Telling Your Kid to "Hit the Bully Back" - How Bad?

Filed under: Opinions

Sometimes we all have those cringe-worthy parenting moments that make us wonder: Does this make me a Bad Parent? There is no handbook for this kind of thing, so all we can do is ask: How Bad?

The other night I had a dinner party, and the talk was about bullies. Not cyber-bullies, the kind that physically shove non-bully kids around.

One mom spoke up, "Our son [he's six] was getting picked on, and his father said, listen, the next time that kid pushes you, you push him back, hard. And you know what? It worked." Several parents had similar stories, including us, and honestly, we gave our then-five-year-old son the same advice (it also worked). But one other mommy at the table felt this "hit-the-bully-back" strategy was encouraging violence and sending precisely the wrong message.

Who's right here? To find out, I rang up Ross Ellis, Founder and CEO of Love Our Children USA and champion of their Stomp Out Bullying Campaign. "The problem with 'hit the bully back'," Ellis said, "Is it doesn't always work."

Really? I asked. Because it had worked for few children I know. "What if the bully fights back harder and your child is not a fighter?" Ellis asked, and then she answered: "Then, you have a real problem."

Of course children should defend themselves if they start to get pummeled -- no child should just take a beating. But outside of that, Ellis is all for finding the peaceful resolution. So what's a just-shoved kindergartner supposed to do?

As a bully-prevention strategy, we enrolled our son in Karate when he was five, and found that it gave him a lot of body-confidence, not to make him all Karate-Kid or anything, but it seemed to help him carry himself with more authority and stride.

Ellis suggests ways to give kids alternatives that make them feel empowered to handle a potential or present bullying situation, such as:

Work on their confidence. Teach your child to walk confidently (practice at home) and speak with confidence. Confidence deters bullies. Also talk about bullying at home, and help your child practice what do to if he is bullied; role-playing can take a lot of the fear out of the situation and help children feel more in-control.

Don't engage with a bully. "Bullies want to get noticed, not ignored," says Ellis. They want to feel powerful. Ellis suggests teaching your child to say in a loud, strong voice, "Stop it, I don't like that" and then to walk away confidently.

Stick in groups.
Ellis points out that bullies rarely pick on kids who are surrounded by their friends.

Talk to your school, and to the other parents. Ellis told me stories about schools that hold assemblies to address the bully issue head-on, and that these talks can be helpful for bullied kids and sometimes even show bullies how damaging their behavior can be. Your school may have an anti-bully campaign in place; if not, the PTA can help organize one. For more information about putting a stop to bullying check out the Stomp Out Bullying Campaign.

So now it's time to answer the question: Telling your kid to "hit the bully back" -- how bad is it? Ross Ellis feels really strongly that "hit the bully back" is the wrong message to send because "you're teaching your child to solve problems with violence" and she worries that's a lesson that can stick with kids for a long time.

Have you had an issue with bullying and how did you resolve it? Please comment below, or send your "How bad is THIS?" question on this or other topics to

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.