What teachers should NOT do when a child is being bullied

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have a bully in my 5th-grade language arts class. He is verbally bullying one of my other students. We had an anti-bullying speaker talk to all of the students already this year. I have told the student to stop bullying the other student, and I have even put the child who is being bullied at a desk near mine at the parent’s request. Nothing has worked. The bully just seeks out the other child during non-instructional time to victimize him. What do I do now? – Carla, Phoenix, Arizona


Every single thing you and your school are doing is wrong and will make the bullying worse. Let’s start there.

Speakers and teachers talking to bullies about why they shouldn’t bully kids only encourages bullying. When we use words without taking action, it sends the message that we aren’t actually going to do anything about the bullying, so kids keep doing it. Putting the bully-ee next to your desk is a catastrophically terrible idea. It tells the bully and the rest of the class that this kid is horribly weak and needs you to defend him. This puts a target on his back. It also destroys that kid’s self-esteem. Put the kid back in the general population of the class. If the mom complains, show her this column. In schools, the parent is the customer, but the customer is not always right.

One way to solve this problem is to do 50 percent of your teaching from within eight feet of the bully. Stay near him during transitions. This will only slightly improve life for the bully-ee.

The rest of the problem will be taken care of by making the current bully-ee bully-proof. Here’s how I would bully-proof the kid:

Kid Whisperer: I wanted to talk to you about Kid-Bully trying to make your life terrible here at school. I am so sorry, but I really messed up. I have been trying to protect you all of the time which I can’t really do. Starting today, your desk will be back where it was. I have learned some ways of keeping my eyes on Kid-Bully, but I know I won’t always be able to stop him from being a jerk to you. From now on, that will be your job.

Kid: My job?

Kid Whisperer: Yes. I don’t expect you to know how to defend yourself from this kid, so I am going to show you how to do it. Are you interested?

Kid: I guess.

Kid Whisperer: OK. Why do you think he’s being horrible to you?

Kid: To make me upset?

Kid Whisperer: Bingo. So far, are you giving him what he wants?

Kid: Yes.

Kid Whisperer: How about we stop giving him what he wants?

Kid: OK. That sounds good.

Kid Whisperer: What if, when he was mean or obnoxious to you, you just smiled like a crazy person, waved to him, and said, “I am SOOOOOO HAPPY!!!!!”

Kid: That would be weird.

Kid Whisperer: That’s exactly right. It would be. But would it show him that him being a jerk doesn’t bother you anymore?

Kid: I guess.

Kid Whisperer: So will he be more likely to stop than if you just hid over here by my desk?

Kid: Yes.

Kid Whisperer: Cool. Let me know how it goes. I can’t wait for him to try to mess with you. You may want to only do this when an adult is around. It will probably make him pretty angry. It’s going to be awesome! Come back and tell me how it went and I can give you plenty of other lines to say to him. I’ve got a million of them!

By giving him this advice, I have let Kid know that I think he is strong, and I have given him tools that will help him to become (and stay) strong!

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