Teaching My Kid To Deal With Bullies

When I collected Ava from school on Monday, I noticed that she seemed a little dejected and not quite herself. After some prompting, she told me she didn’t have a very nice day and then she told me that one of the boys in her class, I’ll refrain from calling him a little cocktonsil and we’ll refer to him as J, had spent some time yesterday telling her how and why she was the ugliest girl in the world and the ugliest girl he’s ever seen.

Of course, my Mama bear instinct went into overdrive and I immediately wanted to go back to the school to find this little cocktonsil J so that I could smack him upside the head a few times and perhaps beat his ass for good measure too. But I managed to restrain myself.

What I did manage to do was give Ava some advice on how to deal with him, but I’m afraid it may not have been the best advice. I told her to ask him if he’s blind? Does he need glasses? Is he stupid? Has he looked in the mirror lately because that’s the best way to see UGLY. I told her to tell him he’s ugly and he’s mama dresses him funny. I gave her the worst advice and realized I’m really not well equipped to help my child deal with this kind of nastiness. Fighting cruel with cruel isn’t the best solution. Intellectually I know that.

I mean seriously, he MUST be blind!

I mean seriously, he MUST be blind!


Although Ava and I are not biologically related, she reminds me so much of how I was as a small child. Shy, a little timid around strangers and large groups and not very good at standing up for herself. Her teacher has commented that she doesn’t handle conflict well, if someone is mean to her or hurts her, she will go somewhere and cry and they’ll find her sitting in the toilets, or in a corner just crying instead of confronting the little cocktonsils J’s of the world. Ava has a very gentle soul. I’m under no false illusions, I know she’s no angel but I don’t want her gentle soul damaged by the cruelness that are kids or her gentle soul blackened by my “kick ‘em where it hurts” advice.

It’s not the first time she’s been through something like this. We had an experience with this last year too, girls this time. Who told her she was ugly or she looked funny. Who would throw her hat in the sand and push her around. Mean girls. It went on for quite a while and I’m afraid I failed miserably then too at dealing with it.

But I know, first hand, the impact these types of cruel statements can have on her self-esteem, on her internal dialogue, on how she sees herself and how this can affect her interaction with the world around her. Even as a 42 year old mother of two, I recall something that happened to me as a little girl, that still has an impact on how I see myself today. I was sitting in church with my parents and brother when someone they knew came over and commented on what good looking SON’S my parents had! They thought I was a boy! And even though I know it’s ridiculous, still to this day, I have an issue with my femininity. Walter can vouch for the number of times I’ll ask him before leaving the house, whether I look butch or masculine in what I’ve chosen to wear. Put me in a room full of women and I’ll always feel like the least feminine one of the lot! And that comment was made more than 30 years ago but still it has power over me today! So imagine the impact of being told she’s the ugliest girl in the world could have on Ava!

I’ve tried looking online for some parenting advice on how to deal with bullying and cruelness but keep coming up empty handed. Most of the articles I’ve read seem to be aimed at parents with older kids, so I’d love to hear from you, how do you deal with bullies, cruelness and the cocktonsils J’s of the world?


  • Jenny

    September 10, 2014 at 9:13 am

    We have this article but I don’t think it 100% covers your options either. http://www.yourparenting.co.za/child/learn/big-school/when-girls-become-bullies
    It is a tough one to deal with because your first instinct is to say fight back. The second instinct is to tell her it’s because he likes her – which I think is not great either because it excuses boys behaviour and gives girls an expectation that being treated like shit equates with love. My only advice (because I too have been there and didn’t know what to do) is to consult a play therapist. I just find their objective advice brilliant for both kids and parents. And she can really help you give Ava coping strategies for her own personality and help you to know how to help her for her own personality. We did that with Dyl and it was the best thing I ever did.

  • Sheldene

    September 10, 2014 at 9:29 am

    It is heartbreaking when your child is bullied. Kids can be so cruel. Our Hannah is the same, shy, reserved, doesn’t take well to conflict and super sensitive. She was being bullied last term by another girl (A so called friend who is used to getting her way all the time, and if she didn’t, she would hurt Hannah) It got so bad that she didn’t want to go to school any more because the cocktonsil, sorry J, would hurt her. I also struggled to deal with it. One of the teacher’s said I need to empower my daughter to stand up for herself. How do you teach a 6 year old to empower herself?! We eventually had a meeting with the school and they have been keeping a close eye on the whole situation. The girls are in the same class but they try and keep them as separate as possible.

  • Vanessa

    September 10, 2014 at 9:30 am

    We taught A to say, That’s ok, I have other friends that WOULD like to play with me, in a very non-chalant way and to then skip off and play somewhere else. And yes, we practiced it over and over at home. And it worked for him…that way you avoid the that child is a +@$## , which was my initial recaction as well.

  • Jess

    September 10, 2014 at 9:30 am

    We dealt with bullying and Aiden just a little while ago, honestly my advice wasn’t the greatest either, I told him to punch anyone who hurts him now he comes home and says, “S hurt me but don’t worry I punch him” :/ Maybe it is wrong to deal with cruelty with cruelty but rather a child who can stand up for themselves and has a thick skin because people like that are always there in life, I was bullied throughout nursery school and my whole school career and it made me shy and withdrawn and some things still hurt me today, at 16 I turned to drugs to numb the pain of what was said and done to me and became a drug addict. Bullying can lead to all things and I wont allow my child to be hurt the way I was even if he has to throw a few punches himself.

  • ailsaloudon

    September 10, 2014 at 9:36 am

    People – kids and adults alike – can be so very cruel and those of us who are more empathetically inclined have a hard job understanding the meanness that comes so naturally for some of the humans who walk with us. I have no advice but know exactly the way you feel when you react the way you do. I still feel that way with my kids and they are all adults now. Good luck, and I hope Eva is able to overcome howthe little shits of this planet make her feel. She is beautiful!

  • nunu5Kerry

    September 10, 2014 at 9:39 am

    My fisrt solution I try to teach my boys is that they can walk away, They dont have to listen. Then I encourage them to talk to thier teacher. But other than that I am also comming up empty.

  • Nisey

    September 10, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Perhaps you could teach her to believe and say out loud to the bully something along the lines of – you are obviously not very happy today or you wouldn’t say such mean things – and then walk away.

    I’ve tried to teach J (although sadly a lot of the time he is the bully) that people say nasty things because they are unhappy. I honestly believe that to be true, as adults we often lash out about the things that we are insecure about so why would kids be any different?

    There’s a lovely collection of zen stories for children based on buddhist teachings and one is called No Presents Please (ISBN 9781919888750). Guru Walter Wombat is sitting under a tree (as you do) and a mean bear rushes up to him and is really nasty. The guru smiles and declines to accept the bears ‘present’ which in this case is his anger.

    I’ve been reading it to J since he was little and finally in the past few months it is making a bit of sense to him (as the bully) perhaps Ava would get something from the opposite lesson?

    I truly hope Ava finds a way to get through this – its really sad that at this age she’s already having to deal with body image issues xxx

  • gen

    September 10, 2014 at 10:21 am

    We have told O to say as Vanessa below says “i dont care because i have xy and z as friends” but she is only 3 so when she is Ava’s age she will be more aware of what people say and that it does hurt her feelings! This is my worst nightmare and im afraid to say i would more than likely have dealt with it in the same way you did.
    Perhaps an idea is to approach the child and then “nicely” tell him that he is being mean and how would he like it if someone did the same to him. I i always tell my nephew that Father Christmas is watching.
    My biggest fear is the longer it goes on the worse it is for Ava because he is just crushing her, so intevention needs to be immediate.

  • Cindy

    September 10, 2014 at 10:44 am

    We’ve never had to go through this process yet (unless you count the little brat who smacked Kyla in the face – we spoke to the teacher, who in turn spoke to the child and it worked itself out). However, I was bullied as a young child in primary school by a boy who took it upon himself to destroy every bit of confidence I had been able to muster by that age. It’s the reason I don’t like my body, my skin colour and so much more. I have no idea how to deal with this, so will be checking back to see all the comments!

  • Melinda

    September 10, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I am one of those controversial parents that has enrolled her child in Anti Bullying classes. This is not about teaching her to fight. This is about building her self confidence. We have also let her do “boys” activities at school. She plays soccer with the boys and is the only little girl to do that. I do not want my child to grow up thinking she is limited to dolls and pink things.(even to the extent that she has requested a spiderman party). She tends to hang around the little boys more and less around the girls. My child is very confident. I am not too sure if it is because of the above, parenting or just plain lucky! I do not believe Jada will take any shit. And, yes, if the occasion arises where she is physically bullied, I will not moan if she defends herself. She has learnt to defend herself, not by attacking but by avoiding ie push them away. I believe that too many people believe in turning the other cheek. I believe that it is nonsense. If someone is in your face, if someone threatens you physically, then sometimes it is best to put them in their place. I do not condone violence. But I do support self protection. Right or wrong! Maybe…

  • Melinda

    September 10, 2014 at 11:34 am

    I just wanted to state that I am not always a good example…once I was in the store, and this little boy was chasing Kala around and she was afraid. The mother was standing there watching my child crying. So i got the bliksem helling. So I hid behind a clothing rack, jumped out in front of him and scared the shit out of him. He ran off crying. The mother just looked at me and pulled her child away. I smiled at her….and thought “Bitch, if you cannot control your child, then dont expect me to control my temper”….maybe not my most glamous side, but hey, that kid will probably think twice before scaring another child and Kala had a good laugh

  • Louisa

    September 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    We’ve had a bit of bullying. I’ve tried teaching N a couple of techniques that she can switch up as the need arises. For instance if someone says something mean, she can tell them she feels sorry for them. They’ll end up alone cause no one wants to play with a bully. If they tell lies, she lets them know they don’t know what they’re talking about. Physical violence gets the same back. I’ve taught her how to pack a punch that will hurt and surprise but not do permanent damage (when she’s a bit older we’ll get to those for self defense.

    Does it work? Sometimes…I’ve tried to help N understand that sometimes people feel so bad about themselves that they try to hurt people around them so that they don’t feel miserable on their own. Understanding why still doesn’t make it okay, and we don’t ever have to take it from anyone…but when someone is mean for no reason it says more about them than about you.

  • Fathima

    September 10, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    I told my son to take away their power by agreeing with everything they say and just keeping a straight face. They eventually ran out o things to say. He was obviously traumatized when he came home but they are friends now.

  • Chelsea Harvey

    September 10, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    This absolutely breaks my heart. I am a preschool teacher and deal with this on a daily basis. I’m FIERCELY protective over children who are bullied and if they can’t defend themselves, I deal with the bullies harshly. This world doesn’t need anymore cruelty. I’m so sorry this is happening to your little girl, wish I could help her myself. What we did in our preschool (it doesn’t work in all cases but we have had many success stories), is that when a comment is made, the child being bullied goes right into the bullies face with their finger (I know this takes some bravery, but it invades the bullies space and lets them know you mean business. They then SCREAM into their face “Stop! I don’t like that and it is not true”. They must then immediately walk away, leaving the bully shocked and insecure. I know this sounds horrible but it has worked and taught the bully to be careful who they deal with whilst also building confidence in the child being bullied. I know this isn’t the only solution so if you want to know more PLEASE feel free to email me, I’d love to help. I’m so passionate about stopping bullying. Would be happy to ask around for more methods to help you.

    Chelsea x

  • Heather

    September 10, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    This guy has an interesting approach of trying to make the bully your friend. He is against the anti-bully movement and telling on, it just makes things worse.
    What I used as an example for the kids (grade ones that I was teaching) one that often happened was “You’re not my friend”. So you try and answer low key, without a big reaction, “Oh, I didn’t know I’m not your friend. Why?” Instead of attacking and reacting, you deflect. e.g. “you are gay” = “Oh well some people may think I act feminine, sure, but I’m not really gay.” It’s worth listening to some of his talks.

  • Robyn

    September 11, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    My first instinct would be like yours. DAMN! Since we had a bit of an incident at a restaurant some time ago with horrible kids, I’ve tried to talk about this bully business often. I talk about how not everyone will like you, and how that is ok and how they can go play with other kids if someone is being mean, and they can report it to teacher if the kid doesn’t stop and how as a last resort, fight back (haha, my husband insists that I teach them about fighting back!!!). Personally, I think preparing your kids for the uglies of this world is the first step. I really do like Chelsea’s comment about getting up in the bully’s face and telling them to bugger off. And that’s the other thing I’m trying to teach my kids.. self confidence to stand up to anyone who is doing something wrong. Not easy to teach. After all my stranger danger talk, we had a man come up to our gate the other day selling paintings… I’ve always told my kids never to take anything from strangers.. well… they waltz in with this painting which they took from the stranger and ask me for money to pay him!! I was like DO YOU GUYS LISTEN TO ANYTHING I TELL YOU! So yes, it’s an ongoing learning I think. Last point: that brat definitely needs his eyes tested. Ava is GORGEOUS. 🙂

  • Debs

    September 12, 2014 at 8:34 am

    My 4yo niece was being spat on repeatedly by the same horrid child. He would push her too. All we did was tell her to say NO really loudly. The word NO can be very empowering for a young child. It show’s the other child that she has had enough! So when it happened again, she very smartly shouted NO, STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. And he did. And he hasnt done it again since. I guess its about helping Hannah to find her voice too. Practice with her, make her tell you NO in her strongest voice. It’ll produce some giggles but it’ll give her a real boost of self confidence. Good luck, let us know how it goes! X


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