protecting kids

Doing right by victims of bullying

Hello! I’m in my first year of teaching and I have a couple of students who are being bullied verbally everyday by a group of older boys. Of course, I’ve been working on putting an end to it, but instead of helping my bullied students, the boys have just added me and another new teacher to their list of targets. They are not my students so I can’t directly punish them and their own teacher wouldn’t do anything about it. And their parents are busy rich people who couldn’t be bothered. Any advice?

There’s a book you need to read. The Are Word by Dave Hingsbuger is an amazing practical guide to helping victims of bullying. It’s short, easy to read, and has practical techniques that actually help people. (He wrote it for those who work with people with intellectual disabilities, but what he says is broadly applicable to everyone.)

Some things I think it’s important to acknowledge about this kind of situation (and this is part of what Dave Hingsburger discusses in his book):

  • You might not be powerful enough to make the bullies stop
  • The victims are almost certainly not powerful enough to make the victims stop
  • There are a lot of things you can do for your students, whether or not you can stop the bullies
  • Your students need you, and it’s important to be there for them

Be careful about your ego:

  • You probably want to see yourself as someone who stops bullying
  • Most teachers decent enough to care about vulnerable kids feel that way
  • This can lead to some bad consequences when there are bad things going on that you can’t stop
  • Sometimes teachers who want to believe that they are solving bullying end up talking themselves out of acknowledging bullying when they can’t fix it
  • Or worse, sometimes they convince themselves that teaching victims social skills or other responses will fix bullying
  • That ends up hurting victims really badly, and making them feel like it’s their fault and/or that no adults care very much about what’s happening to them.
  • Don’t do that to their students
  • Acknowledge what’s happening to your students, even when it hurts to admit to yourself that something bad is happening that neither you nor they can fix

Even when you are not powerful enough to control the behavior of bullies, there are a lot of other things you can and should do to help your students. I’ve written before about things adults can often do to help victims of bullying.

tl;dr: Teachers can’t always stop bullying; they can always do things that are at least somewhat helpful to victims of bullying. One of the most important things you can do is to be honest with yourself and your students about the situation. _The Are Word_ by Dave Hingsburger is an incredibly helpful book for anyone who wants to support victims of bullying.



this ask is about bullying and being an adult who kids ask for help:
i know from experience that it’s important not to teach bullied kids that the way to defend themselves is to mentally place themselves as superior to the bullies,…

ischemgeek said:

I’ve had success with expressing casual disapproval of kids engaging in bullying-prelude behavior (like if they’re gossiping about another behind their back, that sort of thing) and with swiftly and strictly scolding/otherwise punishing for bullying behavior (like laughing at/making fun of another kid, stealing another kid’s stuff, etc), and praising for respecting others’ boundaries (if the kid is new and has issues with recognizing boundaries - after a while it just becomes an expected-standard-of-behavior thing) and/or putting a stop to bullying behaviors (“Hey, I saw you stop [kid] from bugging [other kid]. That was nice of you. Good job.”)

The most important thing is to be consistent with it. Kids I volunteer with know they can joke with each other about stuff, but the moment it crosses into actually insulting each other or the moment a kid’s establishment of a boundary is not respected, I will scold or make them sit out until they’re willing to be respectful of others, depending on how much they’ve pushed it. Full stop. No exceptions. It’s to the point that the kids who’ve been there longer will now put a stop to bullying situations before I even have to step in (“No, leave [kid] alone, they said they don’t like that. Let’s do [other thing] instead!”). I tell kids that I don’t ask them to like or be friends with everyone, but I do demand that they treat each other with respect and consideration.

And especially, especially lead by example. If you don’t want kids you watch over/teach to bully, don’t be a bully. If you want kids to view you as a safe grownup to come to about these things, don’t be a bully. Don’t make fun of the kids you’re working with. Don’t ignore their boundaries. Ask if you can borrow stuff. Don’t embarrass them on purpose in public. Don’t use humiliation or public embarrassment as a punishment (there’s a big difference between “Stop that or you’ll have to sit out until you can be safe.” and “Hey, everyone, [kid] thinks it’s a good idea to do [bad thing]! [Kid] can do [punishment] now while we all watch and thank them for the delay they’ve caused us. Good job, [kid].” The first is discipline, the second is humiliation). Ask before you touch them if you need to touch them for something (e.g. “Do you want me to put the band-aid on or do you want to do it?”). Keep jokes friendly, and don’t be afraid to apologize if you hurt feelings by mistake. Act the standard you want the kids to rise to. Kids model the adults they’re around - if they see grownups treating everyone with respect and consideration, they will tend to follow suit. By contrast, if they see grownups tease and bully, they’ll think that behavior is okay.

As well, take any complaints of bullying seriously and make good on your promises. My default response is along the lines of, “I’m sorry that I didn’t notice that at the time. I’ll keep a close eye out for it later, and I’ll pair you with [different kid] instead next class, okay?” And then I follow through with that. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. When I was a bullied kid, the adults who refused to do anything were frustrating, but worse were the adults who promised to do something and then never followed through. Making good on your promises is really important for maintaining the trust of the bullied kid. I won’t punish a kid for something I didn’t see unless there’s compelling evidence (because I know from being on the wrong end of it that a system like that could be too easily exploited by the bullies), but I will follow through with any action I’ve promised - pairing kids with different partners, making sure the bully doesn’t get the victim alone during class time, and keeping a closer eye on the kid who complained so that I can take action right away if the bully tries anything the next class being the most common promises I make.

Finally, accept that no system is perfect. No matter how hard you work at keeping your enviornment considerate and respectful, bullying will happen, and you have to address it when it does. you can affect the severity and frequency of it, but it’ll still happen sometimes. Do not fall into the trap of thinking, “My class/school/club/etc doesn’t have a bullying problem! We’re respectful!” Doesn’t work that way. All denial does is make an environment where bullying can thrive as long as it stays out of your sight. I admit I’m more prone to that thought process than I’d like, and I know better - I was bullied terribly at a school that refused to do anything because “We don’t have a bullying problem here!”

this ask is about bullying and being an adult who kids ask for help:
i know from experience that it’s important not to teach bullied kids that the way to defend themselves is to mentally place themselves as superior to the bullies, because that can crush the kid’s self-esteem later, & can so easily turn them into someone who bullies a different kid to feel better.
but what should you say to support kids instead?
yrs, a past bullying victim, now older & trying to support kids thru the same thing
realsocialskills said:
I think, before considerations about teaching kids who come to you for help self defense, it’s important to consider what you might be able to do to protect them. You are likely in a position to offer them material protection as well as self-defense advice. This is a situation in which actions speak louder than words.


For instance:
Can you offer bullied kids a refuge?
  • If you’re a teacher in a school, can you start a lunch club or recess club where kids can eat and hang out in your classroom instead of going to the playground?
  • If neighborhood kids are coming to you for help, can you make your house or yard a safe space for them to hang out in away from bullies? 

If you’re an adult with some kind of power over kids (eg: a teacher, a youth group leader, etc), you might be able to make some things better by supervising things more:

  • Can you pay close attention to what’s going on, and intervene when the wrong kid gets suspended?
  • (You know from being bullied that the kid who gets caught often isn’t the kid who started it.
  • If you pay enough attention, you might be in a position to protect the kid who is being unjustly punished.)
  • Can you pay attention to when harassment and bullying rules are being broken, and enforce them? Rules can actually make a difference when they are enforced consistently.
  • (For instance: if there’s a rule against touching people’s stuff without permission, can you pay attention to when kids take other people’s stuff and insist that they stop?)
If the bullies are taking or destroying the kid’s possessions in a place that’s hard to supervise, can you offer them a safe place to keep it?
  • Being able to store things in a place bullies can’t get to can make a huge difference
  • For instance, a kid whose science project keeps getting destroyed by bullies can complete it if teachers give her a secure space to store it and work on it
  • A kid whose dolls keep getting destroyed by his brothers will probably be much more ok if an adult gives him a safe place to keep his dolls.
If the bullies are preventing the kids from eating:
  • Can you provide a safe place for them to eat? 
  • If bullies keep taking food away from the kids who are coming to you for help, can you give them food?
  • If kids need to break rules in order to eat safely, can you allow them to break the rules?
Has the kid been physically injured or threatened in a way the police might take seriously?
  • Sometimes the police might take things seriously even if the school does not
  • Calling the police is not always a good idea, but sometimes it is
  • If calling the police might be warranted, can you offer to sit with the kid while they call the police?
  • Or to call for them?
  • Or to go to the police station and make a report together?
  • Going to the police is a lot less scary if someone is helping you; and children are more likely to be believed if adults are backing them up
  • If they have to go to court, can you offer to go along for moral support? (It makes a difference. Testifying is often terrifying and horrible and it’s not something anyone should ever have to do without support)
What else can you do?
  • I don’t know you, so I don’t know what the kids coming to you need, or what you’re in a position to offer.
  • But there are almost certainly things you can do that I haven’t thought of
  • if you think it through, you can probably think of and do some things that materially help bullied kids.
  • Actions speak louder than words. If you help protect them, you send the message that they are worth protecting.
You can also be an adult who believes them:
  • Being believed about bullying is incredibly powerful
  • So is listening
  • Kids who are bullied often have everyone in their life try to downplay how awful it is
  • If you believe them about their experiences and listen, you send the message that it matters that others are treating them badly
  • And that it’s not their fault.
  • And that they’re ok and the bullies are mean.
There is an emotional self-defense technique that works better than the destructive one we were taught as children. It was developed by Dave Hingsburger, and he describes it in The Are Word (a book anyone working with people who are bullied for any reason need to read.)
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how it works, and I will probably do so again in the future. 


Have any of y'all helped out bullied kids? What have you done?