How Do You Teach a Child to Handle Bullying?

Updated on February 02, 2012
N.G. asks from Antelope, OR
16 answers

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.

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers



answers from Appleton on

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.

5 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from San Francisco on

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.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

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.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

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!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Fayetteville on

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.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

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.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

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.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

You should start talking to him about it now and lay the ground work before it even starts. I explain to my kids that sometimes other kids will say mean things. These other kids are often hurting in some way, maybe they don't feel good about themselve, maybe they don't have a very good homelife full of love so they act out in a negative way. If it's a mild situation such as just being called a name once, it's best to ignore it. You know you're not stupid and them saying so doesn't effect your "truth", it's just a way that they are acting out and trying to gain strength. If it turns into an everyday thing then we will need to talk about it more and perhaps include the teacher etc in a way to address/council the child or keep them separate.
Really, when a child has the inner strength instilled in them from a young age, bullies won't only not effect them, they will target them less because they can sense it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

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.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

My daughter is going through the bully thing now... she come home "sick" from school one day... only to find out she wasn't sick, but being picked on. We did explain to the school that a child that once loved school is now going to the nurse's office saying she is sick so that she can get away from school is not a good thing.

We also told my daughter that sadly, some people are just mean and some people are so unhappy that they try to make happy people sad. We did tell her that she couldn't hit anyone for picking with words, but if anyone put their hands on her, pushed her or hit her in any angery way she had every right to hit, kick, or bit them inorder to get away from them. That she needed to know she would get introuble at school for it, but that no one had the right to put their hands on her without getting it back.

I don't agree with starting fights... but I do agree with defending yourself. Words do hurt - but that is what teachers are for... she is to let the staff know when someone is picking on her and try to let them know who it was or what they looked like. But I do agree with the other posts - words do hurt and they will stick with you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Syracuse on

I think you are right in teaching your son to be able to both defend himself and have the confidence to "rise above" the bullying, not always easy as kids can be mean. Making sure your child has a loving and supporting environment at home can help with their confidence, also explaining to them why these kids bully...low self-esteem, poor home life, ect.



answers from San Francisco on

Teach your child how to be a friend--children with good friends are less likely to be bullied.
Work on helping your child have a good self-image. I especially like Faber's How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.
Teach your child the difference between teasing (two people laughing together at human foibles) and taunting (one person laughing at another person and making that person feel bad).
Check out the resources at
for stories to read to your child to give you a starting point for discussion.


answers from Dallas on

I teach my kids to try to be empathetic. I explain to them that probably their 'friend' was having a bad day, and to try and be understanding. If it is an ongoing issue, I will encourage my daughter to talk to her friend first, using I statements like One&Done said, like "I really felt badly the other day when you called me stupid. Did I do something to make you angry?" If talking to their friend doesn't accomplish anything, then the teacher... Luckily for me, it has not gone past her talking to her friend. I have no problems elevating chronic bully issues all the way to the school board, I was bullied badly in school, but I want my kids to try to handle it on their own.



answers from San Francisco on

Go to This is a fabulous organization that teaches all about keeping kids safe, how to handle bullying, and much, much more. The teach self defense for all ages. Be sure to check them out. You can email them questions.



answers from Boca Raton on

My son started self defense class at the y. They are free for members $5 for non members.


answers from Williamsport on

I teach my kids (very young, oldest is 5) that when other kids say people are stupid, it's not nice, and they should tell them right away, it's not nice and not to do it. If they continue calling them, or anyone else, stupid they should tell an adult. After they have spoken up, and told and adult they need to ignore it, but to tell me when they get home. Depending on severity of issue, I would have a talk with the parents of that child with the children present and the teacher. I also teach my kids to speak up when kids are speaking meanly to other kids. I also come down very firmly on my kids for doing that, even bickering amongst themselves, because you'd be surprised what your own kids might say in public when you "think they know better". In other words, we attack the issue from all angles and view points.
Open dialogue about it, and giving your child specific actions to take are key.
As for any physical bullying, my kids are taught to warn first, and tell an adult AND fight back by whatever means if no adults are around. I have my older two in Tae Kwon Do.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions