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How Do You Teach a Child to Handle Bullying?

What do you say to a child who comes home from school & say's "so & so called me stupid today at school?" Do you teach them to ignore, or defend them self? (specifically targeting verbal bullying, not physical). My son isnt in school yet so I havent had to face these types of issues, but eventually I will. Part of me wants to teach him to not let hurtful words phase him & to just ignore & to laugh it off with confidence, & another part of me says to teach him to defend. Curious about other parents views.

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The problem with trying to ignore bullying is that it never goes away. We might forget what we wore to prom but we never forget what that mean little kid said in 4th grade. And as unfortunate as that is, it carries with us for a long time.
I don't like the idea of fighting back, especially any form of hitting. But the little kid who remembers being bullied in school wants to say something like 'well at least I don't wet the bed' loudly and in front of the whole class. I like to believe talking to the teacher or principal will help but I know it often doesn't.

Several years ago my son had started a new school as a third grader. We had moved and he only had one real friend who was a neighbor kid. This neighbor kid was in a different room than my son and his class was on a field trip one day. So my son is eating lunch alone and this kid starts picking on him and telling him he's gonna beat my son up. Everytime my son started to get up to tell the lunchroom monitor; the kid just said 'hey I'm just kidding'. Fast forward to the playground and the one kid now has 3 - 4 friends also picking on my son. One of the kids puts my son into a choke hold and my son breaks the hold and decks the kid. One punch and he stopped, he proved his point--don't pick on me. The other kids scattered. And later that day they all end up in the office and get punished. Like I said I don't agree with any form of hitting but... that one punch in third grade and no one ever bullied my son again. The kids got the message loud and clear.
No, I did not teach my kids to hit.

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The problem with trying to ignore bullying is that it never goes away. We might forget what we wore to prom but we never forget what that mean little kid said in 4th grade. And as unfortunate as that is, it carries with us for a long time.
I don't like the idea of fighting back, especially any form of hitting. But the little kid who remembers being bullied in school wants to say something like 'well at least I don't wet the bed' loudly and in front of the whole class. I like to believe talking to the teacher or principal will help but I know it often doesn't.

Several years ago my son had started a new school as a third grader. We had moved and he only had one real friend who was a neighbor kid. This neighbor kid was in a different room than my son and his class was on a field trip one day. So my son is eating lunch alone and this kid starts picking on him and telling him he's gonna beat my son up. Everytime my son started to get up to tell the lunchroom monitor; the kid just said 'hey I'm just kidding'. Fast forward to the playground and the one kid now has 3 - 4 friends also picking on my son. One of the kids puts my son into a choke hold and my son breaks the hold and decks the kid. One punch and he stopped, he proved his point--don't pick on me. The other kids scattered. And later that day they all end up in the office and get punished. Like I said I don't agree with any form of hitting but... that one punch in third grade and no one ever bullied my son again. The kids got the message loud and clear.
No, I did not teach my kids to hit.

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Neither.
Your child is needs to learn how to stand up for himself effectively.
If someone is being mean your son should simply say I don't like it when you say that to me. If the offender continues, then your child should walk away. If the behavior continues beyond that THEN your son needs to get an adult involved (teacher, parent, caregiver.)

All kids will say mean things from time to time. If your son is in preschool he will have lots of opportunities to practice these skills, that's a big part of preschool (we don't treat our friends like that, use your words, etc.)

Keep in mind that bullying is very different from the occasional mean comment. Bullying is when a child or children repeatedly targets another child or children, and that's a different, much more serious problem that demands parental/school involvement. The word "bully" should not be used lightly.

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Teach your son to use "I statements":

I don't like it when you say that.

I want you to stop.

I don't agree with you.

I want you to leave me alone.

If you continue to bother me, I will tell my parent/the teacher/whoever is in charge so they can tell you to stop.

You can explain to your child the difference between a friend, an acquaintance, a classmate.

We have told our son that if kids say mean things, use I statements, but if someone hits/hurts him--all bets are off and he has every right to defend himself.

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Unfortunately in most bullying cases ignoring makes it worse. It is a tough call because if your child does not have it in them to fight back you can't teach them how or make them. My daughter was bullied terribly in school and although I would give her my permission to fight back she just couldn't. The term mistaking kindness for weakness does apply is some cases. I know it sounds so WRONG but if your child responded back to that response like "You are stupid"!!!!! He or she would probably be left alone. But as parents we teach our children to ignore them, take the high road, don't stoop to their level!!! And what happens sometimes they get tortured in school for taking it and walking away. I don't have the answer, because watching your child get emotionally abused by mean girls is torture. Bullies really are cowards, I could never get my daughter to understand that if she just stood up to them they would stop. Like I said you can't make your child become something they aren't. Me on the other hand am like a mad dog when you hurt my kids, so I had to get involved. This was many years ago so all of the anti bullying laws were not in effect yet so I didn't have much recourse. Fortunately, my beautiful daughter survived because she had a great self image, and she always knew I had her back. Had she had low self image I am not sure she would have survived it. IT WAS THAT BAD!!! And all jealousy based. This is such a pet peeve of mine because so many children take their own lives due to bullying. I guess I would say teach them to fight back, and only if someone bothers them first!!! You want to teach your child to behave and be respectful and kind, but I am not so sure that always works for them in school. It is a shame to me that we have to teach these types of lessons verses kindness, respect, and politeness. BOY I am showing my age here lol!!! Great question, And I hope you never have to face these issues!!

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In my personal experience it is very hard to learn to ignore the hurtful things that children and teens say to one another. It also causes more issues when the child starts to defend themselves, the other child (if they are a bully to begin with) will likely go straight to a teacher and "tell on" the child which was simply defending themselves. In my opinion I think that it would be best to teach your child to try not to take hurtful words to heart and to talk to you about anything and everything that other children say to them. That way you will be able to see when the talking is getting severe or having an effect on your child. If you can get your child to talk these things over with you then you would be in a position where you (or you and you child) can say enough is enough and contact the school to try and solve the problem. But all-in-all bullying is inevitable and children should know how to defend themselves, how to ignore it, and how to know when it is going too far and ask for help.

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I also recommend the book Simon's Hook for elementary school age situations! I used it all the time in the classrooms when I was an elementary school counselor. It's perfect for those little situations where kids make mean comments.

Bascially, a kid has to do what is comfortable for them and fits their personality. For some that is humor, for others it is distraction, for others ignoring it and talking it over later with an adult is most comfortable. The book lays out all the options for the kids.

What I do with my daughter (who is only in pre-school and has come up with this situation a just a few times so far), is let her tell me what happened, validate her feelings ("well, that wasn't very nice, was it"?), ask how she responded, validate that ("good thinking").... as long as it wasn't a poor response! and give a suggestion for the future. I try to be nonchalant about this because kids ARE mean sometimes and it doesn't make them terrible people. When you come across that one REAL bully, that mean girl, that big ego jock, the kid who endlessly harrassess and intimidates others... you'll know. And then you bring in the big guns (like school admin involvement). But for these everyday random name-calling playground situations, teach your kids the strategies, and downplay the response (don't fly off the handle "little Johnny said WHAT?!?!") to try to minimize the effect. The old sticks and stones approach.

What's most important to me is that MY kid is not the one on the playground saying mean things to others. So I usually end our conversations restating our values and expectations - "it's very important to be kind to everyone at school". And that's it.

Oh, one more thing, esp with boys... I do think you need to use the defense tactic IF it gets physical. The most effective way to stop a physical bully is to show that you won't take it and will fight back with equal or greater physical force. Usually all it takes is one swift elbow to the ribs to let another boy know you are not to be messed with. That's AFTER the bully does something physical, not as a response to verbal insults or jokes. Just what I've observed over the years, working in Jr High now.

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My daughter has a wonderful book called Simon's Hook by Karen G. Burnett. It's a story that gives kids the tools (in an age appropriate format) to respond to teasing and bullying. I highly recommend it and you can read more about it and the parent reviews on Amazon.

Once your son is in school, you will see the teachers and staff put a lot of time and effort into teaching about bullying, how it isn't tolerated, what to do if it happens to you and (very important) what to do if you see it happening to someone else. If you're curious, call your local elementary school. Anti-bullying is a huge focus and our schools have long campaigns about the subject.

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It depends on how far it goes. If its constant bullying, thats where I have to step in and put a stop to it.
If its "so & so called me stupid" I say "Well that wasnt nice was it? So & so needs to work on their manners." I tell her to ignore them and I ask her how it makes her feel. Of course it upsets her, so I tell to never do the same to anyone else. I have told my daughter several times that kids can just be mean, and its not her fault..
I think name calling is a fact of life, and being called stupid is pretty mild. In my opinion, my daughter is pretty strong and can handle ignoring that, but if it was constant or really nasty I we would take the next step.
Last year, I had to call the teacher about a little jerk in my daughters class when he got physical, and he was immediately removed from being near her. :) Im glad they were on it.
As far as defending, I dont believe that 2 wrongs make a right.

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