Undivided: Ways to respond to school bullies
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How do I help my child deal with bullies?

Published: Dec. 6, 2022Updated: Dec. 6, 2022
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The State Council on Developmental Disabilities recommends teaching your child some strategies to deal with bullying, including practicing possible responses to bullying ahead of time. Chris Arroyo says that while people tend to advise that a child “just ignore it and they'll go away,” the truth is that when a child ignores their bully, the interactions are likely to continue — in part because kids tend to look down or away when they pretend to ignore abuse, and that’s all the bully needs to know they’ve been successful at getting to them.

Here are a few examples of some lines to rehearse:

  • Strong messages such as “Stop it,” “Leave me alone,” or “I don’t like to be treated this way.”
  • Humor: For example, if the bully says, “You sure do have a big nose,” you could say, “I know, just like Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer.” Or if you wear glasses and kids call you “four eyes,” you could say “The better to see you with,” like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. Sometimes by gently making fun of yourself, you take away the bully’s chance to do it.
  • Not caring: “Whatever” is a good neutral comment that gives the bully little satisfaction and shows that the student was not bothered or upset. Other ideas could be “Big deal” or “Who cares?” or “Is that supposed to be funny?” or “So?”
  • Slightly sarcastic: In response to “Stupid outfit,” you might say “Thanks, I’m glad you noticed.” Or if someone says, “You smell,” you could answer, “Wow, you could tell I showered!”
  • Easy to remember: “I don’t like that” gets attention, and if you can, say what you didn’t like, such as a rude name or bad words.

Make sure to tell your child that the bullying is not their fault. It’s also important to give your child the space to feel what they need to feel. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network is a good resource.

Check out our article Bullying and Kids with Disabilities for more information about preventing and responding to bullying.


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Related Parent Questions

How can an IEP stop bullying at school?
Learn about practical ways in which a student can be supported through their IEP to help them better recognize and respond to bullying behavior.
What do I do if my child is being bullied at school?
It’s extremely important to talk to the principal, your child’s teacher, and/or a school counselor as soon as you have discussed the issue with your child.
What therapies help teach children social skills?
Social skills groups teach kids how to interact with their peers in social settings. Such groups are most beneficial for children who can gain from social problem-solving and modeling with peers.

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