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Dealing With a Bully

Photo by: iStock



It is so hard to explain that feeling that overcomes you when you first learn that another child is being mean to your child. It’s a shock to the system, a dumbfounding moment of, “I’m sorry, MY baby is being picked on?!” Then that very specific gut reaction is triggered… That deep primitive protect-your-young instinct comes right on out from behind those manicured nails and mom jeans. Oh yes, I too know that “I-will-make-the-mother-bear-in-The-Revenant-look-like-WINNIE-THE-FLIPPING-POOH!” instinct very well. Once we have a moment to calm down, (and remember mauling other people’s children is frowned upon) we are left with the reality that we need to find appropriate and healthy alternative ways to solve these kinds of problems.

So how do we accomplish taking care of our child, while still allowing them the ability to learn to problem solve? Once again , there is no one way- but there is one method that has (almost) always worked for me when attempting to problem solve with others. Before we get into that, let’s take a closer look at what could possibly be going on developmentally in those little prepubescent heads.

On the developmental side of things: According to The New York Department of Health, bullying can start as young as three years old (yikes!), but is most common within school age children. For the sake of not turning this into a ten page paper, I’m going to focus on explaining the typical cognitive and psychosocial development of an eleven year old- which is the average age of a child entering 6th grade.

According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages, this child would fall under the stage of “industry vs inferiority.” During this stage of development, children are learning how to navigate new social relationships with teachers, classmates, coaches etc… In addition to keeping up with their ever increasing academic demands. When children are able to accomplish secure social relationships as well as academic success, they typically feel a sense of competency, or “industrious.” If children feel they are lacking secure social relationships, or are falling behind academically it can potentially lead to feelings of being “less than” or “inferior” to other students. Could the bully possibly be feeling inferior to your child socially or academically? Perhaps. There is never a justifiable reason for bullying, but we can always try to come as close as possible to understanding the situation to the fullest extent. The greater our understanding is of the big picture, the better equipped we are to be able to effectively solve the problem(s) at hand.

However you choose to address this situation, (A conference with the other child and their parents, speaking with the school, etc…) A fantastic tool you can use to guide the conversation in a positive and effective manner is “skilled dialogue.”

According to the skilled dialogue, there are six steps to help guide your conversation to lead to the most effective outcome.


Welcoming: Set the stage for the conversation by giving the other party a kind, genuine, and respectful greeting. Thank them for taking time to engage in a problem solving conversation.


Allowing: Express that you intend for this conversation to be a two way street- meaning that your opinions and views are equally important to the other parties opinions and views, and you would like to hear (and be heard!) in equal measure.


Sense-making: This step is the big one, and can be difficult for adults and children alike. Once the other party has expressed their opinions/views, try to understand the situation from their self-reported perspective. This step is critical in problem solving, and is a golden opportunity to show your child how to be empathetic to others. We have to try to understand that everyone in the world does not share the same set of cultural values, beliefs and behaviors as one another- and that’s ok.


Appreciating: Once the other party has shared their thoughts and/or view point(s) regarding the situation, (and you have taken a moment to try to understand from their point of view), verbally express that you appreciate and value what they have articulated. Appreciating other’s viewpoints does not mean you have to change yours. This just affirms to the other party that they have been respectfully been heard and/or understood.


Joining: Once both parties have been adequately and respectfully able to communicate their perspectives, it is critical to acknowledge that the goal of the conversation is for the individual parties to join together to find a solution to the problem.


Harmonizing: At this point in the conversation one party may have one idea for the solution, and the other party may have a different idea for the solution. This does not mean it has to be one idea or the other. It may be tricky, but try to collaborate to reach a solution together that both parties can feel satisfied with.


Within this conversation it’s also important to get the children talking out solutions. It can help them to further develop those budding critical thinking skills, and how to productively share their viewpoints. Teaching children how to effectively verbally problem solve is a skill can be used for the rest of their lifetime, and potentially passed down to their children one day.

Bottom line: A child should never feel scared to go to school because of a bully. Fear does not create a conducive environment for learning and growth in any situation; but especially in a school setting. Bullying needs to be addressed quickly and effectively before it potentially impedes your child’s social or cognitive development.

Encourage your child to always report bullying, and explain that being bullied is nothing to be embarrassed of. Make sure to reinforce that the problem will be addressed privately until it is fully resolved.



_ Child Life Specialist by trade, Lynn Spiro is a stay at home mom by choice. Feminist. Coffee enthusiast. #1 fan of strong women with strong voices. She’s currently seeking an application to be Beyoncé’s best friend._

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