educators, leave a comment here or email me and I’ll create a page here at Shout to include your ideas, links, stories and solutions. Let’s help create a community where children are empowered.


Resources for kids

Resources for parents and educators

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31 comments to Bully Busters

  • This is really great. With girls, I have found that the bullying takes a social form. Cliques, mean-spirited exclusion, etc. Some of the same coping methods can help, I think. We focus on this in our Brownie troop, do team=building exercises, talk about sisterhood, and the like. Thanks for this.

    Cheri @ Blog This Mom!s last blog post..Observing the Force

  • Amy

    Thank you for this well thought out article with lots of helpful information and resources. As bullying and how to empower children has become such an issue in our society it is so important to have helpful information for people to access! Great Article!

    Amys last blog post..Circus Smirkus

  • We try to teach our girls that their language is a weapon. They always have a snappy come back for when they get picked on. It has come to fists twice for them. The Show tried talking her way out of a fight that the other girl really wanted and failed. The Tyrant was getting her hair pulled on the bus and kept telling the kid to “knock it off!” When he didn’t listen, she smacked his hand back into his own face. We are by no means advocates of hitting but we are not to naive as to think that they will never have to hit back.

    We foster wit at every opportunity and encourage them to tease eachother. We try to make it a safe enviroment for them to sharpen thier tongues and minds but watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t cross the line. They are rarely if ever bullied any more. They use to get bullied a lot. We may not be the picture perfect American family but our girls know how to defend themselves from those that would try to humiliate them.

    WickedStepMoms last blog post..“Again, Again!”

  • Shiela

    Really great info. and something all parents need to be aware of. Thank you Tricia :)

  • This is all great advice. My siblings and I were all always very quiet and meek, like our parents. When my brother and sister started school (I’m the youngest), they immediately became bully targets. They were terrified, and my parents were no help, they would only say to ignore the bullies. Which doesn’t work. So they would stand there alone, trying to ignore the sticks, stones, fists, and words. They both developed anxiety and social disorders very young, though there were no words for such things in 1980. When I started school, I decided to take a different approach, even though I was also inclined to be shy and uninvolved. When the kids noticed the new target they started trying to push me around, and were surprised when I stood up for myself. So they left me alone. I thought my brother and sister would follow my example, but they didn’t. My parents ended up taking us all out of school for a few years so my brother and sister could regain some sense of themselves, but they never did until their late 20’s. The effects of bullying last far beyond the school years.

    Memarie Lanes last blog post..Whiskers on Kettles and Warm Woolen Noodles

  • Thanks for doing the research (it hadn’t even occured to me to research it) and for posting the article. I’m sure it will help me and lots of other parents dealing with this. If I could take anything back from last year it would be trusting that his teacher would know what was going on. However, I can’t re-write history. I can only work on today.

    By telling Noah to hit the kid back if telling the new teacher didn’t work, I was trying to avoid situations like you mentioned with the 13 year old boy and the 12 year old girl.

    I still believe that sometimes words don’t work. A lot of these methods seem like they would work if it’s verbal, but may not work so well when a child is being hit like Noah was.

    I’m happy to say that Noah’s issues seem to be getting better. He told the teacher twice, and hit back once. When I picked him up from school yesterday, the other kid told him bye and Noah said “He’s okay. I kinda like him.”

    I’ll go over the strategies with Noah, especially making fun of the teasing. Maybe he can learn how to handle it before it gets to the point that he has to hit back if it comes up again.

    Wendys last blog post..Noah and the Whale

  • It’s definitely a scary world made even scarier by the advent of online bullying. As one of the other posters replied, even standing up for one’s self verbally can escalate into a physical altercation. It’s a fine line to walk.

    I dealt with it as a pre-teen. I was smaller than a lot of the other kids and I had one that tormented me for a few months before I finally told my parents. After a conference with the principal, who then had a separate conference with the bully, I was never picked on by this individual again. It does take adult intervention to curb this kind of behavior.

    Dougs last blog post..Will Air Travel Become Only For the Rich?

  • So much to worry about for our kids. Great article. I hope I remember this stuff 10 years from now.

    Lisa Ps last blog post..Thank You Donald

  • Really great information, Tricia! My daughter had a problem with her younger daughter, who was teased and tormented. My daughter ended up taking her out of school and is home schooling her for the third year now. Of course, she was able to go this route, not everyone is. She enrolled my granddaughter in girl scouts, volley ball, and many other activities where she is involved with girls her age, and my granddaughter is doing wonderfully well. It was my daughters way of solving the problem, and it worked for her and her daughter.

    Your post has many helpful tips that parents can learn from and apply in their own circumstances.

    All the best!


    Renie Burghardts last blog post..Just Dabbling-And a Woo Hoo!

  • Really informative article. I had a speech therapist tell me when my son was 5 (and had just started stuttering due to Tourette Syndrome) that he would never be bullied about it. She said she could predict that because he was self-confident. She was right.

    I think it’s just as important for parents to know how to keep their kids from becoming bullies. I have a daughter who looks on paper like a “mean girl,” but is kind to everyone because we’ve talked about how important that is since day one.

    Jenn @ Juggling Lifes last blog post..In Which My Life Is A Zoo

  • Bullying is one of my great fears as a parent. My girls are still small and not in school, but I see instances of bullying on the playground even at a young age.

    This post has great information that I’ll keep bookmarked.

    San Diego Mommas last blog post..There’s Nothing to See Here. No Really.

  • Tricia

    Thanks for all the great feedback, and for sharing stories about what’s worked in your family’s life. I’ve received some additional resources and I’ll put those together in an update. A few people wrote to say this is one of the reason’s they’ve chosen to home school like Renie’s daughter and Amy. I can see why this is an attractive option.

    Jen: your comment about parents needing to help keep kids from becoming bullies is so relevant. While researching I came across a lot of information dealing with this topic and hope to write a second article on exactly that. As you can imagine, most of the research points to home life.

    Marie: WOW! Bullying not only has lasting effects beyond the school years, it really does take a toll on everyone in the family. It sounds like you have some very compelling examples if you wanted to write about it.

    WickedStepMom: Your girls sound fabulous! There’s a difference, in my mind anyway, between self defense during a physical attack and helping to empower kids on a daily basis to be self confident.

    Wendy: Bullying often goes unnoticed in the classroom and I’m encouraging my little guy to yell loudly “Stop hitting me” rather than hoping he’ll ask a teacher for help after an incident. Loud voices tend to get a teacher’s attention quickly. Good luck with it all.

    Cheri: I’ve also seen that bullying by girls is different than by boys, and I was surprised to read that physical violence from girls is rapidly increasing. Some recent research suggests it’s almost on par with the physical aggression we used to see only from boys.

    Doug: It is a fine line and it’s tough to walk. Thanks for the example.

  • It seems to me that, except in cases of extreme bullying, taking your kids out of school could make a child feel even weaker because rather than defending themselves with the techniques you listed, they’ve run from it. Maybe it would make them feel like they’ve really lost face.

    On the other hand, though, I would do it if I felt like it was the only option. Thank goodness Noah doesn’t realize that’s even an option. ;)

    Wendys last blog post..Noah and the Whale

  • Amy

    Wendy: For us not having to deal with as much bullying and peer pressure is just ONE of the benefits of home schooling. I agree, just merely pulling children out of school because they are being bullied is not empowering to the child (although I still think is a better alternative than violence). But avoiding these situations and allowing children to become more confident and skilled before they actually have to use their skills seems beneficial to me.

    Amys last blog post..Circus Smirkus

  • Great article! My kids are grown, but this is great information to know when my grandchildren start school.

    Employee No. 3699s last blog post..Chicago Air and Water Show


    I found this link this morning and wanted to add it to the comments.

    WickedStepMoms last blog post..They’re spinnin’!!!!

  • Hi! Glad you stopped by the Short Bus!

    Bullying – a very touchy subject for me. I think every kid has moments when they are bullied, and I was one of them. I was also a very sensitive kid and it was hard for me to blow it off. Oh, I wish I could protect my kids from this situation! I just hope I have the right words when the situation comes up.

    HeatherPrides last blog post..The Little Engine That Could (Roll Right Over You)

  • What a comprehensive list. It’s easy to agree that we ’should do something about bullying’ but often there’s nothing concrete offered up.

    Thanks for the great ideas.

  • Three years ago when The Girl was in preschool, a clique of girls with older sisters started bullying some of the other girls. It’s heartbreaking. We (the parents and teachers) managed to work through it, but it’s so sad that making others feel bad seems to be such a primal instinct.

    manager moms last blog post..The Girl Is Starting To Worry Me With Her Lists

  • Excellent article full of relative and helpful information. I do have one son who is bullied a bit. He has obvious physical special needs and some kids tend to pick on him.

    BTW, love the blog name!

    melody is slurping lifes last blog post..Magic Marker Monday ~ A Rat’s What?!

  • A very informative and well researched post, something all parents should read. I generally find kids who bully tend to have parents that bully too. Sadly, not all kids are taught empathy. Schools are forced to pick up the slack for careless parenting, sad yes, but so vital if we wish to intergrate only civilised, responsible adults into our society.

  • kim

    shit my email addressas wrong, it’s good now “you have wings keep flying, everyone loves reading your blog. Thank you, I read it every day . LOL Aunt Kim

  • I love your blog. I don’t read everyday, but I should. I love this post, kids need to stick up for themselves and parents need to push them to do so. I think I may write my own odeas about it on my blog too! Of course I will link to yours. ANd I need to add you to my blogroll now, I don’t subscribe to readers, because my email is too much of mess as it is.

    insane mamas last blog post..I Almost Gouged My Eyes Out

  • Tricia

    insane mama: Thanks so much. I really appreciate your comment, and I look forward to reading your post about bullying!

  • I’m a teacher in a middle school, and what I see is that many bullies don’t realize that what they are doing is bullying; they think it’s “funny” or “no big deal.” I think bullies need to be educated about meanness; where it comes from and what they can do to empower themselves, rather than picking on weaker kids.

    Half-Past Kissin’ Times last blog post..High School: The Time of Your Life??

  • These are excellent advice. I would also add that if a school has a culture of zero bullying policy students will feel more comfortable in their learning environment.

  • Great article! Wow. I was bullied as a kid, and it was miserable. Victims of bullying DO have low self esteem. It’s one of the principal reasons they are a target. So it’s a little chicken-and-egg (’Stand up to the bully!’ ‘I can’t!’). My son (who had much better self-esteem than I did at his age) employed one of the techniques you describe. Our name ryhmes with a sexual orientation (not that there’s anything wrong with that), so bullies would ask him, ‘Are you gay?’ He would say, ‘No, I’m not, but if you’re looking for someone…’

  • [...] Mom broke my heart with this post (thanks Tara for pointing it out) and several months ago, I wrote an article about coping with bullies in response to another blogger who piqued my interest on the [...]

  • I’m sorry to say that this article has the exact same old information that’s been repeated for years. While the “warning signs” section is sound, the “what to do” checklist is horrible.

    “Stay With Others”? How is that supposed to help when most bullying happens in front of an audiance? “Agree With The Teaser”? “Ignore It”? This is just plain BAD ADVICE!!!

    Adam Blum is the one expert who stands apart from the conventional anti-bully establishment. His system, The Total Bully Solution, has a fresh perspecive… and IT WORKS.

    It identifies the cause of the problems, and gives parents and their kids the tools to deal with peer aggression in all its forms. I recommend it with all my heart.

  • What great information and strategies for bullied kids and the people trying to help them-usually parents!. You have shown a good range of research-based interventions and common sense ideas to support kids. In my research the most common word used to describe bullies is ‘popular’. This does not mean they are popular people , just that their popularity gives them the status to bully.I offer support and resources for victims of bullying and the people who care for them. Go to my bullywatch website to download free e-books and other materials to help with bullying and cyberbullying.

  • Billie Freiwald

    Can I use your clip art for part of my powerpoint presentation for classroom relationships? I noticed your site is copyright protected?

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