Parenting Training: Building Bully-Resistant Kids

By Greg Baer M.D.

October 11, 2023


With each passing day, I’m recognizing how bullying is EVERYWHERE—emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual. And, on the whole, most of us are seeing only a tiny portion of it. Tiny.

It’s so common that we don’t see it as out of the ordinary, so it’s accepted as normal. And then we don’t see it at all. That is an alarming deception, when that which is common becomes normal and then not even a source of concern.  

But kids who are bullied—an epidemic in this country—have a MUCH high incidence of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, often for life.

And then we worry about TREATING depression, anxiety, and self-esteem—with therapy, drugs, government programs—without addressing one of the known and prominent causes.

Collectively, we are not all that bright, would you say?  

What Bullying Is

Bullying is ANY behavior that leads to a person feeling motivated by fear to comply with the desires of the bully—whether intended or not.  

And that is a horrible thing. What every child on earth needs most is to feel unconditionally loved, which causes them to feel worthwhile and happy. When a child allows bullying, they feel small and worthless. They can’t feel loved.  

Bullying can be seen in a mocking tone, a persistent “request,” a lifted brow, an aggressive tone,  a criticism—even when the bully doesn’t realize he’s being intimidating.

Bullying can be present in the giving of advice, a command, teasing, or even an insistent suggestion. It’s often so hidden—to observers, to the bully, and to the object of the bullying.  

What Bullying Looks Like

Let’s look at an example:  

A mother called to tell me that she had taken her three-year-old son, Jacob, to visit a four-year-old cousin. Mom immediately identified the aggressive tone of the cousin, so she watched the interaction between the two boys.  

They were making bubbles, using some variation on the usual theme of dipping a plastic circular tip or other frame into soap, then creating bubbles by blowing on the soap membrane or moving it through the air.  

As Jacob was learning the process for himself, the cousin kept intruding with comments like, “No, not like that” or “You’re doing it wrong” or “Let me show you.” The cousin obviously failed to understand that Jacob was not interested in blowing four-year-old-cousin bubbles, only Jacob-bubbles, at which he was succeeding beautifully. Nor had Jacob ASKED for help. He was simply having Jacob-fun.  

Mom knew that something was wrong with this picture. She could see that Jacob was beginning to feel stressed and unhappy, so she called him over and said, “Remember that Mommy loves you.” Almost never a bad thing to say to a child, but in this case Jacob needed more practical and immediate help.  

Mom said to me, “Maybe when we got home, I should have explained to Jacob that the other boy was just empty.”  

I said, “That is way too theoretical for a three-year-old, and if you say it hours after the event, he won’t remember exactly how he felt. He needed practical help right then, while the event was happening.”  

“I need help,” she said. 

What Bullying Means 

“First,” I said, “the older kid was bullying Jacob.”  

“No way. Bullying?” 

When somebody uses fear and intimidation to get what they want, that’s bullying.” 

“Intimidation?” she asked.  

“The cousin was older and bigger. That’s a huge intimidation factor. And he was playing in his own house, which makes him a kind of boss.” 

“Really?” 

“Really. In his defense, the cousin was not conscious of all this, but I promise you that he felt the power he was getting out of it. 

“Hard to believe.” 

“Simple. Would the four-year-old have ordered ME around if I were blowing bubbles?” 

“Oh,” she said.” Okay, I get it now.”  

Also the repetition. If the cousin had offered his help just once, it might have been real help. But he made his comments over and over, and they became more insistent, even aggressive. Yes?” 

“Yeah, that’s true.”  

“And all that intimidation wasn’t intended to TEACH Jacob anything. It was to CONTROL Jacob using fear. And the cousin could SEE the fear on Jacob’s face, so he poured on additional intimidation. Again, the four-year-old wasn’t aware of all that, but it still happened and frustrated Jacob. He became afraid and didn’t know what to do.”  

“I hadn’t thought of all that.”  

Teaching Kids How to Respond to Bullying

“Of course you hadn’t. Bullying happens so often that we don’t notice it anymore. So first we have to learn to recognize it, and then we have to teach our kids how to respond to it. If we don’t do that, we leave our kids defenseless. They WILL get bullied—it’s unavoidable—and if we don’t teach them to spot it and make wise choices, they’ll end up feeling small and less worthwhile. We can’t afford to let that happen.”  

“I told him that I loved him.”  

“Yes, you did, and that was great, but he needed way more than that.”  

“Like what?” 

“I’ll tell you what I MIGHT have done and said in that situation. Do NOT hear me telling you what you SHOULD HAVE done, not even what you SHOULD do in the future. I’m just showing you options you wouldn’t have thought of, which will give you more choices and confidence for such events in the future.” 

“Okay.”  

“I would move closer to Jacob and say, ‘You can choose to blow bubbles YOUR way. You don’t have to do it anybody else’s way.’” 

“What if the other kid keeps commenting?”  

“Oh, he might. Then I would say, ‘Jacob, you can tell your cousin that you don’t like it when he bosses you around.’ And it’s likely that with me standing there, Jacob would say that to his cousin.”  

I also told Mom some more generalized responses that Jacob could use anytime he sensed bullying. For example, it doesn’t help to fight bullies. No, the idea is to teach children how to be themselves and be confident in that.  

Why Bullying Happens

All bullies feel a lack of unconditional love. They feel unloved, alone, and lost. They hate those feelings, and bullying gives them a sense of power that briefly decreases those negative feelings.  

Bullies pick on kids they perceive as weak, because those kids are easier to intimidate. The bullied child is most successful when he removes the bait—his own weakness—from the bully. How? By being strong, which again does not mean to fight back.  

How to Respond to a Bully

How would this look? It’s very simple, and it’s easy to remember just three steps:  

  1. Your child states clearly and firmly, “I don’t like it when you do that (whatever it is).” No anger, which only provokes a bully. No fear, which encourages them. 
  2. If the bullying continues, your child simply repeats exactly those same words. Firmly, no anger.  
  3. If the bullying persists, you child says, “If you keep doing that, I will get help.” Then he gets a teacher or parent to help him. That is not weakness. It’s just an acknowledgment that the situation is beyond his abilities.  

Will Bullying Ever End?

We can talk about bullying all day, and still the most powerful tool in your arsenal is to love your child unconditionally. A child armed with that feeling becomes confident, and bullies tend to avoid confident children.  

Learn how to find this Real Love. Learn how to share it with your children, as well as how to arm them against bullying and how to prevent the pain that leads to anxiety, depression, phone addiction, and all the other problems of childhood. Go to RealLoveParents.com and find all those answers.  

Want to learn more?

Learn how to raise a confident, loving, happy child.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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