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Dealing with Bullies

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My kindergartner is having trouble with bullies in his class. There are two boys who kick him under the table, stuff crayons in his shirt, chase him on the playground, and push him down, etc. When he tells the teacher she sometimes tells him not to tattle, but he is a very shy child and he will not stick up for himself. On the one occasion when he did stick up for himself, he got in trouble. What should I tell him to do?

A: Shy children, like your son, who do not stick up for themselves are often more vulnerable to bullying. In addition, the bullying continues because the bullies are getting some reaction out of their victims.

While parents want to protect their children and hate to see them unhappy, they may intervene so much that the child doesn't learn how to handle the situation, which is the best approach. However, since these children are physically attacking your child, it is important for you to talk to the teacher to get the full story of what is happening and work together on devising a solution.

In any case, you need to work on strategies with your son in order to "bullyproof" him. First of all, he should have a planned verbal response for when these boys or other children bully him. He needs to look them right in the eye and say in a loud voice things like: "Why are you kicking me?" or "Stop doing that, I don't like it." If this fails to stop the bullying, he can shout at them. This assertive approach usually works because it surprises bullies and draws attention to their actions. Help him rehearse this strategy many times so he feels comfortable using it.

Your son needs to develop some solid friendships with his classmates. Bullies are reluctant to attack children who have defenders. Since he is so shy, he will probably need your help. Invite a classmate over to play. It will definitely be easier for your son to get to know another child individually rather than in the classroom situation. Consider the idea of inviting one of the children who is actually bullying your son. Often, a bully is a child who is also being bullied by others, and in return picks on a weaker or shyer child like your son. In this way, you would be helping both children.

Finally, think of ways to build your child's self-confidence. Gaining a skill from karate to computing could help him become a more confident, resourceful child.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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