9 Ways to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks
National bullying expert Signe Whitson, LSW, has some practical ways for adults to end bullying incidents and empower victims to speak up when bullies attack
With information and resources about bullying online and in the schools, it’s easy to learn what constitutes bullying behavior. But what can you do when you see bullying happening right in front of you?
Here are some quick “Do’s and Don’ts” from national bullying expert Signe Whitson, LSW, to help parents, teachers and anyone who interacts with kids deal with a bully:
1. Know Bullying
Know the difference between spontaneously rude, mean or inconsiderate behavior and actions that are intentionally cruel. While all of the above behaviors should be stopped by caring adults, intentional and relentlessly cruel actions are hallmarks of bullying. When all bad behaviors are lumped together as “bullying” time and resources can unintentionally be diverted away from vulnerable kids who need help the most.
2. Connect with Kids
When you genuinely connect with kids you give them an opening to talk about sharing their painful experiences. Adults can often be unaware of bullying because the aggressors are socially-savvy enough to operate under the radar. Socially-vulnerable kids are often the victims and they feel too disconnected to talk about what is happening.
Little things are the big things for young people. If you’re worried that you don’t have enough time to truly connect with kids at work or in your neighborhood, try something simple like smiling at each and every young person you encounter each day both at home and out in the community. You can also try to make eye contact and say hello to them. Something as momentary and uncomplicated as a warm greeting from an adult can help a young person feel acknowledged, valued and worthy. This small action can start building a foundation for protecting a child from the impact of bullying.
4. Be Present
Even though adults can’t always be everywhere, we can strategically place ourselves where bullying most often occurs. If you are able to be where bullying occurs – online, on the playground, in the hallways at school – you can help facilitate connections between yourself and the kids around you. These connections and your visibility help reduce a bully’s opportunity to act.
5. Intervene on the Spot
It’s hard to know what to say when you witness bullying. Author and national educator Signe Whitson offers these brief statements as quick ways to help stop bullying:
- "It's not okay to use those words to put someone down. Are we good?"
- "Posting that online about a classmate/friend is unacceptable. That cannot happen again."
- "Excluding her from the group is not going to work. Let's fix this and move on."
She says these brief statements are effective because they don’t humiliate or alienate the aggressor, but they also let everyone know that you are observant, aware of peer dynamics and not afraid to step in. On-the-spot interventions send a strong message to everyone that bullying behavior is not tolerated.
6. Teach Skills
While many kids can handle conflict independently and with dignity, no child is born knowing how to do so. Long-term social and emotional competence is developed through daily repetition and practice. You play a critical role in teaching kids how to assert themselves, stand up for others, reach out to adults, empathize with peers, control their emotions and solve problems.
1. Don't Dismiss
Bullying is not a rite of passage. It is not a normal part of growing up. Conflict is one thing, but relentless cruelty is another. Kids need adults to step in and stop bullying when they become aware of it. Kids who are bullied should never have to go it alone.
2. Don't Make it Worse
Sometimes, your first reaction can actually make a bullying situation worse. For example, asking a child who is obviously being taunted “Are you okay? Is s/he bothering you?” will often result in an answer of “No, I’m okay.” From an early age, kids learn that public confrontations of a tormenter will only bring further trouble down the road. Instead, separate the kids involved in the incident and talk with each one individually.
3. Don't Label
Bullies are not one-size-fits-all. They come in all genders, ages, shapes and sizes. Some come from troubled homes, while others come from nurturing families. Bullies come from wealthy and low income homes. Almost any child can bully another child. When adults stop placing kids into categories like “problem child” or “bully” we can teach them better ways to behave.
This list of “Dos and Don’ts” has been shortened and adapted from a blog by Signe Whitson, LSW, posted on the Huffington Post Blog. Whitson is an author and national educator on bullying. You can find more information and resources on her website.