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How to defend kids from bullies

By Ryan Douglass

Kids who learn and think differently are often the target of bullying . Families and teachers can’t always be there in person to stop it. But there are things you can do to help kids defend themselves. And state laws make schools take action when kids are bullied.

The first step is to make sure kids know what bullying is. Bullying is serious, hurtful behavior that happens more than once. It’s done on purpose by someone with power.

Kids might have trouble knowing that someone is a bully. Bullies can be charismatic or have friends who encourage their mean behavior. Use the word bullying when you see it happening, so kids have the words to name it.

Make sure kids know they won’t get in trouble for sharing bullying experiences with you. If they open up, validate their feelings. Say “Bullying is not OK” and “You don’t deserve this.” 

Let kids know there are steps you can take to put a stop to it. Partner with teachers, coaches, or other trusted adults to help protect kids from bullying.

Dive deeper

Look up your state’s anti-bullying law

All 50 states have anti-bullying laws.  They differ from state to state. But a typical anti-bullying law requires a school to investigate bullying within a specific number of days. It also requires the school to take action to stop it. Many state laws list consequences for bullies. 

Check your school’s student handbook or the school district’s website for its anti-bullying policy. This will tell you who to contact and how to report bullying.

Learn more about anti-bullying laws .

Role-play how to respond to bullies

Take turns with the child, each of you playing the bully and the victim. Demonstrate ignoring or walking away from the situation, so they know what that looks like. Show how to tell a bully to stop in a loud voice. 

Ask kids to think through what to do in certain situations (then share what you’d do, too):

  • Who would you tell if someone was pushing you on the bus?

  • What would you say to someone who called you a name?

  • How could you respond if other students excluded you from a game?

Get more ideas for role-playing social situations with kids .

Encourage kids to be “upstanders”

Tell kids that when they see someone picking on another child in person or online, they have a choice. They can be a passive bystander or a brave “upstander.” As an upstander, kids have a responsibility to report bullies to adults who can help.

Tell kids that this isn’t “tattling.” It’s being compassionate and brave. The more kids look out for other students, the more likely others will defend them against bullies, too.

Download a bullying fact sheet to share with kids.

Next steps

Helping kids learn to speak up for themselves, or self-advocate, is one of the best ways for them to protect themselves from bullying. 

Find out how to teach self-advocacy skills to:

And get a step-by-step guide on what to do if a child is being bullied at school .

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