A nine year old boy is often the brunt of the jokes of his "friends". The boy is cooperative, kind, and unaggressive and unable to counter the other kids teaming up to play their jokes on him.

The individual occurences seem harmless enough and even funny, but in their sum and consistency they seriously affect the child. An example: Four kids play hide and seek. When the boy in question has to seek the others, which he is good at, because he is observant and quick, the boys he has caught simply exchange their clothes and claim that they are the other person and had not been caught. That's certainly original and many parents would laught at such inventiveness. The problem is that the inventiveness is consistently aimed at the same child and there rarely is an afternoon that I don't see him angry or crying – and the others laughing at his distress in obvious glee.

If this was your son, how would you help your child to break out of being habitually abused?

Assume for your answer that those are the only available playmates (so that evading the problem by making other friends is not possible) and that you cannot talk to the parents of the other kids (for whichever reason). I am especially interested in how you would advise, instruct, or coach your son how to escape his painful role as the butt of the jokes and possibly even turn those abusive relationships into true friendships. That is, I am interested in how you would help your child grow, instead of solving the problem for him.

  • 4
    You nailed it in the 2nd sentence. Teach him how to say "No" and not be a cooperative unaggressive pushover when being abused! It's an extremely important life skill to do so. (Personal Anecdote: I was a bullied kid in elementary school, but I grew some balls one day and punched the bully in the face. The school's principal in private said to me that he was glad someone did it finally. He called my parents personally to tell them I didn't actually deserve suspension but the red tape requires it. It reduced the bullying not just for myself instantly, but for my classmates as well.)
    – MickLH
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 19:21
  • 4
    @MickLH Physical retribution only works if the bullying is obvious to other adults. In my case, the bullies are highly intelligent and take great care never to be observed in their bullying. As an effect, it is the bullied child that appears as the transgressor. If he chose to actually beat someone, three witnesses would blame him. Also, the parents of the bullies are all friends of each other, three are even teachers. There is no chance that this boy would be believed.
    – user4758
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 19:45
  • Well most importantly, I'm not suggesting that violence is a quick and easy answer. I'm only saying not to be cooperative and kind to your abusers. This is separate from the anecdote. With that said however, on the anecdote: The boy can isolate each of the bullies when taking it to physical conflict, which both protects him from being physically "ganged up on" and also removes any credible witness. Now if the three bullies want to pin it on him, they have to admit they are collaborating. He'd best go for the "ringleader" first, so that it appears to be an organized framing by them.
    – MickLH
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 19:57
  • 5
    I can't stress enough that the anecdote is not a practical solution these days. Times have changed and "political correctness" has gone way, way overboard enabling massive exploitation by sociopath characters across the spectrum from "Bully" to "SJW". (Which are shockingly similar, btw) -- Instead what I'm actually suggesting, I'd imagine to play out as the boy being verbally assertive in the moments he feels unwelcome or isolated. Simply stating clearly that their actions are unacceptable.
    – MickLH
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 20:00
  • 1
    @CarloWood and then he will be a miserable victim of bully of that group of four? How is he going to be helped then? Hoping that some other 16 people will give those 4 a lesson individually? (And then another 64 to teach those 16 a lesson? And then another 256?) Relying on other bullies to teach one's bully a lesson is ... unrealistic - what if the "princes on the white horses" never show up and save the victim? The most reliable person that can fix the problem is the victim himself.
    – Alic
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 15:35

9 Answers 9


I have been the bullied child.

What my parents tried to teach me was being able to stand up for myself. Trusting in my self-worth and independence. A parent can help with the first steps on this way, but in the end the child has to develop this mostly on his own. It will take a long time. You can help him find good responses to bullies which are not rude, but might help outwit and thus win over them.

Also, provide a safe haven. There is only so much bullying a child can take. I had days where I did not want to go to school and still I had to, but very infrequently (in fact as far as I remember only once or twice) I was feeling so bad that my parents allowed me to stay home and just get a break.

Tell them that they are not weak. Often bullying stems from envy. It makes you feel bad about being smart or quick and observant and only see the bad facts about you. Make them aware of their good traits (and yes, also how being a bully is not a good trait, so those other kids definitely have bad traits, too).

Find out how to build their strength. What is making them feel strong? Are there situations where they stand up for themselves or others? What is it in that situation that made them able to do it? Remind them of those situations. Do not send them back to "stand up for themselves" when they come home crying. Now they are weak and hurt and it would only get worse. Send them off to be strong when they leave to play with their bullies in the first place.

In the end, my parents did what they could. I don't know how, but at some point I learned how to treat bullies in a way that I was not a good victim for them any more. I think I learned it by being able to stand up for and protect others. Then I realised I can do this for myself, too.

What will help your child in detail depends a lot on their character and interests. But maybe this is a start.

Teach them they are not a victim. Emphasise their strengths. Be a shoulder to cry on. Provide a safe heaven, but do not go out and solve their problems. Do not force them to interact with their bullies. (You do not have to love all people. But you can also avoid those who are not worth it, instead of hating them.)

  • 7
    +1 This is such a great answer! And also way more effective than talking to teachers or other parents. This way they also learn how to deal with bullies later in life!
    – Pudora
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 10:36
  • 8
    +1 and as an addition, bullies come in all ages. Helping him to learn how to deal with these bullies now will help him to learn what to do when for instance his boss bullies him. The right answer isn't going to HR, but rather to develop a countermeasure to it without causing a scene. Bullies rarely if ever pick the hardest target.
    – Anoplexian
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 17:37
  • 1
    +1 For teaching them to stand up for themselves by standing up for others. This is such a brilliant idea! Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 19:30
  • 2
    One minor language change, don't use "not weak" but rather "you are strong". The subconscious doesn't register the word not, only the word "weak". Also, "not weak" is nothingness, it doesn't imply you are strong. After all, can you not think of a pink elephant on a beachball? Try not to. ahh. you can't! :) Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 20:16
  • 1
    @guru_florida For me in the beginning it was hard to believe I would be strong. "You are strong" sounded more like an empty lie. Being not weak did not mean that I had to be really strong it just meant that people doing something to me could not make me weak. Being bullied does not happen because someone is weak, they are just perceived to be weak by the bullies. And you have to change their perception, not by necessarily overpowering them by being strong, but just by not being their victim by not believing you are weak. I know about the psychology of "not", but it is a little too generalised.
    – skymningen
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 8:35

It is very difficult to get past the "boys will be boys" attitude. Talking to parents will generally not work - and may make the problem worse as they privately whine about your behavior in front of their kids - who will undoubtedly take it out in the victim again. It's a neverending cycle.

So what do you do in life when things get bad?

When you're in a car accident, they don't leave you there to figure things out, you get into the ambulance and go to the hospital. When food is burning on the stove, you don't leave it there - you take it away. When a restaurant treats you poorly, you don't go back anymore - you take your business elsewhere.

This is not the kind of situation where a 9 year old is expected to deal with a toxic relationship. If adults don't, why should the kids do it? The problem is the bullies, not the victim - so why try to get the victim to change?

What I would do is disallow my child to play with these bullies. Not like "no, you can't go outside and play with them, just hide in your room". Rather, you simply take away the opportunity for that to happen: enroll him in a sport, a martial art, music lessons, the boy scouts, the PAL, YMCA, junior fire (or police) department, church activities, the town pipe and drum corp, a choir, a science club for kids. Maybe get him a Big Brother. But find an activity that's age-appropriate and which takes him out of the situation. You'll need to be clever about transportation sometimes, or how to handle situations when in school where you can't take him away.

When there are problems that happen in school, that's when you get tough. I answered a question related to bullies in the martial arts section, here

Martial arts to intimidate school bullies

Of course, there are things you can do as well. Such victims often lack self-esteem, confidence, or street smarts. You might lack them as well, or maybe you don't know how to teach those skills. This is where therapy can help.

  • 1
    I would definitely second the recommendation for boy scouts. It is an opportunity for boys to make friends in a safe environment that tries to uphold high ideals. Other activities might be fun but would focus more on performance or learning rather than how they interact with each other (not saying they are bad, just probably not as good at focusing on making friends). Never tried Big Brother but I have heard good things. And martial arts is good for helping him feel more confident and in control. Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 23:02
  • Could you explain "Big Brother"? All I can find are links to a tv show and George Orwell.
    – user4758
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 9:12
  • 1
    Instead of "disallow", the alternative step is to tell him that it's OK to say "if you're going to do that, I don't want to play with you" and walk away. And that play should be fun. Although it might be lonely to play on your own, it's better than being with people who don't make life fun for you.
    – Graham
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 12:52
  • 2
    Yes, it's okay to say that, but it's not effective. That's like threatening a child to take away her asparagus if she doesn't clean her bedroom. Such bullies are not moved by threats like that, because they don't have a vested interested in maintaining that friendship. I do agree that playing alone is better than playing with toxic friends; but that is where the alternative activities come in: keep them busy doing other things.
    – user26460
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 15:09
  • 1
    Best advice here IMO. Since you can't control the school friend situation so much, add more friends elsewhere and the experience may help him solve his school situation. Especially if he meets a friend that's gone through what he went through and beat it. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 20:22

This situation sounds like fairly normal social behavior for boys. Getting defensive about normal interactions would likely alienate the others and destroy any chance for long-term friendship. The problem is that, no matter how cordially the emotional discomfort is expressed, the optimal result is the others knowing that they have to treat the boy differently to avoid hurting his feelings.

It should be up to the boy whether or not he wants to be friends with the others. And if he chooses to not be friends with them because their rougher style of social interaction isn't his cup of tea, that's entirely his choice. But I'd urge you to not put this in the antagonist terminology of bullying and victimhood so long as they're genuinely trying to socialize.


  • Don't try to make the first boy see himself as a victim or outcast.
  • Do encourage the boy to understand the others.
  • Do encourage the boy to avoid taking slights personally.
  • Do let the boy know that it's his choice if he wants to continue to be friends with the others.
  • Do let the boy know that there's someone in his corner when he's feeling down.

Internal vs. external attribution

In the field of Psychology, attribution theory differentiates between internal attribution and external attribution: something happened because of the person versus the external universe.

In this case, the boy can either internally or externally attribute the social disconnect. Psychologically, it's easier to externally attribute - to say that the other boys are in the wrong; however, external attribution is poor preparation for adulthood. It's better if he internally attributes the issue; to say, this is a social situation that he's participating in that's not working for him, how does he want to improve it? Research shows that the most successful adults internally attribute; they see situations as flowing from their own decisions, which gives them power.

That's how this boy can grow - he needs to see the situation as his to participate in (or not participate in, if that's his decision) and react accordingly. He's not a victim, but rather someone who has that power and uses it to make the best decisions possible.

  • 1
    My first answer on this site got downvoted. Should I put this into the lens of bullying and leave the site? I hope that this boy isn't talked into taking that approach to life.
    – Nat
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 23:20
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 23:33
  • 1
    I agree that while a person might become a victim (that is, have something done to them), it is more helpful for that person not to view themselves as a (helpless) victim and not take on the role of victim. +1
    – user4758
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 9:16
  • Victim is as much a self-given title, as it is anything else. One can either choose to play the part of victim, or play the part of survivor. It all comes down to how one deals with life events, and how others in their lives react as well. If you constantly bail someone out, or pamper them/coddle them, then the victim mentality is more likely to take root. Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 6:04
  • Also, do let the boy know that bullying is as old as time, is a part of nature, and a hurdle to be overcome. Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 6:05

In my opinion (as a person who was very heavily bullied as a child and who has done a huge amount of work around this) the damage of abuse doesn't come from the external facts of the experience--what actions occurred, how much physical pain was felt, and so on, but from the way the victims's perception of the experience shapes future beliefs, attitudes, habits, and trust, both about himself and others/the world, through damage to personal image and other distortions that lead to maladaptive functioning later in life.

The goal, then, isn't necessarily to stop all external experience of bullying but to ensure that the child's response to it, his internal experience of bullying, leaves him free enough to be capable of living a life well-adapted to reality and society. How do we achieve that?

For starters, a bullied child needs choices. Consider some of the research on this:

From Annuary of Clinical and Health Psychology, 2 (2006) 15-25

Coping strategies: mediators of long-term effects in victims of bullying?

On one hand, when we considered the perception of control, the victims with less perception of control on bullying episodes showed higher stress levels. On the other hand, students who considered the conflict more as a challenge than a threat experienced lower levels of stress in adult life. ... [E]ven if the perception of control was imaginary, the stress buffering finally reinforces it. ... The perception of control may be considered an efficient protector in victim populations.

Second, one of the better coping strategies is ignoring the situation, "so as to show the bully that bullying had little effect." Fighting with the aggressor or other confronting strategies tended to lead to more problems than the child could handle at once.

And third, the emotional state of the child while being bullied seems highly significant.

So you can provide a three-pronged strategy to help protect him from the negative effects:

  1. Help the child discover choices that either give him control, or even just the illusion of control,
  2. Encourage him to ignore the bullies and disengage from them when they are bullying, and
  3. Engage him regarding his feelings and self-perceptions, to see if you can assist him to arrive at a different experience of the bullying (such as treating it as a puzzle or challenge rather than damage to his essential self). Taking the bullying personally and displaying negative emotion is the very thing the bullies are looking for, and has the double effect of both making the bullying harmful from the perspective of the child and encouraging the bullies to keep doing it.

Note: the wording in the paper is a little awkward—I suspect because it was translated from Spanish imperfectly—however if you can get through it, I think you may find some useful information in it and some starting points for further research.

The article the long-term effects of bullying from mentalhelp.net also seems to have some good practical advice that may be of use to you. It touches on some of the same points I've already made but lists a few others. For example,

[M]ultiple researchers point to the protective effect that a good social support network has with regard to [a] bully victim's short and long term outcomes. Having ... [people] who can be confided in when one has been bullied and who can offer support and advice tends to lessen bullying's impact.

[W]hen a bullying victim is surrounded by ... a supportive social network, they are receiving many positive messages about their worth from network members, and there are thus fewer opportunities for bullies' negative messages to find purchase and grow ... .

I know for SURE that I didn't have these things and they would have made a huge difference. Instead, what I had was:

  • I have no control and I can't make the bullying stop.
  • There's something horribly wrong with me. I am defective, and somehow the bullying is my fault. I inspire bullies to mistreat me. They bully me because I deserve it, and they hate me.
  • I have no resources and no recourse. There's no one I can tell and no one who can help me with my problem.
  • I am so terrified of getting in trouble with my father for fighting that I am in a double-bind where I can't fight back even if I wanted to. (This perception was wrong, as when I after long last, finally did get in a fight, my father was supportive. But the damage of his general neglect had already been done through years of declining to stick up for myself physically.)

No one ever pointed out certain simple things that would have helped me, such as:

  • I would rather have detention or be expelled from school, and risk my father's anger, than to continue to tolerate these horrible assaults on myself.
  • I need coaching on the meanings of the social interactions I am failing in so I can navigate them better.
  • The fact that I am a target and being bullied so badly is not my fault--it is the fault of the people who haven't equipped me and who aren't protecting me the way I deserve. I am just a child who can't be expected to know how to deal with this stuff.
  • If a situation is too intolerable, then defending myself physically is okay, as long as I'm prepared that I could be beaten up or some physical attacks could increase as a result. If I can be "scrappy" enough, the bullies will eventually decide it's not worth the effort of beating me up all the time.

I don't recommend the strong fighting strategy come very high on the list--it really should be a last resort. However, the child needs to have it as a choice so that if he runs out of all the other options, he has something else to try. But resisting bullies physically doesn't have to be simple fighting. For example, one time in Jr. High, a boy tried to spray deodorant on me after gym class. However, I had a deodorant stick in my hand and turned and swiped it across the aggressor's shirt several times. I won that round just by showing some spunk. But you have to pick your battles carefully.

Oh, and one more thing: get the child enrolled in martial arts! I promise you this will change his experience of the world, even if he never uses the skills to physically defend himself. It has a calming and centering effect to know what you could do to someone (or to believe it, anyway).

To answer the question of what you do when the bullying is already in full swing and the bullied child is a known target such that ignoring the bullying is unlikely to be successful:

At that point it's hard because the bully already knows the victim is bothered and sees through any show of indifference. Each situation is different but if possible I would recommend counseling for the victim and his parents.

The goal is to give the child choices, a list of things to try, and for the world (in his perception) to change enough to communicate (on an unconscious level) that the abuse is external to him, it is not inescapable, and the personal narrative he chooses to represent what happens is not one that results in maladaptation to life.

  • upvoted, I agree with with ignoring, but you have give more details on how can you ignore a bully, when he runs the show? He bullies you in front of everyone? At lunch, on the bus, in class, at sports, etc.?
    – Honey
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:04
  • 1
    @Honey Please see my update. Get parents involved. Get teachers and principals involved. Put the child in therapy. Take a different bus. Go to a different school. Try different verbal retorts. Take martial arts. Punch the bully in the nose (seriously). Help the child understand the social dynamics he might be missing. Help the child understand how he might be unintentionally provoking or unintentionally providing openings that make bullying more likely. Give the child a mission to perform. Help him change the narrative from "I'm a victim" to "that guy's got deep emotional problems". Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:59

It is not worth staying in an abusive relationship.

The worst thing he could do is keep trying to be friends with the bullies. If no other kids in the same year are available then let him find buddies on other years or just don't try and play with the bullies.

Chances are that after a week or two they have found another way to amuse themselves and a second attempt at befriending them is possible without restarting the abuse.

However its possible that he'll have to forgo having friends in middle school altogether. It's not the best solution but better than getting abused constantly.

  • I ended up forgoing friends in middle school. For the life of me, I couldn't grasp the necessity for all the cliques, and drama, and stupidity others around me were engaged in. I ended up just bringing books to read during lunch lol. Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 6:00

As someone who grew up being bullied through school: For weight issues, ADHD(turned out to be misdiagnosed Asperger's) and other things.

I would say the best advice is to help the kid learn ways to deal with the stress and feelings associated with bullying.

Having outlets, and having people to talk to as well as knowing you are not alone in this can be the best therapy in the world.

There will always be bullies: At school, in the workplace, in social situations. The best thing to learn early on, is how to ignore their behavior, or at least to mitigate the negative impact it has on you.

The one thing I would advise against doing, is bailing the person out. This does nothing constructive for the individual, and may only make them a larger target (personal experience due to helicopter style parents).

Bullying is a part of nature, just look at the animal kingdom. It is one of the first social hurdles we as individuals need to overcome. As humans we like to say we are different than animals, but in truth the only thing that separates us is some higher brain functions.

Now, if cyber bullying is an issue here is some simply advice: Put your facebook account on private and only invite trusted friends, or delete the account entirely. Quit using chatrooms that anyone can access and post anonymous, hateful posts. The whole thing with Cyberbullying is that the target has to voluntarily log in to their accounts to see the bullying, and that is easily solved.


I have also been the bullied child; the child that told no one because I'd been popular at my previous school and as a new student to the school, could not understand why no one liked me. I was embarrassed.

What worked for me was to not tattle. I was hit and required stitches on my eyebrow and did not tell on the person who threw the icy snowball. I think they were as shocked as I was and wanted to throw a snowball, but not actually harm me. There was no miracle, I was not suddenly friends with that group. If it had happened again -- any physical violence -- I'd definitely have tattled.

I just kept on doing what I was doing and ignored them. I started taking art classes after school. I started volunteering at our vet's. By occupying myself and ignoring the 'nasties', they had no power. Once they noticed that I did not care, they gradually stopped bullying. We were never friends.

I changed schools frequently due to my father's job, so I got used to keeping my head down and carrying on. I learned to find other kids who were also on the outside and ended up having plenty of friends.

I think the OP's situation is different. This child is like the 'runt' in the wolfpack. He wants to be a part of the pack, and for the most part the pack goes along with it, but he is in the nasty position of being the butt of the jokes. The 'pack' likes him in that position, and may not even understand that is what they are doing.

So, I'd suggest that if he wishes to be a part of the group, that he learns to speak up for himself. "Ha Ha -- well I guess that was funny to you. Not so funny to me." Then carry on. By letting them know he notices, but that he is still there and carrying on, they may learn to quit being such jerks.

I agree that his 'friends', might simply need to be told that it isn't nice. The best person for that job is your son. It doesn't have to be a big deal, just a mention when something happens. Also, he could also return the 'ribbing'. "I'd say that you look like a whatever with all that pizza on your shirt, but I'm nicer than you." Wink, wink, say no more.

I upvoted Nat because I think your kid needs to handle this himself as long as it isn't overtly physical or your kid isn't in way over his head. We all face bullies all the time. We grow thicker skins. We see them at work, or from websites or social media. I disagree with people all the time. They say things or hold different opinions. It doesn't make them right or wrong, but when they have more power -- just let them have their way. It hurts them more than us. They don't learn. Being rigid -- and bullies are rigid -- holds them back. Your son will likely grow up to be compassionate and thoughtful because of this (not particularly nice) training. I doubt I'd have been a teacher if I had not had the experiences I did with bullies.

Best of luck!


(I was bullied and it was hard for me to walk to school, I never solved the issue in school, later as a teacher I retraced my steps and theses are the solutions I know of)

The child needs to discuss his issue with someone and he should feel comfortable talking about it and use their feedback. His parents are OK but I think the best person to speak with is a young successful person who he likes. Like an elder cousin, a recent alumni (doesn't have to be a very successful person, but being successful or the path of success is a good thing, but just as long as he's OK it's all good) of the school. This person could walk him through about how simple but hard work pays off and he and the bullies would be on separate paths soon. Basically give sympathy but also show him that this is life.

In addition the child should get his praise and confidence from his family. One wrong way that parents do it is " I expect more from you" , " I thought you could, but you let me down". It should come in the form of " never mind, I'm sure you will succeed, I've seen you do it".

If he doesn't get this feeling that he can do then soon there will be a paradigm shift in him. Meaning he would think less and less of himself and not even try for success. If he can build confidence elsewhere then take him elsewhere. Take him to a sports club, scouts, arts class, etc someplace where he can build confidence, flourish and it could have an immediate effect in his social status in school or even in his grades.

In addition some children innocently bring bullying onto themselves. Sometimes parents have bad effects on their children. I say this from personal experience as a son/student and limited teaching experience: I've seen fathers who are very very goofy, and sometimes do horseplay and then their sons follow the same path (I have no experience about that with girls nor I know of much other ways a father can have a bad effect on his son). Because of this their sons become the center of humiliation. They say things at the wrong time, they joke at the wrong time, ask wrong questions at the wrong time. They even show up late to class, don't take notes, all because their parents were messy parents.

Having a specialty/trait can be a great protection. If your good with a sport, good with computers, good with a 2nd language or have a good sense of humor then you become desirable to other students and obviously will have more friends because he has or can do something or talk about something that others have interest in. I know some kids have nothing but a collection of nice toys they can talk about for hours with other students or some talk about their trips with other students or even about how they got to the next level of their iPad game or depending on the neighborhood and kind of classmates, maybe a martial arts class would be a good choice, (I don't mean your child should be kicking everyone in the ass, but if it ever comes to a point...he should be able to just defend himself). Basically whatever turns your kid on will be something he can assert/express himself better among his peers. On the other hand I know kids who have very little sense of humor or almost cry on the spot every time something goes wrong. These kids need a confidence boost. It can be this child hasn't been given much responsibility in their house and usually has someone to look after their needs. Having caring parents is a necessity, but having parents that don't place any weight on your shoulders is a huge detriment to a child's mental development

Also teaching your child to be assertive can help them avoid being bullied. See How Teaching Assertiveness Can Prevent Bullying and search more on 'assertive training'

Last but not least, sometimes the bullying in school is on a horrible scale. It's always good to inform the school. They have their own ways, but they may not have your information.

Side note: Moving into a new city/school will increase the chances of being bullied so it's always important to pay closer attention at these stages.

  • Honey, what do you mean by 'appraise'? It clearly is not the correct word, perhaps you mean praise or affirmation?
    – WRX
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 21:17

I really like skymningen's answer, but I think there is another side.

First, at least here in the US (can't speak to other parts of the world) there is a strong "Anti-Bully" movement. So strong in fact that children end up missing out on valuable life lessons. Being bullied a little bit is just part of being a guy. It's how we develop some of our social skills, and to a very real extent how we learn some of our limitations. For example don't whack the big kid on the head, he will hit you back, then every one is hurt and sad.

Also, a lot more these days then ever in the past, kids are under the protection of their parents a lot more then they used to be. By 9 years old I was playing out side with friends "without" parental supervision. Now that doesn't mean that our parents weren't keeping an eye on us, on some level, but they were no where near as involved as parents seem to get today. As interactions move into the house or are limited to the smaller back yard, as parents we need to let some things go, and just accept that kids are kids.

The trick is trying to decide when an event or events amount to bullying. I believe the key word here is "No", or "Stop". When the child feels like they have no control over the situation, that's when the real problem starts.

So if two kids are standing there smacking each other with hot wheels tracks, laughing and having a good time, just make sure the guide pins are out, and get the iodine ready.

If one kid is smacking the other kid while he sits there going "stop it" or is crying, ok, that's Bullying.

Again it's about control of the situation. As long as everyone involved and is having a good time, and every one feels like there in control and can stop when they want to, then it's just kids trying to figure social stuff out.

Now, as parents, or even just adults, what we need to do is a two part check. First is there going to be real harm done by the activity? Just because everyone's on board doesn't mean the hot wheels track fight should be allowed to escalate to "lets use the knives in the kitchen fight". For the most part this is just common sense. The next check is rather or not the child in question feels like he is in control, or does he feel like he has no choice?

This is tricky. As adults we learn to put up with things in relationships because we want the relationship. We tolerate "that one thing your wife does" because we feel it's worth it overall. That's an important social skill. It's one that kids need to develop. At the same time though, as adults we need to teach that there are alternatives. That there is a difference between accepting a few "negatives" and the relationship being overall negative.

With that in mind, many parents have a tendency to pick their kids friends. In many cases directly, go be friends with this group of kids because these are the people we adults like to hang with. But, also passively, this is our church/school/day care/whatever. In these cases your removing the child's ability to be in control. So in these situations it's important to remember that if someone smacked us with a hot wheels track, we would just stop going to the movies with them but because the child doesn't have that choice they may be just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

So the solution. More kids, and listening to what the child wants to do. If you don't like that group of kids, well that probably shouldn't be your call (unless there is a real tangible danger). Instead try to steer the child to more "likable" groups. Join groups and social settings for kids. Give them a larger pool to choose from. I don't want to go to after school arts class anymore, I don't like it. Ok, how about after school pottery class, or after school music class.

Once the child figures out that they can have friends without the pranks, they will have a larger toolbox to deal with the problem group. Even if "deal with" is "I don't like playing with Tommy, he's mean, can't I go play with Billy".

Now you state that you can't have other playmates. This is it, this is the group. These are the only four kids on the island. They have to get along. While I don't think that is realistic, it really limits your options. I do think there are some kids you can't get away from. School mates, siblings, etc. But I would really re-examine why things are such a closed system.

Assuming this closed system, where there are no options for more playmates, then your best bet is to arm the child with the tools they need to "beat" the "bullies". This gets tricky again, because the "bullies" are not being physically abusive, so you can't teach your kid to just punch em. Instead you have to teach the child how to channel the anger and distress into something more positive. Careful probing, "Why are you angry?", "What has upset you?" can help get to the route of the cause.

"I'm angry because I never get to win at hide and seek. The others cheat!". "Ok how are they cheating?". "They change their cloths and then claim I didn't catch them." "Ok, lets try playing with a Polaroid, so everyone gets a picture of themselves, and when they get cought, they have to give the seeker the picture. That way they can't cheat and you can prove you cought them.

Again it's about teaching how to avoid the problem. If you can't avoid the people, then avoid the situation. We do this as adults. "I hate to go to lunch with Bill, he always gets way to friendly with his food.", but you have to, so you sit on the other end of the table.

If all else fails ban the problem activity. No more hide and seek. Ok, No more play dough. Ok, no more board games. Ok, no more TV. Everyone just sit in a circle and don't talk, your only allowed to play boring games cause that's all you guys can manage without getting in trouble.

So, as a summary:

  • Boys will be boys, make sure your not suppressing that
  • Make sure the child in question has control and can say no.
  • Play with more kids, let him compare experiences.
  • In forced groups, give him the tools to beat the bullies.
  • Step in and be the adult, as a last resort.
  • 1
    Sorry, but I think there is a large difference between "being bullied" and the "general teasing" that might or might not "have to" happen in a group of boys (I am not a boy, I don't believe in gender stereotypes and especially not in this type of gender stereotypes). By saying it is the same you would severely miss out something that can destroy the life of your child. I managed to become stronger. I have met others who haven't and are still struggling with psychological issues in their adult life that stem from being bullied and having no help and understanding. (Told to "suck it up".)
    – skymningen
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 8:40
  • Right, and that's where it's tricky. As an adult, trying to determine "General teasing" from bullying, is really difficult. As kids it was fun to get into a snow ball fight, but some where a long the way to adulthood that became less fun. Doesn't mean kids don't like snow ball fights. The key seems to be control. Can the child say "No, I don't want to do that"? If so and they choose to participate, great. If they can't say no, then it crosses the line into bullying. My answer is not to say Suck it up, it's to be open minded and realize that to a kid, whacking each other with card board
    – coteyr
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 13:02
  • tubes is something that is fun, even though as adults it's not so much. Then thought that lens, assure that the child has some control. Two kids smacking each other around with card board tubes is fun, one kid smacking another with a card board tube is bullying. If that is the case it's time to find more kids to play with so the child in question can have more positive relationships. If the group is fixed and that's not possible, then you need to, as the adult, give the child the tools they need to level the playing field (with in reason). If that's not an option, then it time to stop play
    – coteyr
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 13:06
  • time and essentially force the kids to do something else.
    – coteyr
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 13:07
  • Personally, this whole anti-bully mentality is a bit hypocritical. I was bullied all through school (elementary, middle, high) and it was a hurdle I needed to overcome. There are some logic flaws in your answer, such as the "boys will be boys" line, as some of the worst bullying comes from the female side of the species. Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 17:34

You must log in to answer this question.