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What can I do if other children pick on my children? Obviously I can't perform any disciplinary actions. Reprimanding might make my child look like a "mama's boy" and doing nothing might look like a betrayal of trust to my children. Additionally any of these possible actions might lead to full blown mobbing in the future.

What can be done in such difficult situations?

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Having this issue ourselves, our 13 month old is really getting bullied (toys stolen, pushed over) by his 19 month old cousin, and not sure what to do about it. They are good parents, and we don't want to not allow them to play together. –  Orbit Mar 31 '11 at 18:15
    
@Orbit if they were good parents, they would correct the problem immediately upon learning of it. –  HedgeMage Mar 31 '11 at 22:08
    
@DR01 How old are your children? Where is this happening? –  HedgeMage Mar 31 '11 at 22:10
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@Orbit Go for it! I'd pitch in. –  HedgeMage Mar 31 '11 at 22:52
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@HedgeMage: This didn't happen to my children, it happened to me, when I was a child. My parents each did react totally different, and in every case the outcome was disadvantageous. Now since I became a father 3 months ago, I'm rethinking many of my childhood experiences. –  Daniel Rikowski Apr 1 '11 at 6:08

6 Answers 6

up vote 24 down vote accepted
  • Teach your child not to be an easy target. Bullies go for easy prey, someone with confident body language, who can tell the bully to "knock it off" in a firm voice, etc. is a less likely target. Also, being with a group of friends whenever possible is another good strategy.

  • Teach your child to defend him/her self and others when needed. Tattling on a bully just teaches them to not get caught, and they may not give your child the chance to tattle before harm is done. Every living thing has the right to defend itself. Additionally, martial arts classes can help your child develop the confidence that will help him or her not be a target to begin with.

    Note: some schools have adopted a "no tolerance" policy such that a child who defends him/her self from a physical attack receives the same punishment as his/her attacker. It's hard to do, but prepare your child for this possibility and make sure they know you'd prefer to stand by them through a suspension than have them hurt.

  • If this is happening when you are around, just be observant. Most bullies don't want to be caught by adults. It is NOT wrong to step in if you see a child bullying others. Correct the child in a loud, firm voice. Their parent should step in, but if they don't want to, embarrassing them will usually do the trick.

    If this is happening at the school, make sure the school knows about it, and that you will not accept taking privileges away from your child in the name of avoidance as a solution. The easiest thing for the school to do is to keep your child away from the bully -- but this rewards the bully (with a sense of power over your child) and teaches your child that he/she is the one who is wrong. The only answer is to change the bully's behavior or remove the bully from the situation.

  • Make sure your child has a number of healthy friendships. Especially if the group he/she is with at school is a problem, let him/her try different sports or hobbies with other kids until he/she slides into a comfortable social group.

Remember: the worst part of bullying has nothing to do with harsh words or hard fists. It's about powerlessness, lack of confidence in one's own worth, and isolation. You combat that by giving your child power over the situation, and good friends he/she shares common interests with, and opportunities to build confidence.

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+1 for healthy friendships. For two reasons: it makes them less vulnerable (bullies pick on the kids that are both defenceless and don't have any or sufficient friends to back them up), and if it comes down to it, they can dispense some playground justice. –  Ernie May 19 '11 at 18:15
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Upvoted for 'stand by them though a suspension'. Just because you're in trouble with Them doesn't mean that you're in trouble with me. –  kivetros May 21 '11 at 12:35
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+1 for the self defense, standing by the child through a suspension, and acknowledging that tattling doesn't accomplish much in the long run (and often just makes it worse). –  Shauna Aug 31 '11 at 18:11
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Zero tolerance rules bug the crap out of me. If there's a bully/victim fight, zero tolerance means they get to claim some kind of victory even if they're the only one that believes it. The fact that a principle can hide behind a rule "we have a zero tolerance policy" absolves them from dealing with it and doing their job. –  monsto Jan 29 '13 at 0:57

As I do, I'm going to go a different way than the routes established in the other answers. I think they're pie-in-the-sky, "wouldn't it be great" kind of answers that don't really take practicality into account.

Lets take a moment to critically identify the problems.

If your kid is being bullied, the problem at hand is not:

  1. your kids self confidence.
  2. the parents or their interactions with the bully.
  3. niceness (or adult professionalism in the case of workplace bullying)

None of these address the one thing that has to be dealt with directly: the bully. You can't expect to stop the bullying by changing your kid. Because the problem isn't your kid; he's not too big of a target. the problem is the bully and consequently. They're a problem for everyone, not just the biggest targets. Talking to the parents has potential to work, but it also has just as much potential to not only make it worse, but to cause adult conflict. It however may be unavoidable, so be prepared for it. That is a whole other discussion.

So lets consider some priorities...

  • Things you don't care about: why the bully is a bully. ('don't care' meaning that it's not relevant to a solution)
  • Things you care about: your kids well being
  • The goal: for the bullying to stop.

Simple, sure... but nobody has said it 'out loud'. These are definitions that need to be brought into the real world.

Here's a list of things bullies care about:

  1. Self gratification

This is the tuffy... There's a pretty long list that would be there if it were "things bullies don't care about", but my list there is the shortest way to put it. It's not about power, or control... those items are derivative of and ultimately lead to self gratification. And of the things that should be on that opposing list, one of the things that most people don't think about is that bullies don't care about rules. They have no respect the facility (school, health club, workplace) or it's charges (teachers, managers, etc).

So, the problem is the bully and their disregard for social standards. While these may be rooted in family interactions, taking them into account is completely irrelevant to the solutions that can be implemented by the parent of the target.

With that in mind, there are really only a couple of very simple solutions all of which come down to your kid taking care of themselves.

When you realize that bullies don't care about rules, it becomes clear that you really hamstring the kids when you place unrealistic rules of engagement on them. It's not a palatable prospect telling kids to run askew of the rules, but in order to take care of the problem themselves, they may just have to do that. And they need to know that there's always options. Even when you don't like the options, they're still options.

When I was in 6th grade, Mr. McGinnis' class, there was a kid, lets call him Dewey Flowers, that constantly annoyed the shit out of me and he sat right behind me in class. One day, Dewey did something -- I don't even remember -- and I guess I'd had enough of it. The only thing I remember was 'waking up' with Mr. McGinnis holding me by the upper arms from behind and Dewey laying on the floor in front of me, both my desk and his desk scattered across the floor in a couple of major pieces. I was told that stood up, picked up my desk and threw it at him, books and stuff flying everywhere. As he was laying there, I started to pick up his desk when Mr McGinnis got to me and grabbed my arms knocking the 2nd desk over and breaking legs off.

When my 21 yr old was 9, we had him in a summer day camp thingy at a church, a similar thing happened to him... one day he had enough and picked up a canvas cot and slammed the kid across the head with it.

My now 11 yr old daugher is 2-ish semesters into middle school 6th grade. She's crazy "advanced" physically... 5'8", 150 lbs, D-cup. She looks all of 16. I warned her that people from other elementary schools that came into that middle school are going to see her as a target because of her 'physical nature' (I think those were my words). One day in early december I was called up to the school because she pushed a boy to the floor.

My rules of engagement for my kids

  1. Ask the person to stop
  2. If they don't stop, tell the person in charge that the kid won't stop.
  3. If the person in charge doesn't make them stop, then you have my permission to do what you need to do to make it stop.

I add to this ... "if you follow these rules, when I get called because you were in an altercation, the first thing I'm going to ask you is 'did you tell the person in charge.' As long as you say 'yes' then you won't be in trouble from me."

Even tho my examples are way outside the norm, that's kinda the subject here. Realistically, Rule 2 is 99.7% effective. Typically, you can count on the person or facilities in charge to make things happen as needed.

But when they don't, this set of rules just works. It respects socially assumed rules of order and hierarchy, and it's respectful. However, it doesn't lean exclusively on rules. Because the bottom line is that if the system doesn't work for you, then all bets are off and you need alternatives even if you have to create them. (As is done a lot this time of year, I'll compare this to basically what Martin Luther King, Jr., did way back then.) In both my kids cases, when the system didn't work for them directly, it worked for them indirectly.

When my son cracked that kid with a cot: We went to pick him up and the administrator had him in punishment. The person explained what happened, and I turned to him and smiled. "You ready? Did you tell the person in charge." "Yes." He then gave a short explanation of his interactions with one of the providers. I could then say to the admin "What do you expect from me? Your person clearly wasn't concerned enough to make it stop so my son had little choice."

My daughter: some boy grabbed her chest, and she simply floored him. Boom. According to her, she had this kid in a couple different classes. He only ever messed with her in that class because the teacher was inattentive (read: probably too old). My response to the vice principle was "and what's happening to the other kid?" Well of course he wasn't expecting that. She wasn't in trouble from me for defending herself, not to mention that she'd told that teacher several times and she didn't fix it. I think she got detention or something, which I disputed, and it was dropped.

Now . . . I don't advocate being violent, in all of my examples violence was a last resort. But you know what else it is? It's speaking the bully's language.

In the summer after 6th grade, my family moved. During 8th grade we moved back to the same area, but I was in jr high and went to a completely different school in the same district. My first day back at school, a kid in 4th hour asked me "were you the kid that threw a desk at Dewey Flowers?" And as a 6' tall 130 lb 8th grade kid, I never had any bully problems.

My sons interaction was in june about 3 wks into the summer. The rest of the summer he had no problems from that kid or any of the other bully types. He also got a different provider.

My daughter and that other kid were moved to separate sides of the classroom. But, like magic, all her girl problems went away too. I suspect she won't have any more problems all the way thru HS.

Bullies don't give a single shit about the rules. And when faced with someone as strong as them, mentally as well as physically, who shows that they're not going to put up with it, the bullies go away. It's not about "you're not as big a target", (which gives some manner of win to the bully) it's about showing that the world doesn't revolve around the bully.

Usually, you can follow rules as long as needed. But at some point, rules might not be able to define how to do whatever it is that you need to do. At that point, creating more rules doesn't do anything but put a fence on your ability to get things done. That's what the phrase "think outside the box" is all about. And when it comes to bullies, there's really only a couple of things that they truly understand. More rules isn't one of them.

Just like that kid in the youtube video that picked up the scrawny bully and threw his ass to the ground before walking away. (If you're a parent and you haven't seen it, you need to go find it.) To the answer givers in this thread: If walk-off kid was your kid, would you have chastised him for not following school rules about violence? About not taking it up the chain to the adults in charge? I wouldn't have. As a matter of fact, I'd be all up in the case of the school admin. And guess what: that kind of thing happens every day. That one just happened to be on video. And while it's not a preferred solution, your kid is going to imagine it and consider it. What they need to know that when all else has failed, when it's the only option, that it's still an option. Which, in a subconscious sense, is kinda like you not failing them as your words ring thru their heads when they're sitting in the principles office for knocking a kid to the ground.

Again, I'm not advocating fighting or violence. I'm advocating following the rules until they run out.

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This is very like our approach. My kids compete in martial arts, but know not to use this at school. There was one bully who picked on my eldest, and despite complaints the school did nothing - so I had a chat with the head teacher and said that I gave my son permission to defend himself as the school wouldn't, and while he wouldn't start anything, if the other child ended up on the ground this would be the school's problem, not my son's. The head then sorted the issue directly with the bully and his parents. –  Rory Alsop Jan 25 '13 at 10:44
    
I love your 3-rule approach. That's pure gold! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 25 '13 at 20:37
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I wish I could upvote this a zillion times. We're just starting to deal with bullying with my 4 yr old (!) and she and I are going to have this talk this morning before school. –  Valkyrie Feb 22 '13 at 10:44
    
I wish you luck! I'm curious to know how it works out. –  monsto Feb 23 '13 at 16:14
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This is quite possibly the best answer of all the answers on all of stackexchange. This is exactly the approach my parents taught me, and the one I hope to teach my child. I never started a fight, but when it was the only option I knew my parents would back me up. –  Grant Jan 29 at 23:22

Talk to the other parents about it. They are ultimately liable for the actions of their (very young) children.

If they don't see it as a problem, or (more likely) are not willing to take action, it's up to you to do whatever you can. Solutions that may work:

  • Avoiding the situation entirely (not always desirable or possible)
  • Teaching your child to run/report to you if they start getting bullied
  • Teaching your child to defend themselves (may worsen the situation in the short-term)
  • Monitoring your child heavily and preventing the bully from bullying them

Bullies (especially older ones) generally go for "easy pickings", so showing some back-bone may be a prudent long-term solution. Just be prepared for some tears and cat-fights.

I recommend (and myself practice) avoiding the situation entirely, or, if possible, keeping a close eye on your kid when bullies are around. You can yourself prevent bully actions.

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-1 because I've experienced this advice first-hand. It makes the problem worse, not better. Avoiding the situation entirely just leaves the bullied kid more isolated, and gives the bully what they want: power through intimidation. It becomes a game for the bully to then see just how much of the weaker kid's life they can cut off, by showing up at "situations" that the weaker kid will again try to "avoid". –  Ernie May 19 '11 at 18:24

We all want to protect our children, and on some level we can. But on another level, we can't shelter our kids from all situations where they may be bullied or picked on, and if we try we risk smothering their own sense of individual worth and growth.

If you know your child is being bullied in a situation outside your control, I'd certainly recommend addressing the issue with those in whose control the situation is (at least ostensibly). However, I'd also have a thorough discussion of it with your child. As someone who was picked on quite a lot in grade school, I've been there (although "there" will be different for every child). Stress to your child that childhood is not forever. Grade school/junior high/high school are not forever, and when it's over, the general populace usually manages to behave at least marginally responsibly. For a young child this may not immediately help, since life after school is so far away as to be almost completely irrelevant. But it will help to reaffirm to your child their worth to you, and to help them remember or find their own sense of worth. I'm trying to get ready (my baby is only 6 months old) to be able to help him find his own sense of worth as soon as possible for this very reason. It took a while (the ages of 11 to 14 were not a good time in my life for the most part), but as I established a sense of who I was and that the people making fun of me didn't matter, life became better.

And it may not hurt to teach your child the basics of self defense if they are old enough. Along with this should also be taught the idea that violence isn't (often) the right answer, but that when they are threatened with physical harm, it would make me feel a whole lot better to know that my son could handle himself.

I say this not because I think that kids should get used to being bullied or picked on, or because I think that dishing out vigilante justice to their oppressors will make anything better, but because most of our children will at some point in their developmental years be in this situation, and knowing that they have individual worth goes a long way to helping them ignore it or rise above it. And in the case that ignoring it isn't possible, defending themselves will have to do.

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If the bullying is happening at a school or a place where someone else has the duty of care for your child, then in many countries they have to take a zero-tolerance policy on bullying.

As someone who was bullied a lot at high school, at a school that allegedly had a zero-tolerance policy, I can state that most of the time their policies were quite useless. Only after I was given a concussion in view of a senior teacher at the school did anything positive actually happen. I suspect however if my parents had been involved in the process, things might have happened sooner/faster/better.

That said, you have to start somewhere, and if it's happening at a school, trying to get them to step in can work. Especially if your child has a good relationship with a teacher at the school, perhaps you can talk to them about it, as they may be able to put more pressure on the people in charge to do something about it.

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This response is geared towards younger children, say under 9 or 10 years old. The situation for teenagers is very different I think.


Definitely talk to the other parents if that is an option. If its not an option (for example, if you child is picked on at school) definitely talk to the teachers.

You also want to give your child a way to stand up for themselves, and that doesn't mean fighting. Teach them to tell the other kids what they are feeling. "I don't like what you're doing." "What you said hurts my feelings" Sometimes that is enough.

Teach your child that if these steps don't work, it is time to walk away from the situation and tell an adult (parent or teacher).

If You Witness The Bullying

First give your child a chance to respond, but feel free to intervene if things aren't going well.

You want to get both children and take turns explaining the situation.

  • Ask each child what happened.
  • Ask the children why they did what they did, and how they feel if that is done to them.
  • Have each child apologize for their wrongs, and make up.

If The Bullying Occurs When You Aren't Around

You need to communicate with your child's caregiver so they will be equipped to notice the bullying and deal with it. And you need your child to know to tell them when things get out of hand.

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+1, but I have my doubts about the "you hurt my feelings" part, especially when teenagers are involved. From what I've heard this encourages certain types of bullies to continue with their "effort". In that case a firm "knock it off" would yield better results. (See @HedgeMage's answer for that aspect) –  Daniel Rikowski Apr 1 '11 at 6:15
    
Right, and I have to agree with you, my technique will probably NOT work with teenagers (whom with I have no experience as my child is 5 years old). With younger kids, this most likely will work, although there may be cases where it won't. ... Most children don't want to hurt one another, especially when they calm down and think about it. –  Justin Standard Apr 1 '11 at 17:21
    
@DR01: I have personal experience with what you say. I would even venture that most bullies over the age of say, 7 are of the sort that take pleasure in hurting other people. At that point, it's time for the weaker kids to start asking questions like "what the hell is wrong with you?" Because the bullies are seriously damaged goods. –  Ernie May 19 '11 at 18:21
    
When I was bullied in grade school my mom called the other girl's mom and she made her apologize. It only made it worse and that girl hated me even more. What's worse is the apology was just an I'm sorry and that was it. I never got to find out why she did it or what made her dislike me in the first place. I'm completely against getting in touch with the other parents based on personal experience. I do need to know a different approach though. My son came home with holes in his shirt yesterday from his bully's pencil. –  jlg Dec 13 '11 at 20:49

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