7 Ways to Help Kids End Bullying

Turning kindess and empathy into verbs

Posted Nov 07, 2016

This week, I have the good fortune of attending the International Bullying Prevention Conference in New Orleans, LA, and interacting with champions for children from all across the world. What an energizer it is to hear about professionals’ successes in reaching and teaching kids who bully, kids who are bullied, and kids who feel helpless when they watch cruelty unleashed. What a comfort it is to meet adults who are creative, committed, and determined to make schools and communities safer for young people. And best of all, what an honor to be immersed in a group of people who knows—because they see it first-hand, day in and day out—that the real antidotes to bullying are not found in policies and procedures but rather in person-to-person connections, grounded in kindness and empathy

“Pie in the sky?” you might wonder. “No, science!” I assert. 

Neuroscience shows us that kindness changes the brain and that school-based programs that specifically integrate the teaching of kindness and empathy into the academic day note real reductions in bullying behavior. What follows are seven simple, practical, easy-to-implement ways that kids can use connections to bring an end to bullying:

1. Stand with the person being bullied

Encourage your young person(s) to simply walk over and stand close to someone who is being bullied. Often, just the act of standing with a vulnerable person can be enough to change the mood and stop the bullying. It also lets the person being bullied know that he or she is not alone.

2. Memorize a simple statement

Many kids tell me that they want to stand up for others who are being bullied, but they don’t know what to say.I make it a practice to help kids think of what I call “Bully Bans,” or simple, quick, casual statements such as, “Cut it out, dude—that’s not cool,” or “Stop it.That’s mean.” The key is in letting kids generate their own statements, so that their language feels comfortable and natural to them.Then, I help them role-play saying their simple, original words in a confident, casual voice.

3. Change the subject

Teach kids how effective it can be to stop an episode of bullying in its tracks by doing something as easy as changing the subject. When a child wants to quickly deflect the pressure from someone who is being bullied, he or she can simply ask aloud if someone knows the date of the math test or the score of the football game.

4. Scatter the crowd

Another quick diffuser: prepare kids to say something like, “Guys, we’ve gotta get to class before the bell rings.” This is a quick and easy way that kids can scatter the crowd of onlookers from whom a bully is deriving social power. It’s a powerful intervention for stopping bullying on the spot.

5. Reach out

For the times when your child is not present during an incident of bullying or cannot intervene in the moment, reassure him that he still makes an important difference when he makes time to reach out to a victim of cruelty later in the day. Encourage kids to invite a bullied peer to hang out with them at lunch or to sit together on the bus ride home. Remind kids that reaching out via technology is another great way to check in with someone who they know was bullied. Texting a kind message or reassuring the person that they didn’t deserve what happened to them can do much to reverse a victim’s feelings of isolation and shame.

6. Use humor

One of the best ways that kids can spread kindness and lower the stress of a bullying situation is by making others laugh. Caution kids to make sure that laughter is never created at the expense of the person being bullied, but otherwise, joke on!

7. Get Help

Kids who are bullied often fear being labeled as a tattletale, a snitch, or a narc if they report the bullying to an adult. Teach kids that they can remove this weight from a victimized person’s shoulders by reaching out to a trustworthy adult on their behalf. Engage kids in thoughtful conversations to help them identify a particular adult(s) that can be counted on to intervene tactfully and step in effectively stop bullying and minimize any repercussions on the victim.

Signe Whitson is a School Counselor and national educator on Bullying Prevention.  For more ideas on how to teach kids to use the power of kindness and empathy to stop bullying, check out The 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Book for Kids and Tweens and Companion Guide for Parents and Educators or visit www.signewhitson.com