What to Say to the Bullied Child
By Jodi Campbell, BA., Supervisor of Public Education, Clinical Training and Development for the KidsPeace Institute

Bullying is a national epidemic, and many children victims feel as though they have nowhere to turn and no control over the cruelty being perpetrated on them. Long-term bullying can lead to anger, low self-esteem, depression and violence against others.

It is important to talk to children who are bullied in school. When I talk with kids about bullying, I talk about standing up for yourself in a way that doesn't further provoke the situation and also avoids getting them into more trouble. The following steps can be very helpful:

Step 1: Control your emotions. If they see that you are angry or upset, they've won. Make sure that you have someone to talk to or some other outlet for these emotions, though. "Stuffing" them inside and forgetting about them isn't helpful and they will come back to haunt you. Take a deep breath. Be strong. Don't give the bullies what they are looking for.

Step 2: Look the bully in the eye and keep a low, neutral tone. Avoid raising your voice, using sarcasm or looking at the ground.

Step 3: Respond with something like, "Stop picking on me - leave me alone." There is no "or else" so don't offer that. If the bully says, "...or what?" just repeat the statement, "I said - leave me alone."

If you are not being threatened physically, this will help over time. Remember, the bully wants you to get upset - so don't (or at least don't show it). If you ARE in physical danger, leave the area and find an adult - any adult - to help. If you are completely alone, then (and only then) is the only time you are permitted to defend yourself physically.

Other DON'TS:

  • Don't deliberately embarrass or upset the bully by saying something mean back.
  • Don't call the bully a name
  • Don't curse at the bully
  • Don't say, "I'm gonna tell."

These things will make the situation worse. A bully is coming to you for results - like a person putting change in a soda machine. The person wants a soda, so puts in change. If the soda doesn't come out, the person won't put in more change. Likewise, if you don't give the bully what he wants, he will move on to someone else.

It is important that the bullied child receive support from home and from school teachers and counselors. Kids cannot always handle bullies on their own and may need adult allies to intercede on their behalf to stop the bullying before it turns into a problem that may need professional treatment to restore the bullied child's self-esteem.

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