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Dealing with Bullies in School

Updated on October 11, 2011
Photo by Erik Araujo
Photo by Erik Araujo

Bullying sucks. Believe me, I know. After I finished kindergarten at a private school, my parents switched me to our local public school, and I skipped to second grade. Boy did those kids seem to "have it in" for me.

My first day there, I wore a jumper dress and a backwards hat. I was a dork (who am I kidding, I still am a dork)! I had no concept of what kids wore; I had been wearing a plaid uniform for my entire public life! Of course, hats are not allowed in public schools. I had several bitchy girls to inform me of that in front of the whole class. Then one of them took my cookie away after I had brought it onto the playground after lunch. That wasn't allowed either. These girls tormented me well into middle school, and high school was a whole new ballgame of even more sophisticated kids with more sophisticated reasons for hating my guts.

It's not too long ago that I graduated from high school and moved far, far away from that world of being bullied. But here are a few tips. Some of them are things my parents did right, and some of them are things I wish we had thought of. Know, though, that your child will grow up, and his peers will grow out of this. He might even be a world ahead of them for it.

The First Thing To Do

Make sure your child knows his value! Bullying makes us feel small, weak, and useless. That's why the bully does it; he wants to exert his power, however falsified it may be.

So reinforce to your child that he is meaningful and loved. You may think that this is obvious to him, but a reminder never hurts. Try to preserve family time, and prove to him that he is a valuable member of the family unit. A small job like helping to set the table every night and then a big "thanks" afterwards gives him a very specific role in the house. He has a purpose; if he didn't set the table, then who would? You need him, and that's what he needs.

Do not try to overcompensate for the bullying by coddling your child or lavishing gifts upon him. The point is to draw attention away from the fact that your child is being bullied, not to "make it better." Try to continue life as normally as possible. Otherwise, the bullies have won.

For more on self-esteem, make sure to check out Self Esteem the 2K Way. It's a great hub on the little (but significant) things parents can do to preserve self-esteem in their kids.

It's All in the Angle

I know it's tough to see your child in pain. Hey, it's tough to be in that pain, especially when school and other kids are your entire world! If only you could explain to him that, eventually, those bullies might be the kids who are the losers and he might be the one with the power, it would make it all better!

Unfortunately, even though it's worth saying, that message won't get through, so don't dwell on it too much.

Focus on your child's well-being. Do not give energy to the fact that he is being bullied; instead, focus on his happiness and comfort. Those two may seem like the same thing (and they are), but how you think about them will, in turn, affect your child's attitude about the whole thing. And that will change everything.

Photos by Julia Freeman-Woolpert
Photos by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

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And Now, For Some Action!

So enough of the lovey-dovey, semi-inactive stuff. What do I do?

  • Encourage Activity

You should, in a sense, "take his mind off it." While bullying may feel inevitable during the school day, it should never occupy his mind once he walks out those doors in the afternoon.

Personally, I took Kung Fu lessons, both at school and at a local martial arts training gym. They weren't for self-defense (though that's always a plus); rather, martial arts very much focus on respect: respect for self, respect for others, and respect for the world. If a child can come even close to mastering any of these, he has beaten the bullies. It will also give him something to look forward to for getting through the day!

Martial arts work especially well with bullied kids, I think, because it empowers them. It is also an individual sport (as opposed to team), and many bullied kids are introverts or otherwise individually minded, but it still gives them the opportunity to socialize with other kids in their classes. And they get a positive role model in the form of their teacher!

If martial arts are not possible where you live -- or for some reason you have a problem with them -- any type of class will do. Sports are nice, but also any sort of extracurricular art or music class works. Obviously you should tailor it to your child's interests, but remind them that opening a new door they had not previously considered can be extremely rewarding!

  • Find Him a Safe Community

For me, this community (two of them, actually) was (were) life-saving. I had my local church, which was mostly supportive of my growth as a chorister, and a creative arts sleep-away summer camp, where I discovered my love of songwriting. In each case, I felt safe in these places (at church during the whole school year, and at the camp in the summer). I had a community that supported me without putting me down in any way.

This is vital. If a child's only community is school and he is left out in that community, how is he to ever learn to seek a place that is nurturing? Help him find his first nurturing community, be it through church, camps, Boy or Girl Scouts, or anything like that. It will even give your child a safe mental place to go if he is bullied while in school ("Wait until I tell my camp friends how stupid these bullies are!").

Mostly, Keep it Positive

Bullying is a tough thing to deal with, for parents and for kids. I'm sure there are more than a few good books out there that would be worth reading and sharing with your children, whether you know that they are being bullied or think that they are perfectly well-adjusted. It's always good to be knowledgeable about issues as pervasive as bullying.

Do not expend too much energy trying to "fix" the problem from the other side (namely, trying to "fix" the bully). Make sure that your child is safe first, of course! But after that, keep things as positive as possible. The more energy you give to the bullying, the more the bullying will grow. And the more energy you channel into your child's well-being, the more well he will be... or... you know what I mean.

Good luck out there.

For another great hub about bullying that covers some different topics from the ones I covered here, check out How to Help Your Child Handle Bullies.


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    • profile image

      Jantje 7 years ago

      Thank you for the post. I think kids should stand their ground, let him play football or other sports. He or she will meet new people, and he or she will not feel alone against the bullies, but feels like he has other kids behind his back. I don't think bullies bully kids who are part of some kind of group.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 7 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      I loved your hub. I believe that bullies should be treated as the criminals they are. Adults who act this way are usually fired for misconduct and have a negative mark against them which makes it very difficult for them to find future employment. Let us apply the same methodology to bullies. If a child elects to bully anoher child, first, he/she should be reprimanded in writing and place this reprimand in his/her school records. If he/she continues to bully this child and/or other children, he/she should be suspended for a couple of days and have a written report of the suspension in his/her files. If this child continues to bully, he/she should be expelled and the incident of the expulsion should be noted in his/her files to be given to the next school the bully attends. If this behavior continues, he/she should be expelled and placed in a reformatory(if under 16) or a prison(if over 16). Yes, there should be harsh sentences for bullies to act as a deterrent for any child considering being a bully.

    • Barb on the Go profile image

      Barb on the Go 8 years ago

      Your experiences and your ideas are all very insightful. One of your readers asked what can school leaders do. I was a school leader and I think there is much that we can do and actually have to do. But the ethical requirements of this are actually more important than the legalities of this issue. I would suggest that parents not only make sure the school is aware of the problem, but also partner with the teacher/principal to put a plan together. In that way, the child that is being bullied will know that all of the significant adults in their life are working together with them on this problem. And, on the other side, the bully will understand that his/her behavior is not going to be ignored.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan

      Good point, MBKL. Definitely appeal to the school if things get beyond your (and your child's) control; they are required to step in to help work things out!

    • profile image

      MBKL 8 years ago

      Your advice to parents is perfect. We should make sure our children know their worth and find a community where they feel safe and comfortable. I hope parents who are dealing with their children being bullied are also working with children's school administrators. All schools are supposed to have anti-bullying policies. Parents should hold their children's schools accountable for the daily safety (physical and emotional) of their children. Still, I appreciate your advice. The best defense against the psychological effects of bullying is making sure our children know their own worth; they should walk confidently through this world.

    • profile image

      janet 9 years ago

      Sadly, sometimes fighting back is the only thing a bully will understand.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 9 years ago from Manhattan

      amy jane -- Oh good, I'm glad you found it helpful! I really hope you can figure out a way that your daughter can be completely happy and have plenty of room to grow up however is best for her. If you want, you can let her know that plenty of other kids out there are/were bullied, and we turn out just fine. :D

      SweetiePie -- Introverts seem to have it the worst in school, don't we? Most of how we are taught asks us to go completely against what we're comfortable with. Thanks for reading and for sharing your experience.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Your elementary and middle school experience was very similar to mine. In high school things were a little bit better, but I was truly happy when I went I graduated from high school and went on to college. Over the years I have discovered I am an introvert and it is easier for me to write things online than to speak out in person. I even joined an introverted discussion group, so if anyone is a dork it is truly me! I think being nerdy/dorky is cool anyway because at least you know these people are themselves and not trying to fit in with everyone else. Nice hub and good topic.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Helena, thank you so much for bringing this hub to my attention. It is really helpful for me to hear all of this great advice for my daughter from someone who so fully understands. I had been harassed a bit myself, but there was never a positive solution, on any front. Again, thank you! I will certainly take your advice :)

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 9 years ago from Manhattan

      DarrenB -- Thank you so much for those positive words!!

      Patty -- I'm glad your state is being proactive to do something about it! Trying to stop bullying one kid at a time won't be enough; we all have to change our attitudes about how to deal with it. Thanks for the comment!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Finally, our state is processing legislation to make bullying illegal. That's a hassel for the schools, but bullys must be stopped by both the targets and the system.

      We may have more kids expelled from school and into hard crime, but I do not know what the proposed penalties are. 8-year-olds are taking guns to school here and bullies are bringing them more often, so they must be stopped. The people abusing the bullies, for those that are abused to start with must be stopped as well. Other bullies are neurologically miswired and I see little hope of help for them, since medications and talking therapies, as well as behavior modification do not work.

      Again, good hub!

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 10 years ago from Manhattan

      Denmarkguy - My parents were around 35 when they had me, and then had two more after me until they were 42! They were the best parents anyone could ever ask for. I'm really glad you think the things I suggested would be helpful for someone other than myself. Thanks for the comment!

    • Denmarkguy profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 10 years ago from Port Townsend

      Bullying can be pretty debilitating... I was bullied from the time I entered first grade, till leaving high school.

      I think it would probably have been easier if my parents had followed your suggestion to get me into activities, rather than to protect me from the world. I had "older" parents (mom was 39, dad 43, when I was born), and I sometimes feel like their parenting tools were "out of date."

      Great hub!

    • Kenny Wordsmith profile image

      Ashok Rajagopalan 10 years ago from Chennai

      Yes, it's the father's fault, and he's blaming the school for what, I don't know!

      Psst! Pl delete my duplicate comment, helena!

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 10 years ago from Manhattan

      Oh dear, that's terrifying news!! Shooting the bully is not solving anything... Parents, lock your guns up for God's sake!

    • Kenny Wordsmith profile image

      Ashok Rajagopalan 10 years ago from Chennai

      Parents are worried about this more than their kids, sometimes.

      This week, in India, a boy killed a bully outside the classroom with a gun that he pinched from his father. That was terrifying news!

    • gamergirl profile image

      Kiz 10 years ago from Antioch, TN

      Not only are bullies bothered by the prospect of failure, a little confidence can go a long way. Great hub!

    • trakker14 profile image

      trakker14 10 years ago from franklin

      bullies are terrified of need to find thier soft spot,most are cowards that dont want to be found out

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Good hub. here, a child is not permitted to defend himself or herself, even if they are ganged up on by several others. We've had several in the hospital and weapons in schools are getting worse.

    • Gwensgifts profile image

      Gwensgifts 10 years ago

      Great hub. Thank you for the great advice and sharing your personal story.

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 10 years ago from Sydney

      Son three informs that bullying is rife at his school. There is very little they can do about it.

      Must catch it happening

      no physical punishment allowed

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 10 years ago from Manhattan

      Oh God, who knows. It's so hard for adults to meddle in these issues... that's kind of why I focused so much on NOT focusing on that stuff. There's only so much that they can do before kids have to figure it out for themselves.

    • perfumer profile image

      perfumer 10 years ago from California

      Another interesting hub helena! What school authorities should do to handle these bullies?