standing up to bullies
Difficult Topics, Self-Advocacy, The Happy Student Podcast

Episode #65: Standing Up to Bullies

Bullying is a big problem kids have to deal with. One of the best ways to decrease bullying is to empower bystanders to do the right thing when they see bullying happen. But a lot of kids don’t know what the right thing to do in that moment is. Sometimes they want to help, but because they don’t know what to do, they look on helplessly. Kids need concrete strategies so that when they see bullying happening, they know what steps they need to take in order to do the right thing.

Standing up to bullies




Bystanders – the people witnessing the bullying, not the bully or the victim

  • Sometimes they look on helplessly, which actually reinforces the bully’s behavior because no one tells him to stop and the victim thinks everyone is on the bully’s side.

[bctt tweet=”“Kids need concrete strategies that they have thought about and planned on doing ahead of time and even practiced a few times perhaps with you so that when they see bullying happening, they know what steps they need to take in order to do the right thing.”” username=”@SisuFireborn”]

Michele Borba, author of so many books, most recently UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, has created a Bully “BUSTER” Bystander Strategy to help empower bystanders.

B: Befriend the Victim

  • Once one person befriends the victim, more people are likely to befriend the victim.
  • Call over some more of your friends to help.
  • Befriend the victim outside of the time when they are being bullied too.

U: Use a Distraction

  • As Borba says, “a bully wants an audience, so reduce it with a distraction.”
  • For example:
    • Ask: “What is everyone doing here?”
    • Interrupt: “I can’t find my phone. Has anyone seen it or can anyone help me look?”
    • State: “Hey guys! I think a teacher is coming!”

S – Speak Out and Stand Up!

  • Encourage your child by talking about how scary it is and how impressive and brave a person is who can do this.
  • Name what’s happening by saying, “That’s bullying!”
  • Label it saying “That’s mean!”
  • State your disapproval by saying, “This isn’t cool!”

T – Tell or Text for Help

  • Find potential adult allies at school that your child can go to for help who won’t tell others that it was your child who reported on the bullying. That way your child is safe from retaliation.

E – Exit Alone or With Others

  • “Let’s leave.” Or “Come on. I don’t want to be a part of this.”
  • Try to get others to leave too, but if they don’t, you should leave so that your presence does not bolster the bullying

R – Give a Reason and a Remedy

  • “This is mean!” (a reason) and then “Go get help!” (a remedy)


standing up to bullies



I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. How do you teach your children to advocate for themselves and stand up to bullies?


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Toxic Social Situations
Difficult Topics, Middle School, Self-Advocacy, Social Life, Stress Management

Toxic Social Situations

Middle school, as we all know, is an awkward time in kids’ lives, particularly with peers. And high school is not known for being a walk in the park socially either. Kids worry about being popular, being left out, saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong outfit – the list goes on…

Imagine the following scenario:

You (well, middle school version of you) walks up to a couple of girls, who then turn their back on you. You maybe try to say hi, but then they walk away from you. So you walk away and try to be friendly again later, only for the same story to play out. Sound familiar?

As middle schoolers, we naturally internalize this behavior as indicating that something is wrong with us. And then we dwell on it and put ourselves down and enter this terrible feedback loop because we approach the next social situation with trepidation instead of confidence.

As parents of children who are going through this situation, and dealing with issues we did not have to (namely cyberbullying), we need to teach our children that it really “isn’t you (your child), it’s them (the bullies).”

That is hard when ‘everyone’ (in the eyes of your child) thinks this other person is amazing. But I suggest talking to your child about:

  • how this other student may be a bully,
  • how your child is wonderful (in specific and sincere ways, as usual),
  • how this other person behaved badly,
  • how upset you are that someone else made your wonderful child feel so bad,
  • how it was wrong of that person to behave in such a manner,
  • how your child should act in the future. 

And how should your child act in the future?

According to Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, one of the best ways to manage stress is “Active avoidance of triggers” (2015). In this situation, the other student(s) is the trigger of the bad feelings and social anxiety. Therefore, one of the best ways to deal with it is to avoid that person. Stop trying to hang out with her. Find other people who treat you well. When your friends want to hang out with that person, you can find something else to do (or give a second chance – just not too many second chances). 

Another strategy to try at the same time is to help your child find something he is really good at: a sport, school, a specific subject in school, playing an instrument, coding, drawing, building robots, volunteering, and so on… It is even better if you can help him pursue this skill with others. As Dr. Ginsburg explains, people feel better and less stressed when they contribute to the world, when they feel as though they have a sense of meaning, and when they are “surrounded with thank yous rather than condemnation” (2015). Helping your child find that sense of meaning through an after-school activity will help him find other friends and feel confident and maintain his self-esteem during those uncomfortable, and perhaps toxic, social situations.

My favorite activity is volunteering because it helps solidify a sense of self: I am a good person. Which can then help your child when confronted by “mean girls” because she can say to herself, “They just hurt my feelings by turning away from me. That is not something a good person does. I will go find other people like me to hang out with.” But all of the activities help your child define herself, can bolster self-esteem, and help your child deal with the hardships associated with growing up.


Davis, P. (2016). Personal communication.

Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.