University of Illinois Extension

Is a Bully Picking on Your Grandchild?

Milly Kaiser, Family Life Educator

School can be tough for any child, but it's even worse when a bully starts to control the child's attitudes and behavior.

Do you have any childhood memories of a bully? Maybe your parents told you to stand up to the bully. In the past, the attitude about bullying was "kids will be kids" or "it's part of growing up." But if bullying is, as some people claim, a normal part of childhood, why do memories of bullies remain so vivid in the minds of victims or even bystanders?

Conflict is a normal part of growing up, but bullying is a more serious issue.

Many schools have implemented a comprehensive anti-bullying program. These schools have the attitude that bullying will NOT be tolerated.

Times have changed. Therefore, the advice we give to our children or grandchildren on how to deal with a bully needs to change.

Start by understanding the difference between normal conflict and bullying. Then, help your grandchild recognize the difference.

Kids who have conflict usually have equal power. The conflict only happens once in a while, and typically both children will make an effort to solve the problem. They often play together and their goal is not to hurt each other.

Bullying is different. A bully has power over the victim. A bully tries to physically harm or emotionally intimidate a victim, and these encounters happen over and over. The two never play together, and there is no effort to solve the problem. The bully actually enjoys taunting the victim, and the victim is afraid.

So what can you do to help protect your grandchild from bully situations? The authors of the book, Bully-Proofing Your Child, offer the six strategies below. You will have a good feel for which ones might work best for your grandchild's personality. In any given situation, your grandchild might use one of these ideas or a combination of strategies.

  • Get Help - Explain to your grandchild when and how to get help. Identify adults and kids who can help.
  • Assert Yourself - Sometimes a child should stand up to a bully, and sometimes not. Help your grandchild know when and when not to be assertive. If the bullying is severe or there's a chance the victim could be hurt, this is not an appropriate strategy.
  • Use Humor - When a child turns a difficult situation into a funny one, the bully is caught off guard. Other children usually laugh and the bully is minimized. This strategy may work for children who have the ability to give a quick comeback. Just warn your grandchild not to "put-down" the bully, because this will only make matters worse.
  • Avoid the Bully - Every child needs to know how and when to walk away. Sometimes, just staying out of the bully's way is the best strategy. Another option is to make it clear that you don't want to fight, and then walk away.
  • Self Talk - With this strategy, the child says positive statements to himself when a bully teases or taunts. This helps a child maintain a belief in himself that counters the unfair opinion that the bully is constantly giving.
  • Own It - This technique involves laughing at oneself. Basically, the child agrees with the put-down to lighten up the situation. This strategy works well when a child is teased about things like clothing, a hairstyle, the bike they ride, or the car you drive. However, it is not a good method if teasing is about the child's identity - like ethnicity, disability, or religion.

For more complete information on how to help your grandchild manage bullying, check out the book, Bully-Proofing Your Child, A Parents Guide by Carla Garrity, Mitchell Baris, and William Porter.