Bullying / Uncategorized

Should I ignore my bully?

One of my main frustrations when reading “advice” online as to how parents should talk to their kids about bullying is the assumption that parents will be able to brainstorm ways to stop the bullying with their kids. It presumes that parents have inherent knowledge of what tricks work and how they work. Unfortunately, it’s my experience that most people, parents included, have no clue what to avise their kids!

It seems as though the “go-to” piece of advice parents (and other adults) give their kids is to just ignore their bully. The rationale behind it is if you don’t give the bully attention, they’ll get bored and go away. I did an online research to see if I could find definitions of “ignoring” a bully. And to my un-surprise, not only do people not agree, but some of these articles are unhelpful.

I remember when I was a kid and I was told to ignore my bully. The next day I walked into school, stood outside my classroom for the teacher to arrive and my bullies started bugging me about my hair. So I looked elsewhere and pretended I couldn’t hear them. Which, after years of asking kids who come to me for advice what ignoring a bully means to them, is generally what kids think that ignoring means. You know what though? Pretending like you can’t hear someone not only doesn’t work, but can make things worse!

I mean, a bully’s not crazy. He or she knows that you can’t just turn off your ears like you close your eyes. They know that you can hear them, and if you are “pretending” not to, they know that it’s probably because what they’re doing is getting to you. Their mission is to get a reaction out of you so they’ll just continue until your veneer cracks.

And here’s the thing: I don’t think that parents mean the same thing when they advise their kids to “ignore” it than what their kids think it means. So here’s a major piece of advice: when telling a kid to ignore, lay out what it actually means and why you think it’s important.

Different people have different ideas of what ignoring is, but here is what it means to me:

  1. You need to acknowledge the bully to let him or her know that you DO in fact hear what is being said. That means that you need to look the bully straight in the eye for a few seconds (about 5 seconds to be precise).
  2. It’s important to NOT react negatively to the bullying and show your sadness or hurt. What I tell kids is to practice in front of the mirror and imagine themselves watching the most boring TV show (like the evening news) ever. And then when the bully starts teasing, use the “boring TV show face”
  3. You can reply something if you want, but it’s not necessary and not all kids want to go that route. Using sarcasm or humour can always help, and practice can help to develop a good response.
  4. Then, walk away or turn to someone or something else. This is important to show that you have other stuff to do and can’t be bothered with what the bully says.
  5. Bullying NEVER stops the first time you try a new trick. It’s so important to let kids know that they’ll have to try a trick a good 30 times before it starts to work. It’s always helpful to remind kids to keep at it consistently.

Always remember that ignoring a bully is not a solution that is to be used alone or in every case. If the abuse becomes physical, when the bullies harass their victim and the victim feels like they can’t get away from it, when an entire group gangs up on a kid, etc., it’s important to get other adults around the kid involved. Which is another blog post in the making!

Let me know what you think in the comments below about ignoring! What does it mean to you and have you ever tried it? Has it worked for you and how?


3 thoughts on “Should I ignore my bully?

  1. This is a wonderful post! I remember growing up, it was hard for me. I was bullied badly enough (and the school wasn’t doing anything) that my parents had me change schools. I remember my dad’s advice always being: fight back, just hit her. But since I had no self-confidence, it wasn’t something that seemed even remotely possible for me to do. My mom, on the other hand, would tell me to ignore my bullies. But, as you pointed out, ignoring can work with or against you depending on how you use it. I think these steps you list are really interesting. They give the bullied kid actual tools to work with and doesn’t present them as being a miracle solution that you can use once to solve all of your problems.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story! I think so many parents and kids are at a loss as to how to deal with bullying and say canned sentences like “ignore it” or “fight back” because it’s what everyone hears! And when I look at bullying resources, I strongly feel that we as mental health professionals also fail at imparting good advice. I do hope that I can help people find their way. Please don’t hesitate to join my Facebook group called Heads Held High and share the blog post to anyone who might be interested!!

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