How I Teach Our Kids To Deal With Bullies

by Audrey Hayworth
Originally Published: 
A bullied boy sitting alone on the stairs while four schoolmates are laughing at him.

Image via Shutterstock

Every year when school starts, I have a conversation with our boys about bullies, what they are and that my boys should not become one.

I have to have this conversation because our kids are prone to being bullied. Both of our children are on the autism spectrum and struggle with reading the emotions of others. Sarcasm? They have no clue. Meanness? They have a hard time reading that, too, so if they know a child is being mean, they are mean, and an intervention probably needs to happen.

But then the dilemma happens. When do you intervene as a parent? At what point do you let them stand up for themselves, and not get in the middle? It’s a tightrope that all parents must walk as their children get older.

Two years ago, the first time the bullying happened to our oldest child, conferences were held, the bully held responsible, and school went on. But, unfortunately, we knew it would probably not be the last time. What’s a parent to do?

My husband and I had multiple conversations about where to draw the line. Do you tell the school immediately when something happens? We can’t always be there to fight for them and we want them to be able to stand up for themselves.

Last year, the same kid who had been reported for bullying our child the year prior, started to bully him again. I was livid.

Our tender-hearted child was crying himself to sleep every night because of one asshole kid. I lay awake at night wondering how to teach our child to have thicker skin and to ignore him, yet to stand up for himself without becoming a bully.

One of those nights, I was having a conversation about the bully with our child, and he asked me what he should do when he is bullied.

I took a deep breath. “Well,” I said, “when I’m talking to grown-up bullies, I recite over and over to myself this person is just an asshole. Unfortunately, in life, we have to deal with a lot of people. Most of them will be nice, but some are assholes. So, when that kid starts to be nasty to you, instead of listening to him, just tell yourself this kid is an asshole.

Surprisingly, he took solace in that. But, I lay awake thinking about how I might have just made my worst parenting move. What if he goes to school and says out loud that this kid is an asshole?

He didn’t, thank goodness, and this tactic has worked surprisingly well. Recently, we were at a ball park and a group of kids started to pick on our youngest child. These kids were unbelievably nasty to him, and after they told him that the world would be better off if he just killed himself (this they said to an 8 year old), our oldest child came to me and asked me to intervene. That was where I drew the line; I intervened. Asshole kids don’t get to tell our child to go kill himself.

After a few tears, and an apology, our youngest remarkably and quickly moved past it. I was silently grateful that he still had not mastered the nuances of meanness because of his autism, and prayed he wouldn’t remember this episode in the future. However, I knew our oldest, clearly understood what had just happened.

I fought back angry tears as we were leaving the park, walking side by side with our oldest. I was calm when I asked our oldest if he was okay after witnessing what had happened.

“Yeah, I’m okay, and I’m glad my brother is okay. Those kids were just a bunch of assholes.”

Parenting done right.

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