8 Self-Defense Strategies to Ward Off Bullying

Child putting up palm

Dobrila Vignjevic / Getty Images

No one wants their child to be defenseless when it comes to bullying. Thankfully, they don't have to be. There are many things parents can do to help kids stand up to bullies at school and elsewhere.

By preparing them in advance, you will be equipping your child with skills to effectively deal with bullies. More importantly, you'll help them gain self-confidence and internal strength, two assets that will serve them well for the rest of their life. 

When most people think of self-defense, they think of hitting back or using another type of physical force for protection. But in a broader sense, self-defense includes being proactive to prevent problems before they happen. It also involves using assertiveness to respond to a bully's attempts at intimidation. Discuss these self-defense strategies with your child to help them ward off bullying behavior.

Use Confident Body Language

One of the best ways to prevent bullying is for your child to have a healthy sense of self-esteem and project confidence. Kids who slouch and keep their eyes averted can appear weak and easy to target. It's unfortunate but true that children with low self-esteem are more likely to become victims of bullying.

Help your child learn to portray self-confidence with their body language. Strategies like these are useful.

  • Walking with purpose directly to their destination is a simple technique that gives off positive, assertive energy. They should walk with their shoulders back and eyes up (not on the ground.)
  • Making eye contact in a neutral (not aggressive) way with those around them projects leadership and confidence.
  • Smiling at others creates a sense of connection while boosting self-esteem. It also also helps ward off social isolation, which can play a role in bullying.
  • Talking in a neutral, calm voice to a bully is often very effective. They don't need to respond to any unkind remarks. Instead, they can just say "Excuse me" or "I'm on my way to class, talk to you later." They may also just want to make eye contact and ignore whatever the bully said.

Remind your child that even when they don't feel confident, such as when entering a crowded lunchroom for the first time, they should walk as though they do. By using assertive body language even before their internal feelings match their outward behavior, kids can learn to project self-confidence.

It takes time and practice, but they will see results if they keep working at it. The good news is that these skills not only help kids deal with school bullies, but are also useful in public speaking, job interviews, and meeting new people.

Stay in a Group

Bullies are less likely to target someone who is with a group of friends. Be sure your child knows that it's a good idea to stick with one or more friends when possible. This is especially true when they are in areas of the school known to be bullying hot spots, such as the cafeteria, playground, bus, bathrooms, and locker rooms.

If your child does not have a group of friends, work on helping them develop friendships. Even one close friend can go a long way toward preventing bullying.

Trust Your Gut

Teach your kids to be aware of their surroundings. While you don't want them living in fear, it is smart to put their cell phones away and be alert if they are somewhere an encounter with a bully is likely.

If something doesn't feel right, your child should trust their instincts and leave the area. If that's not possible, then it's time to use other skills such as self-confident body language, an assertive voice, and talking to others. Being aware of what's happening around them can help your child avoid being mugged or attacked as an adult as well.

Focus on Flight, Not Fight

Sometimes kids don't realize that when things look like they could head the wrong direction, they should just turn around and walk away. Reassure your child that it is not cowardly to walk away. Instead, remind them that it takes courage to leave a situation that is escalating.

Stress to your kids that they need to remove themselves from a situation before it gets out of hand. Identifying when a situation is about to take a turn for the worse and walking away is one of the best ways to avoid bullying situations.

Leaving instead of fighting back is always the best strategy when confronted with a bully. Fighting can quickly lead to violence and injuries. Instead, kids should walk away and tell an adult what's happening. They may want to confide in a coach, parent, school counselor, principal, or teacher.

Use an Assertive Voice

If your child does end up in a potential bullying situation, using a confident voice and being assertive can help diffuse the situation. Many times, bullies are looking for an easy target.

Like confident body language, a strong, confident voice may cause bullies to back off. Have your children practice speaking assertively at home, and when they are in a difficult situation it will come more easily.

Attract Attention

Make sure your kids know that it is not just acceptable, but encouraged, to make a lot of noise if someone is threatening them or physically hurting them. In addition to using a strong voice, they also can shout, yell or scream.

The idea is to scare off a bully by attracting attention to the situation, especially from adults or teachers. This tactic also is important if the child is being attacked by a stranger during an attempted abduction.

It's important, however, to remember that every bullying situation is unique. If your child is not being physically harmed by the bully and can safely get out of the situation, that is the best choice. Yelling at them could escalate things further.

Take a Self-Defense Class

You may want to consider enrolling your child in a self-defense class. One of the most popular choices for kids is taekwondo. While it's normally thought of as simply one of the many martial arts disciplines, taekwondo was originally developed as a system of self-defense. The American Taekwondo Association offers a number of options geared specifically for children.

Taekwondo and other martial arts also teach kids confidence and self-control. Many times, diffusing bullying situations involves knowing how to respond to a situation in a calm and confident manner before it ever gets to physical bullying.

Use Self-Defense Techniques

Although it is never a good idea to encourage your child to fight, there are self-defense techniques they can use to protect themselves if attacked. For instance, they can learn how to block a punch or loosen a bully’s fingers from their wrists, as well as ways to break free when being restrained.

Check with your school district on their policies about self-defense. Some schools have a zero tolerance policy and will suspend both the bully and the victim when physical violence takes place. Be sure you understand the potential outcome if your child uses physical self-defense techniques.

A Word From Verywell

Because bullying can have a lasting impact well into the adult years, it's important to discuss with your child ways to avoid it before it happens, or deal with it if it can't be avoided. Even though you can't watch over your child or teen every moment, you can equip them with skills to respond to bullying when they're away from home.

In the process, you'll also be giving your child tools that will serve them well as they grow into an independent adult. Unfortunately, bullying doesn't necessarily stop when school years are over. By showing your child how to deal with bullies of all ages, they'll be well-equipped to effectively navigate all kinds of difficult situations in life.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. Bullying: building a child's self-esteem.

  2. Nemours KidsHealth. Helping kids deal with bullies.

  3. Stopbullying.gov. What kids can do.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.