7 Ways to Stand Up to Bullying

Boy being bullied

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Being bullied is not easy to cope with and there are no simple solutions. Bullying can leave kids feeling helpless, vulnerable, and confused. They are often so shocked, embarrassed, or upset that they are not sure what to do. Unfortunately, this indecision or lack of response can open the door to more bullying.

"The goal is to de-escalate the situation," says Karen Gail Lewis, EdD, MFT, MSW, a marriage and family therapist in Washington, DC. There are many approaches kids can take to respond to bullying, but every intervention may not work in every situation. "Unfortunately, there are no easy answers for preventing or stopping bullying," says Dr. Lewis.

Kids need to know ahead of time what to do if confronted by a bully. That means developing assertiveness skills, building their self-esteem, and improving their social skills. But they also need practical tools on how to handle bullying situations. Here are seven strategies that kids who are being bullied can try.

Ignore the Bully

"Not reacting when someone says or does something hurtful is often the most effective response to bullying," says Dr. Lewis. Most bullies are looking for a reaction. They want the target to get angry, embarrassed, or cry, explains Dr. Lewis. If your child has an emotional response to bullying, it often continues and may even escalate.

But if your child keeps on walking with their head held high every time someone engages in name-calling or any other type of bullying, eventually, the bully will probably move on, says Michael Whitehead, PhD, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist in Twin Falls, Idaho. Once the bully realizes they will not get a response from your child, they will likely lose interest.

Tell the Bully to Stop

Sometimes, if a child doesn’t speak up when they are being bullied, the bullying will continue, says Dr. Lewis. Bullies often do not expect someone to stand up to them. In fact, they often target kids they believe they can intimidate. As a result, telling a bully to stop in a strong and confident voice can be very effective, says Dr. Lewis.

While replying with a mean comment can throw off the bully, sometimes it can make the situation worse. Kids should try to respond in a way that will de-escalate the encounter, explains Dr. Lewis.

"Sometimes, it works to say something like 'stop being a bully' or 'let’s go play ball.' These responses work best at the beginning, before it becomes a pattern," says Dr. Lewis.

If addressing the bully directly doesn't work, try talking to the bystanders, suggests Dr. Lewis. "Sometimes, it works to talk to the hangers-on to defuse" bullying. For example, say something like, "Are you going to stand here and watch them do this?"

Make a Joke

Some kids are naturally funny and find it easy to laugh right along with a bully, says Dr. Whitehead. If they are able to do this, it demonstrates that they are confident about who they are, and it does not bother them if other people point out (or make up) their supposed flaws.

When your child laughs with the bully, it diffuses any power the bully thought they had over your child, and their bullying methods become ineffective. "Laughing off a mean comment sometimes works. But usually sending barbs back doesn’t work, as it can escalate things," says Dr. Lewis.

Avoid Bullying Hot Spots

Sometimes, all it takes to prevent bullying is to not go to places where bullies hang out. These bullying hot spots include areas like the far corners of the playground, vacant hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms, and the back of the bus. Instead of walking the same way home, have your child vary their route, walk with a group of friends, take the bus, and/or get a ride,

"The playground, the lunchroom, and the classroom before the teacher comes in, these are the common times. This is where the school needs to step up and notice this stuff," says Dr. Lewis.

Be sure your child knows where these spots are located and to avoid them or travel with a buddy when they can. Also, even if they used to be friends with a kid who now bullies others, kids should know that reaching out to the bully might backfire, says Dr. Whitehead. So, it's often best to simply steer clear of the bully in order to avoid becoming a target.

Stick With Friends

Bullies usually look for kids who are alone or socially isolated. Be sure your child knows that hanging out with friends is a great way to prevent bullying. If your child struggles with social skills or has very few friends, take steps to help them develop friendships. Having just one healthy friendship can go a long way in protecting your child from bullies.

Know How to Escape the Situation

Talk to your children about ways in which they can defend themselves against bullies, especially if the bullying is physical. For instance, be sure your child knows to keep their eye on the exit and to use it when the opportunity presents itself. Other options include making a lot of noise, attracting attention, and knowing how to deflect any type of physical aggression.

"Threatening to fight back might work, but it might not," warns Dr. Lewis. "One thing to remember with physically fighting back is that sometimes it works to de-escalate the situation, sometimes it escalates it."

Ideally, your child can get out of the situation using words or getting help from adults so that they don't risk getting hurt. Also, fighting back might land your child in trouble with their school as well—even if the bully started it.

Your child does not have to fight the bully for self-defense. They just need to know how to defuse the situation and get to safety.

Report the Bullying to an Adult

"All of these possible responses may work, but they also might not," says Dr. Lewis. It's important to understand that and know that multiple approaches might need to be used in order to get the behavior to end.

"Ultimately, be sure your child knows that the best way to prevent or stop bullying is often to report it right away. Once bullying becomes a pattern, it becomes more challenging to disrupt, says Dr. Lewis.

Without adult intervention, bullying often will continue or escalate, explains Dr. Whitehead. Talk to your child about the reasons why kids don’t tell others they are being bullied.

As their parent, make sure that their school takes an active approach to supporting your child by stopping the bullying behavior and dealing with the bully, says Dr. Lewis. Additionally, let them know you are there for them, too, by listening to their concerns and feelings and taking steps to address the bullying.

A Word From Verywell

Kids who are prepared to respond to bullying may have a better chance of avoiding it. Stress that it takes a lot of strength and courage to report bullying and that it's often the best way to get it to stop. Also, be careful not to engage in victim-blaming or criticize your child for getting bullied. Bullying is a choice made by the bully and is never the responsibility of the victim.

2 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. Shetgiri R. Bullying and victimization among childrenAdv Pediatr. 2013;60(1):33–51. doi:10.1016/j.yapd.2013.04.004

  2. Stopbullying.gov. Bystanders to bullying.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.