How to handle a bully, is a question asked not only by kids, but also us adults who deal with bullies at work.
With the unending talk in the media about school shootings, an increase in teen suicide and shows like 13 Reasons Why, bullying is a topic weighing on everyone’s minds these days.
And yet, it isn’t new.
My husband has shared stories of being taunted by a bully when he was in school (until he finally turned on the kid and retaliated) and I experienced my own degree of bullying from classmates (mostly females).
Nor can we really say that bullying ends the moment you get out of school.
Many of us have dealt with workplace bullies who talk behind your back or steal credit for your work.
My point is: bullying isn’t going away.
A study in the Journal of School Health found that 19 percent of U.S. elementary students are bullied.
More shocking than that, though, according to a survey by the National Education Association, more than 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because they fear being bullied.
That’s why it’s so important to learn how to handle a bully (and to apply those same principles to your adult life, as well).
That said, it’s important to recognize that there is no easy solution to the problem.
If there was, it would have been suggested and implemented a long time ago.
According to Brooks Gibbs, there are four scenarios in which kids are viewed as being mean:
- They’re trying to be funny and the recipient is offended
- They’re upset with you because they feel like you’re the bully (in which case, you should probably apologize or ask why they’re mad at you)
- They’re mad at someone else and taking it out on you
- They’re trying to power over you and intentionally trying to hurt your feelings
Teach Emotional Resilience (And Practice It Yourself)
Brooks points out that words only have the power that we give them.
In the case where a kid is trying to be funny and hits a sore spot with another student, hurting his/her feelings, it may help to explain to that child that it wasn’t meant as a personal attack and that it’s important to be able to, in life, laugh at themselves, too.
That does, of course, require kids to be self-aware, which means they need a certain level of maturity.
The child needs to be capable of reinterpreting the situation so they don’t take it to heart.
Another approach is helping kids see that the flaws others are picking on are actually strengths.
In his book, The Freak Factor: Discovering Uniqueness by Flaunting Weakness, Dave Rendall says,
“At what point does that nerdy kid become an inventor? When does the kid who dresses weird get praised because he’s a fashion designer?”
Matt Langdon, President of the Hero Construction Company, encourages adults to use the hero’s journey model to put things in perspective for kids.
For example, the “Harry Potter” series could be used to show how heroes learn, and emerge, from their struggles. (You can watch hero movies to see the same hero journey played out).
Live by the Golden Rule
Brooks makes a great observation when he points out that “You cannot drive out hate with more hate.”
He explains that we’re all wired for reciprocity.
That means that if one kid is acting aggressive, the other, without thought, is going to want to be aggressive back.
However, when you’re kind to people and live by the Golden Rule, the law of reciprocity works to your advantage. Because when you’re kind back to someone who’s being a bully, they’re going to have a hard time being mean back to you.
It’s just a matter of overcoming that initial reaction to react in anger.
Find Help if You’re in Danger or Struggling Emotionally
If you are physically in danger and your body or property is about to be damaged, get help.
The same applies if you’re struggling emotionally, are depressed or having suicidal thoughts.
If you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to use words to provoke you to fight them, resist. Remember, words only have the power that you give them.
As Brooks points out, “Speech isn’t violence unless it threatens violence. If you don’t make that clear, they’re going to be a marshmallow by the time they get to college.”
Parents, Know When It’s Time for a Change
As Phyllis Fagell writes in her article, 9 Ways Parents Can Help Bullied Kids Learn Resilience,
“When there are safety concerns or a child is spiraling downward, parents may need to consider moving them to a new setting or seeking therapy.”
Rosalind Wiseman, author of “Owning Up” and co-founder of Cultures of Dignity encourages parents not to move too quickly, though, and to give the schools an opportunity to discipline. “Parents tend to move really fast,” she says. “But if you’re in a self-righteous temper tantrum kind of place, the only thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to make the situation worse.”
Summary: How to Handle a Bully
Again, there is no easy solution for dealing with the problem of bullying in schools.
The best way we can address it, though, is to create kids who are emotionally resilient, who understand that this is only a small part of their story and that it will pass.
Some ways you can do this are:
- Help them not to take words to heart (and to be self-aware)
- Help them see that their flaws are actually their strengths
- Change the narrative and take them on the hero’s journey
- Live by the Golden Rule
Make sure that they know to seek help immediately if they’re being hurt physically or are thinking of hurting themselves.
And finally, parents, know when it’s time to change gears and put them in a new setting entirely.
What do you think?
What advice do you give your kids for how to handle a bully?