Helping Kids Deal with a Bully Without Losing Your Cool
The playground bully – the one who seems to just be mean for the sake of being mean. Yesterday my sons and their friends met him, and he left his mark. It seems too stereotypical to be true – a bunch of boys playing at the park, and one of them is bent on making an impression – a bad impression. My sons and their friends didn’t even know his name, but that didn’t stop him from elbowing one, throwing rocks at another, and repeatedly pushing and banging into one of my sons. One of my other boys went into Big Brother Mode and realized this bully was not going to stop, no matter how they all reacted to him and he came around the corner of the building to get me. “Mom – there is this boy being mean to us. He keeps shoving and pushing and throwing things and he won’t stop, no matter what we say or do.” Now I’m in Momma Bear Mode.
What should I do?
- Tell them to ignore him?
- Tell them to fight back?
- Tell them to walk away?
- Go yell at this bully?
- Run and find his mom and let her know what I think of her son doing this?
Suddenly, when you’re in Momma Bear Mode, all of these possibilities run through your mind, but then you have to get a grip. After all, bullying is sadly an everyday experience. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, 74% of 8-11 year-olds report bullying and teasing are commonplace behaviors at their schools. But I needed to do something right then and there to put an end to this, help my boys learn some lessons, and perhaps curtail this behavior in the future.
How to Stop a Bully
Some of the approaches for stopping a bully that are given by the National Crime Prevention Council include:
- Encouraging kids not to use violence in response to bullying
- Praising kids when they don’t respond in violence to bullying
- Walking away
- Helping others who are being bullied
Another list of ways to stop a bully, presented by Surf Net Parents, includes some of the following ideas. I can point out exactly which ones my boys tried, which ones worked, and why sometimes nothing seems to help.
Put on a brave face. Don’t give the bully power by showing it bugs you. After a while my one son did have the tears on the edge of his eyes, but only when he was retelling the incident and he told me the bully had hurt him. I asked him where the other child hurt him, and he responded, “My heart.” Yep – bullying usually hurts the heart the worst.
Have a friend around. Bullies are less likely to act when the victim has backup. This didn’t seem to matter for this particular bully. He was outnumbered 5 to 1 and it made no difference. He went from boy to boy, changing tactics and targeting each in a different way.
Ignore bullies. Bullies are often looking for a reaction – if you don’t react they don’t receive motivation to continue. My boys and their friends tried to play in the same area, avoiding direct contact, but it made no difference.
Confront the bully. Ask the bully why he is acting that way, and tell him to stop the behavior because it is bothersome. All of the boys told him his behavior was bothering them, and one of my sons said, “Please stop smacking me. It really hurts” but it made no difference.
Report the bullying. There are times when a parent, teacher, adult, or older child are the only ones who can intervene and make a difference, so don’t be afraid to tell them about the situation. One of my sons did come and let me know that there was a child bullying other kids on the playground.
Control your feelings. I am probably most proud of my sons for not fighting back in this situation. This was one of those times and one of those kids where it wouldn’t have mattered – it would only have made things worse.
Don’t bully back. My sons and their friends could have easily ganged up on this bully – they outnumbered him and a few of them outsized him. But they all acted respectfully in the face of really poor behavior.
How Should Parents React to Their Child’s Bully?
So there I was in Momma Bear Mode, seeing the tears in the eyes of my son, feeling the frustration that one little person could cause so much pain so freely on an otherwise beautiful afternoon. I honestly wanted to march up to this boy and give him a piece of my mind in a not very friendly voice. I wanted to track down his parents and do the same. But then I saw this boy, this bully.
I recognized him as a smaller version of an older bully I know, and I realized that his older brother is someone who torments tweens and teens. I also knew that his parents (based on previous experience) would react in one of two ways: they would deny and make a scene, accusing the other boys of lying about their son, or they would turn and humiliate their son in an attempt to discipline his behaviors.. The possibility of what might happen out of the public eye worried me even more. So I simply walked up him, calmly told him that the other kids at the playground were getting hurt and that everyone would like it if everyone acted respectfully towards each other. He never said a word, never looked at me, and just kept swinging.
- I didn’t yell at him.
- I didn’t blame him – I never once accused him of actually perpetrating the behaviors to which I was referring.
- I didn’t track down his parents.
- I did recognize that this kid was having more than a moment. He is being raised in a family where bullying is commonplace.
- I did praise the boys for not ganging up on him in retaliation, for using their words to tell him how his behaviors were affecting them, for standing up for each other, and for coming to get an adult when all else failed.
So while I wanted this bully to know the pain he had caused, I knew that most likely, he just couldn’t. He didn’t have the tools to know any better. Which makes me wonder how parents and kids are supposed to react in situations like this – where parents seem to be breeding bullies. Join me for tomorrow’s discussion on making sure we are not breeding bullies in our own homes, and how we might be able to help those kids who are living in these homes where bullying is perpetuated.