Smart Answers to Parents’ Toughest Questions

Deflecting a Bully

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What’s the best way for a child to deflect a bully?

“The first thing to do is to tell the bully to stop. While bullying may be intentional, a bully may not realize the extent of the effect his behavior has on another child.” —Dr. Peter Sheras, director of clinical training, clinical and school psychology, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, author of Your Child: Bully or Victim? Understanding and Ending School Yard Tyranny (Fireside 2002) and I Can't Believe You Went Through My Stuff! (Fireside 2004) “Everyone must be aware that kindness is cool; cruelty is not. This has to be taught in kindergarten and continue with a common vocabulary through high school.” —Dr. Karen Siris, elementary school principal, Oceanside, New York, and adjunct professor, Adelphi University “Humor and assertiveness both work well. If a bully is making fun of a child’s appearance, the child can say, ‘I like myself and my ears.’ When a bully is angry, kids need to learn to walk away and say, ‘I’ll talk to you when you’ve calmed down.’ Body language is important. Kids need to learn to feel confident and look confident.” —Kristie Pattison, guidance counselor, Marbletown Elementary School, Accord, New York

Is it ever okay for a child to push or hit back if he is pushed or hit by another student?

“Only if it is necessary to get out of a physically dangerous situation and there’s no adult there to help. Hitting back only escalates the situation.” —Dr. Siris “Hitting back is a last resort when a child is in danger and there’s no way out. In our school, we have no tolerance for physical aggression. Parents of the victim and the bully are both called, and a child who hits will likely be sent home.” —Ms. Pattison “At meetings, dads sometimes talk about successfully confronting a bully after taking karate. However, it’s rare for that to actually work. Hitting generally leads to more physical violence. I do, however, encourage parents to send kids to martial arts classes because they enhance a child’s sense of self-esteem and confidence.” —Dr. Sheras