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:
- your kids self confidence.
- the parents or their interactions with the bully.
- 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:
- 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
- Ask the person to stop
- If they don't stop, tell the person in charge that the kid won't stop.
- 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.