The 5 Best Things Your Child Can Say to a Bully
It seems like every day, there’s another gut-wrenching headline about kids being picked on, tormented or worse. The fact is, a child is bullied on the playground every seven minutes, according to the advocacy group Stomp Out Bullying, and it's estimated that as many as 160,000 U.S. children a day stay home from school out of fear of being targeted, says Denver-based child psychologist Sheryl Ziegler, PsyD.
Clearly, the problem isn’t going away anytime soon, but you can help your child stand their ground little more confidently if he or she becomes the target of a trash-talking bully. “Kids often don't know what to say, so they stand there, frozen,” Ziegler notes. Here are a few powerful tools you can give them, in the form of smart retorts that dial down the heat.
1 “Well, that isn’t a very nice thing to say.”
“Kids typically bully when they think they can have a strong effect on someone—they’re looking for a big reaction,” says Lindsey Perper Davanzo, LCSW, a therapist specializing in parenting and families and author of The Feelings Friends. “Using a closed statement like this stops the conversation.” Other versions include, “I’m not sure why you keep saying these things about me, but I don’t care,” and “I hope you feel better now,” both endorsed by Stomp Out Bullying.
2 “Oh, that is very interesting!”
A sarcasticdelivery projects an air of confidence, which can be intimidating to a bully. “Bullies don’t bully confident people,” Davanzo notes. “They prey on the weak. When a person suddenly appears confident, they don’t seem worth bullying anymore.” Davanzo adds that even if your child doesn’t feel the least bit confident, encourage her to “fake it ’til you make it.” Similar options include, “Sorry you feel that way” and “Thanks for letting me know!”
3 “I’m not gonna stand for this.”
Bullies expects to have the upper hand; this helps flip the script and takes the bully’s power away.
4 Say nothing at all.
“Bullies thrive on the back-and-forth dialogue,” Davanzo says. “They need that energy. If there’s no back-and-forth, they’ll get bored and will be more likely to move on.” You can also coach your child to give the bully an “Are you kidding me?!” look before walking away, which leaves the picked-on child looking—and feeling—confident. Ziegler adds that if the bully keeps it up or follows your child, the best move is to walk to a safe person, like a teacher or a friend.
5 To another kid being bullied: “Come hang out with me.”
If your child witnesses another child being bullied, teach them to say or do something to help.“Teach your children to be upstanders, not bystanders,” says Ziegler. “Show them that we all have an an obligation, as friends and as community members, to say something when you see someone doing something that is wrong.” Viable upstander options include walking up to the person being taunted and saying, depending on their age, “Come hang out with me” or “Do you want to come play with me?” If your child is nervous about the bully setting his or her sights on him or her, explain that bullies generally want to intimidate a specific person, Ziegler says.