How To Manage A Bully

It’s a painful and helpless feeling to hear about your teenager being bullied.  I often think parents suffer as bad, if not worse than their teens when they know their teen is being bullied.  It’s such a helpless feeling, all a parent wants to do is protect their child.

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When I was younger I was bullied incessantly, by peers and teachers.  I had some good teachers, and I happen to believe MOST teachers are good teachers and would never bully a kid.  But growing up I had several teachers call me names like ‘airhead’, ‘freckle face’, and call me out in front of class saying “are you using your fingers to add?” or “Are you planning on passing a spelling test this year?”  I understand that those teachers were trying to help in their own way, but all it did was cause me to feel unsafe and stupid.

My peers would bully me by calling me names, physically torturing me, emotionally playing games with me by pretending to be my friend but then running away from me as soon as I felt included.  Year after year I experienced this treatment from my peers and my teachers.

My parents were aware this was happening to me, I told them about it every day.  But as I got older I talked about it less and less.  I was embarrassed.  I felt helpless and hopeless; no matter how much I talked to my parents about it, I knew there was nothing they could do to make it stop.  I didn’t tell adults or trusted teachers in school because I learned VERY quickly that if I told, the bullying got worse.  And those adults and trusted teachers had NO IDEA how to help me, they probably felt just as helpless as I did.

The 3 useless bits of advice I commonly received from adults was:

  • tell an adult,
  • talk to the bully and tell them how their behavior makes you feel and ask them to stop,
  • ignore them!

When I told an adult, they would talk to the bully and tell them to stop; which only ended up making it worse.  Then I was a ‘tattle-tail’, a ‘snitch’, they would say, “we were just kidding”, “can’t you take a joke?”, and they focused on me more often and more intensely.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important that if a teen is being bullied they absolutely tell a trusted adult it’s happening; so that someone knows what’s going on.  But too often in trying to help, those adults end up unintentionally making it worse.

When I told the bully how I felt and asked them to stop they laughed in my face and focused their attention on me even more.

When I ignored them, I think they saw that as a challenge and leveled up their bullying until they got a reaction from me.

So I know from personal experience, the advice adults and teachers STILL give kids and teens being bullied today is the SAME useless advice I was given 30 years ago.

It DOESN’T WORK.

It’s time adults started providing bullied teens a tool that works to manage a bully.

To make it stop.

  • Bullies bully for a reason, and it’s rarely about the target of their bullying.
  • Bullies bully because they lack control, self confidence, friends, safety, self esteem, just to name a few.
  • Bullies bully to obtain control, self confidence, friends, safety, self esteem, among other things.
  • When bullies bully they are launching an attack…they are not prepared for a battle.
  • They often don’t need to battle, because they get their needs met from their target’s reaction to their attack.
  • Bullies don’t take into consideration what they will do when the target of their bullying responds with the three steps mentioned in this article.

Because of the experiences I had as a child, a teen and a young adult I know very well what it feels like to be bullied.  Therefore, I know intimately what doesn’t work to manage a bully and I know what does work to manage a bully.

I’ve created a method to manage a bully that WORKS.

It’s called SARCASM & CONFUSION:

  • It de-personalizes the bullying.
  • It frees the target from accepting what the bully is throwing at them.
  • It builds confidence in the target of a bully.
  • It teaches assertiveness and how to set and maintain a healthy boundary.
  • It encourages empathy and compassion for others.
  • Sarcasm & Confusion uses a teens creativity and promotes out of the box thinking.
  • It helps teens control impulses and regulate emotions.
  • It teaches problem solving skills.
  • It takes the bully’s needs into consideration to stop the bullying, not the target’s needs.  Of course the ultimate goal is helping the target.  But how to go about getting the bully to stop HAS to take into consideration the bully’s needs, not the targets.
  • And IT WORKS!  Because it is designed around a bully and their personal NEED/NEEDS they are attempting to meet by bullying.  And then striping them of  their ability to meet their needs.

Take away the reward and you take away the behavior.

Share with your teen these 3 steps to manage a bully:

1. Get Sarcastic

Teach your teen what it means to be sarcastic.  You may not have to teach them because they are likely very good at it already.  Sarcasm is a skill, it can be used for good or for evil.  There is nothing wrong with sarcasm when used for healthy, positive reasons.  Of course some people are better at sarcasm than others and for the purposes of this method to manage a bully you don’t need to be a professional at sarcasm…you simply need to understand it.  (**FYI: kids 10 and under have a hard time understanding sarcasm, so this method is not designed for them.  But you know your kid best, use your discretion**)

I remind my clients, so I will remind you too.  When your teen starts using sarcasm, they will realize very quickly how effective and powerful it is.  I recommend you encourage them to use it wisely; do not become the bully.  Your teen has been hurt by a bully, and your teen has a right to use this method to make it stop but they don’t have a right to use this method to become the bully.  They will be tempted, because it works well.  Please remind them what it felt like to be bullied and explain to them that bullies bully for a reason; they are likely wounded and hurting individuals themselves.

2. Body Language

Body language is powerful.  To understand how powerful, take yourself to a crowded mall.  Start on one end of the mall and walk to the other end of the mall using a passive body language stance: slouched, walking slowly, head down, not smiling, avoiding eye contact, hands in pockets.  Notice how people either don’t notice you at all or they walk into you and refuse to get out of your way making you move out of the way.

When you get to the end of the mall, turn around and change your body language into an assertive stance: stand up straight, shoulders back, hands out of pockets, making eye contact, head held high, smiling and walk back.  Notice how people see you, move out of your way, avoid your eye contact and don’t run into you.

Body language is powerful!  When you use Sarcasm & Confusion stand or sit up straight, head high, make direct eye contact (if possible), and speak with a firm, loud (but not too loud) voice.

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3. “You’re Welcome”

Two words.  That’s all you need to remember.  “You’re welcome” said sarcastically to ANYTHING a bully says.  ANYTHING.  The goal is confusion!

Remember, a bully prepares for an attack, not a battle.  When the target of a bully responds assertively, sarcastically and with an utterly confusing statement, 9 times out of 10 the bully has no idea what to do.  What instantly happens? The target feels immediately empowered and in control and the bully feels confused and squirms to ‘save face’.  The bully will attempt to ‘save face’ by likely either continuing to bully or act snarky and walk away.  If they continue to bully with another remark, respond with another sarcastic “You’re Welcome”.   Keep doing that until they walk away or stop.

The bully will no longer be able to meet their needs by bullying a target that refuses to give them what they need but instead provides a sarcastic and confusing “You’re welcome”.  The bully will eventually stop bullying the person who uses Sarcasm & Confusion.   Keep in mind, your teen may need to use this method a few times before their bully stops, but they eventually will stop.  Unfortunately, bullies typically just move on to someone else, but in that case, the target gets to help another target by sharing the Sarcasm & Confusion method.

Here are some video examples of using the Sarcasm & Confusion method.  Read this article with your teen, then practice the Sarcasm & Confusion method.  Teens I’ve coached have said practicing Sarcasm & Confusion with a trusted adult is extremely helpful.  It takes incredible courage to use this method after being tormented by a bully.  Honor and respect your teen for their hesitancy and anxiety about using Sarcasm & Confusion.  Several times I’ve had clients intend to use the method on their bully but fail for days before actually using it.  It’s not easy to stand up to a bully.  But so far, 100% of my clients have told me that when they use the Sarcasm & Confusion method IT WORKS!!!  

It should be noted if your teen is experiencing bullying that is threatening and/or causing them to be afraid Sarcasm & Confusion is not the appropriate way to manage that bully.  Consult with a trusted adult and school professional to best manage the situation.

The Psyko Therapist

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