5 Things You Should Never Say to a Bullied Kid

Learn what you should do or say instead

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When a child is bullied, it is hard to know what to say. But research shows that your response is crucial to recovery. Be sure you choose your words carefully. Avoid criticizing or minimizing what the victim of bullying is experiencing. Remember, kids often don’t tell adults about bullying. Start by telling the victim that it took courage to come forward. 

Unfortunately, many people want to focus on what the victim did or said during the incident.

But this is a bad approach. Keep your focus on the bully, his choice to bully and what the victim can do to move beyond the incident. Also, never say these five things to a bullied child. 

“What did you do to cause it?” When a child comes to you about a bullying incident, one of the worst things you can do is blame the victim. Asking what she did to cause it implies that she is somehow responsible for the bully’s choices. Remember, bullying is not about a defect in the victim, but about a choice the bully made. Be sure that the responsibility for bullying is placed on the bully’s shoulders not on the victim's. If you do suspect that there is more to a story than what the victim is telling you, ask her open-ended questions but never assume that she is responsible for the incident.

“Why didn’t you stand up for yourself?” Instead of accusing the victim of doing something wrong, help her learn how to manage the bullying incident.

Offer support, report the incident and help her find a solution to ending the bullying. Remember bullying often involves a power imbalance and victims can feel helpless. Expecting a victim of bullying to defend herself without being coached on how to respond will not be effective. Remember though that bullying situations are scary and even the best-prepared victims can be caught off guard.

A more effective approach is to help the victim overcome any negative feelings from the situation.

“You need to toughen up.” Statements that imply there is something wrong with the victim minimize the bully’s actions. They also communicate that the victim is defective or “too sensitive” because she is bothered by someone else’s poor choices. While it is good to instill perseverance and assertiveness skills, being affected or hurt by a bully’s actions is a normal response. Instead of criticizing the victim, try encouraging her by reminding her that it took courage to report the bullying.

“Get over it.” Bullying is not something a person just forgets. Bullying has significant consequences and can have a lasting impact, even into adulthood. Expecting a child to just forget about the incident and “get over it” is counterproductive. Instead, look for ways to help the victim. Some options include helping her develop friendships, teaching social skills and building self-esteem.

“Maybe you should change.” If you remember one thing about bullying, remember this: The victim of bullying does not need to change, the bully does.

Expecting a victim to be different or compromise who she is only gives the bully more power. It also communicates that the bully is somehow right and there is something truly wrong with the victim. Even if there are things that a victim could do differently to avoid school bullies, refrain from communicating that there is something inherently wrong with the victim. Statements like these will only wound the victim more. It is best to try to build up a victim’s self-esteem rather than make statements that imply that you agree with the bully.

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