What’s the Best Way to Deal with a Bully?

Many school age children feel that they are misfits and simply don’t fit in with the “in-group” or even the general population of their peers.  Kids that are perceived as weird or different can become the target of bullies and become vulnerable to depression, anxiety and the threat of suicide.  A 2005 Harris poll found 90 percent of gay and lesbian teens say they’ve been bullied in the past year.  And nearly two-thirds of these students feel unsafe in school, according to a 2009 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.  In September 2010 alone, three teens took their lives after homophobic taunting. The epidemic of bullying across the country has sparked national concern, prompting anti-bullying measures that are now being passed.

“The majority of kids are very reluctant to tell adults they’ve been bullied,” states Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.  Experts encourage parents to pay close attention to changes in behavior.  A happy child can suddenly become withdrawn or pretend he’s ill to avoid school.  If your child seems unhappy and withdrawn and tells you that he or she has no friends at school, that’s a red flag and warrants further exploration

Have you had any personal experiences in dealing with a bully?  What did you do about it?  Most people have, perhaps when they were young and maybe as adults as well. This was a topic that Yahoo.com wanted to address in their format called, “Answers on the Street.”   Their producers, who invited me to be their psychology expert for some of the episodes that were to have a human-interest focus, contacted me.  I went into their studios to film the episodes on a variety of topics and this is one of them.  I’ve included here an outline of the information that I provided when asked the following questions.  An edited version of the interview may be found by logging onto:  www.answersonthestreet.yahoo.com

  1. Who is a bully?  What do bullies do to bully someone?
    1. They are children or adults who seek out a victim to attack emotionally and/or physically.
    2. They taunt, tease and insult in order to gain power and control over another.
    3. They can be relentless.
    4. They can be cruel and violent.
    5. They like to dominate others.
    6. They may have personality disorders.
  1. Why do people become bullies?
    1. They may need to cover feelings of inadequacy.
    2. They may lack good adult role models.
    3. They may be bullied by one or more family members at home or by another bully outside the house.
    4. They may have fallen into a bullying peer group.
  1.  Do you know of any ways to deal with a bully?
    1. Act Brave — Take a firm, commanding and non-belligerent stand to let the bully know that you will not allow him to continue his actions.
    2. Ignore — Neutralize the bully’s attempts by not resisting or paying attention.  Don’t feed energy to the bully’s efforts.
    3. Tell an adult – Speak to someone who is an ally like a parent, friend, teacher, coach, etc.
    4. Don’t resort to bullying-back.  Avoid aggression and violence.
    5. Seek the help and support of friends.
  1. Should you stand your ground with a bully or walk away?

Either strategy can be effective under the appropriate circumstances.  You might consider that one way to take a stand is to walk away when it’s called for.  It doesn’t mean that you’re a wimp or coward by taking the path of least resistance.

  1. What would you do to avoid a confrontation with a bully?

Attempt to create space or distance between you and the bully.  When that’s not possible, take the bully aside and speak to him privately.  Ask him why he doesn’t like you.  Try to find out what’s eating at him that’s causing him to take out his anger on you.  What are the issues that are causing the pain inside the bully?  You don’t have to be his therapist but you can be therapeutic by taking an interest in what may underlie the bully’s behavior.  Knowledge is power.

  1. Should I raise my voice?

Attempt to speak in a firm and commanding   voice rather than rigid and demanding one.  Your words have power, and when used with finesse they convey a more powerful message than the one that is delivered with a shout.  One doesn’t necessarily hear you any more clearly when you raise your voice.  However, a raised voice in a controlled manner can be impressive when necessary.

  1. Why do people become victims of bullies?
    1. A bully can single out people who isolate.
    2. The victims are perceived as different.
    3. They have poor social skills.
    4. They are at the wrong place at the wrong time.
    5. They tend to be silent types.
    6. They are carriers of shame.
  1. What are some signs that someone is being bullied?
    1. Symptoms of school distress like failing grades and loss of interest.
    2. Physical symptoms like stomachaches, headaches, nausea, and loss of appetite.
    3. Emotional symptoms of anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, suicidal ideation, self-mutilation.
    4. Disheveled and torn clothes.
    5. Missing belongings.
    6. Unexplained injuries.
    7. Repeated requests for money.
  1. How can you help a child who is being bullied?
    1. Talk to your child.
    2. Ask general and non-confrontive questions.
    3. Get a detailed narrative of what’s occurring.
    4. Avoid interrupting or judging.
    5. Remain calm.
    6. Avoid premature solutions.
    7. Be patient.
    8. Help your child avoid being a target or a victim.
    9. Create strategies for dealing with the bully.
    10. Enroll the child in a martial arts class.
    11. Contact the bully’s parents.  Enlist their support to speak with their child so that there is an understanding of the consequences.  Have the bully apologize/make amends and replace stolen property or repay for the loss.  Seek an introspective understanding concerning the misconduct.
    12. Watch for signs that the behavior may not have stopped.


  1. What if a child is bullied online?
    1. If you’re a child, speak to your parent about what’s happening.
    2. Parents should remain calm, cool and collected in reviewing the evidence that has appeared online.
    3. Discuss with your child where he/she thinks this may be originating.
    4. Deal with it reasonably by contacting the parents of the offender or reporting it to the online server or the cyberspace authorities.
    5. No one can truly hide out in cyberspace.
  1.  You’re a bully if you do any of these things to someone else:
  • You call them names.
  • You spread rumors about them.
  • You make up stories to get them into trouble.
  • You take their friends away, leaving them on their own.
  • You tell other people not to be friends with them.
  • You hit them, kick them, trip them up or push them around.
  • You make remarks about their culture, religion or color.
  • You make remarks about their looks or weight.
  • You make remarks about their disability or medical condition.
  • You don’t choose them to be your partner in class.
  • You leave them out when you’re choosing a team for a game.
  • You tell them you’re busy and then go off to enjoy yourself with others.
  • You take away their possessions or demand money from them.
  • You damage their property.
  • You hide their books or bag.
  • You make jokes about them when you can see they’re upset.
  • You send them nasty text messages or make silent calls on their phone.
  • You indulge in horseplay when you know they are not enjoying it.
  • You make threats about nasty things that will happen to them.
  • You’re going along with the crowd who are doing any of these things.
  • You make homophobic remarks about them liking other boys or other girls.

12.  What are some questions you can ask a younger child?

  • Who are your child’s friends and what does he/she like about them?
  • Has he/she dropped old friends and got new ones?
  • What does your child think about the bullying victim?
  • What games do they play at school and who decides who can join in?
  • Is your child afraid of anyone else? There is often a ringleader and children   go along with him/her because they are afraid they may be the next targets if they don’t.
  • Could your child be upset because of a change in family circumstances,  i.e. separation, bereavement, or a new baby?

13.  What are some questions you can ask an older child?

  • How he/she feels about the victim and what they don’t like about him/her?
  • Who else is joining in the bullying?
  • Why are they are doing it?
  • Have they thought of the effect bullying is having on the other person?
  • Is he/she joining in because they’re afraid of the consequences if they don’t?
  • How does he/she think the person being bullied must feel?
  • Does he/she realize that attacking someone else is a criminal offense?
  • Does he/she realize that sending abusive e-mails, text or phone messages are a criminal offense?
  • If the bullying complained about were happening to him/her, what would he/she want done about it?

14.  Finally, what are some thoughts for parents to consider?

  • Do you encourage your children to stand up for themselves and could their assertiveness be construed as bullying?
  • Do you tell your children to hit back?
  • Are you confrontational?
  • Are you aggressive if another parent complaints to you about bullying?
  • Are you critical of teaching staff in front of your child?
  • Do you give your children space to talk about things that may be upsetting them?
  • Do you try to work with the school on problems?

15.  Here are some web sites that you can turn to for further help: