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Practical Ways to Teach Young Children How to Respond to a Bully

Written by Bethany Todd, in collaboration with Laura Barr


Last week, an 8 year old boy committed suicide after being bullied at school. This utter heart-break is another example why we need to prepare schools and children for how to deal with bullies. In the next few weeks, we will discuss different elements of bullying and what parents can do to help their children identify a bully, stand up for themselves, have empathy, and get help. Today, we have provides some very practical tips for parents to begin their proactive approach to bullies.


Practical Tip #1

Identify a Bully: Create a list with your child of what is a bully and what it isn’t.

Prior to addressing and educating ourselves and our children about bullying, it’s vital that we all come to the same understanding of what a bully is. Bullies aren’t just mean kids; children can simply be mean at times.

A bully is defined as someone who uses their strength or power to hurt or intimidate others.  Similes include persecute, tyrannize, torment, oppress,  and harass.

Signe Whitson, author and national educator on bullying, helps parents identify what a bully is by providing clear examples and definitions of the difference between being rude, mean, or being a bully. Check out her article in Psychology Today here.

Whitson shares what experts have identified as three elements of a bully:

  1. An intent to harm
  2. A power imbalance
  3. Repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior.

While children learn about bullies at school, often through guidance lessons, it’s important to also help your child decipher what is a bully and what isn’t. Have a conversation today.


Practical Tip #2

A Bug and a Wish: Teach and practice using A Bug and A Wish at home

Marianne Clyde, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, speaker and best-selling author of Peaceful Parenting: 10 Essential Principles provides practical ways that parents can train children to stand up for themselves. Her grandson taught her the best strategy for using words to communicate how we feel toward a bully or someone who is being mean, called “A Bug and A Wish”. A Bug and A Wish by Karen Scheuer is a children’s book in which the main character, Tyler, learns a solution to being teased, and to communicate his feelings using what some school counselors call “I statements”.

How to Use “A Bug and A Wish”

You say, “It bugs me when you do ___________.” I wish that__________.”

Examples include:

  • It bugs me when you push me; I wish that you would stop.
  • It bugs me when you call me names.  I wish you would call me ___.
  • It bugs me when you make fun of my shoes. I wish I could get a new pair.


Practical Tip #3

Teach Empathy: Create a List of Empathetic Behaviors

The Bully Project shared an article, Accepting That it Wasn’t About Me. This is an excellent article for parents and children to help them begin to understand that bullying is about the bully. A bully often doesn’t feel good about themselves and acts as a bully because they think it will make them feel better about themselves. Bullies need help too.

Help your children to have empathy by working together to create a list of compassionate empathetic behaviors.  Marianne Clyde teaches families to reinforce and praise children when they show empathy to other kids. She provides the following sample list:

Empathetic Behaviors:

  • Sitting with someone who is alone.
  • Picking someone for your team that doesn’t normally get picked first.
  • Seeing next to someone who looks sad and ask if you can help.
  • Inviting someone to your birthday that is different from you or might not always get invited to parties.

Marianne Clyde encourages families and children about their own innate value. She discusses that the better you feel about yourselves, and your innate value, the more it allows you to be  yourselves;  to create, be smart, kind, and stronger in yourself.


If you think your child is being bullied

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