dealing with bullies

How to Respond When Your Kid is Dealing with Bullies

Two things come to mind when people hear that I was bullied when I was younger. The first thing people think is: You’re an NFL offensive lineman, how were you bullied? And second, Why didn’t you just beat the snot out of the kids who bullied you?

It’s shocking to most, but I didn’t always have the 6’6, 320 lb. frame that I now carry. I grew up an undersized, funny-looking kid with a vocabulary that exceeded my age and the age of my peers. With a ton of freckles and bright red, spiked hair, I was a perfect candidate for kids to pick on. Dads, I want to challenge the common response and advice given to sons when they share their experiences of dealing with bullies at school, and share with you some helpful ways you can communicate and encourage your son.

Be a voice for your son

Often kids who experience bullying don’t have an advocate. I grew up with three sisters and not a ton of great friends. I spent a lot of time by myself. When I started to get picked on, I didn’t have an older brother to stand up for me or protect me. I wish I had that when I was younger, an advocate, a voice to stand up and stop the bullying I experienced. Don’t assume the bullying will stop after having a conversation with your son about “toughening up” or sending an email out to a teacher. Often it takes serious involvement with the school or program where your son is experiencing the bullying.

Keep a record of names and experiences

Often teachers or authorities don’t always catch or see everything that happens. They might be oblivious to certain issues and altercations. When it’s time to go to a teacher, principal, coach or authority about the problem, it will be helpful to have your son’s experiences written down in detail. 

Fighting only creates more problems

Teaching your son to use his words to resolve conflict will prepare him for adulthood and the many complications that come with working in a business environment. [Tweet This] If you encourage your son to fight or return abusive talk, it will likely translate to adulthood and hurt him in the long run. Encourage your son to use his words, rather than his size, strength, or ability to fight.

Growing up, my father knew I was going to be a man of great size, even while I was smaller than all the other kids. After a day at school where I was bullied or picked on, my dad would remind me of the importance of using my words. He knew that there would soon be a day that I was no longer the smaller kid, and when that day came, I needed the skill set of using my words, rather than my size because of the danger that comes with being bigger than everyone else. You have a tremendous opportunity to teach and cultivate your son during his difficulties. Encouraging him to fight back will only cheapen those opportunities and rob your son of some important life lessons.

Affirm your son’s identity

Bullying attempts to strip the individual of his identity and self-worth. If your son struggles with low self-esteem or low self-worth affirm his identity as your son. Remind him of his gifts, his talents, and the things he does that make you most proud. Assure him of the great things he will accomplish, and the great plans ahead of him.

Help your son realize that everyone hurts

We can’t expect kids to go through hardship, or suffering, or abuse, and expect them to come out the other side normal. It’s hard enough for us as adults to wade through and endure hardship. Whether there is abuse at home, an absent father, drug issues, depression, anxiety, gang-related issues, their brains don’t have the ability to digest and wade through these things. When kids come from environments that don’t have control, they’re going to want to respond in ways that give them control.

Inherently, in human nature, we try to exert our control over weaker beings. So, when we see kids who are oppressing other kids, there are always internal reasons for why these kids are doing that. Everyone hurts, everyone has struggles. When we encourage our son to develop empathy for those around him, it will greatly help him respond well.

Sound Off

If you were bullied as a kid, what did you do about it?

garrett gilkey
Garrett Gilkey

Currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey is involved in serving the homeless in his local community. Gilkey is also passionate about raising awareness about bullying.

  • Jeff Prichard

    My son is dealing with this very issue right now. He is 13 and a bit scrawny and somewhat weaker than the more athletic kids. I appreciate the article and advice on how to respond to bullying. I must admit that I feel my son needs to jump on the kid who is bullying him in an attempt to let other kids know that he is not going to be a target any longer. At the same time I am reluctant to give him that advice. I know the article says this is the worst way to respond, but I am not so sure about that. I think every boy needs to stand up for himself physically at some point. My dad told me that if a guy was bigger than me and pushing me around that I needed to grab an “equalizer” in my case a 2 x 4. I commenced to apply the wood appropriately to the head of my aggressor and after that we had a very pleasant relationship.

    • Trent

      With some aggressive boys it is the only way to respond, it is the only thing they understand. I jumped a guy that was 6-5 and I was 5-8 at the time in high school but he left me alone after that I had to do 6 saturday school days, but worth it. I agree that you must stand your ground for yourself and your friends. I like the Christmas Story, That bully in the movie harassed all of them for awhile, until Ralphie got mad.

  • MajorJohnnyLujan

    Great article and advice. The easy way out is to tell your son or daughter to fight. It takes time and effort to help your child work through these issues but in the long run it is also a great opportunity to teach life lessons and skills that your child can learn no other way. In addition it is also a perfect opportunity to teach your child about the power of prayer. The bible commands us to pray for our enemies and when we show our children how to do this, it is awesome to see how instead of feeding into the anger and hurt that we feel in these situations we can teach our child how to empathize with others. Bullies bully because they themselves are hurting and want others to feel what they feel. God knows that we can not hate those that we pray for and can not pray for those that we hate.

  • Matthew Barile

    Thank you for the Article. I was bullied during my middle school years. I have come to realize that I acted the way bullies want you to act…to respond to their actions. I have been telling my son (age 7) whenever kids make fun of him or others, it’s because those children do not feel good about themselves and want to build themselves up by tearing other people down. I have affirmed him in a similar way this article explains to do, however I want to further encourage him to realize his true identity, not only as my son, but in Christ. The bit about keeping detailed records, names and experiences of each incident I hadn’t thought of before. From here on out I will be doing this. I certainly want my boys to know I’ve got their backs. I think it’s crucial for them to be secure in who they are.

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Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Have you ever been bullied before?”

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