How to Stand Up to Bullies

How to Stand Up to Bullies

Jennifer Lawrence, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Robert Patterson, Miley Cyrus, Marshall Mathers (Eminem), and Lady Gaga share more than celebrity status.  They know what it’s like to be bullied.

“Girls can be mean,” said Jennifer Lawrence.  “A popular girl once gave me invitations to hand out to her birthday party – a party I wasn’t invited to.”

“I grew up in Tennessee,” explained Justin Timberlake.  “If you didn’t play football, you were a sissy.  I got slurs all the time because I was in music and art.”

“Some of the girls in my school were big and tough.  I was scrawny and short,” admitted Miley Cyrus.  “They shoved me in the school bathroom where I was trapped.  I banged on the door until my fists hurt.  Nobody came.   waited for someone to rescue me. I wondered how my life got so messed up.”

Rather than giving the past the power to control them, each one of them carved out a new course.  As artists and anti-bullying activists, they encourage others, particularly young people, to speak out against bullying.

Memories of bullying are often internalized and become part of the tape many victims play in their own heads.  Without a means of defense to protect themselves, those who have been bullied often experience depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and fear.  Many children who are bullied carry those unresolved issues with them into adulthood.

Like Jennifer and Miley, I did not have skills to protect myself from bullying.  “Turn the other cheek” and “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” were ingrained into my character.  When I was ridiculed and bullied by others – particularly by those I most admired – I sank into a world of silence.  I withdrew from the world.

I wanted to run away to a place where I could reinvent myself after I graduated from high school.  I saved money and enrolled at a college far from home.  However, I carried the voices of insults and bullying inside me – and I became my own worst enemy.  Although I was president of the student government association and nominated for many campus leadership awards, I was drowning in depression.  I did not find my own voice until many years later as a teacher in an urban school district.  I had to choose whether I was going to allow others to intimidate me – or learn how to chart my own course.

Dr. Dan Owleus, founder of the Owleus Bullying Prevention Program and author of Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, explains, “Bullying poisons the educational environment and affects the learning of every child.”  Approximately one out of every four students reports being bullied at school (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015).  Sixty-four percent of the children who were bullied in schools did not report it (National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance, 2010).

Fortunately, schools and organizations with anti-bullying prevention programs often report a 20-25% decrease in bullying behaviors. More than half of the bullying situations involving youth stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the individual being bullied.

Although programs designed to address bullying often promote positive character values, we must do more than enforce consequences after bullying has already occurred.  We must teach kids how to take good care of themselves before they feel threatened by a bully.

Try these suggestions if you (or someone you care about) is intimidated or harassed by a bully:

How to Stand Up to Bullies

  1. Act with ConfidenceYou are much less likely to be picked on if you behave with self-assurance.  Make a list of all of your positive qualities and keep it in a place where you can reread it if you feel like your confidence is shaky. Act as if you already possess strong self-confidence.  Be proud of who you are. Walk with your head up.
  2. Be Positive and Strong.  If a bully says something unkind to you, ignore it.  Or say something like “I hope your day gets better” and walk away.  Show in your behavior that the bully has no power over you.  Refuse to allow a bully to control your response or decide what you believe about yourself.
  3. Set Appropriate Boundaries.  Sometimes if you ignore repeated bullying, it escalates.  Bullies are cowards. Silent victims are their favorite targets.  Say in a strong, assertive voice, “Stop!” and leave the situation.  Take charge of your space.
  4. Stay Calm. Bullies often want you to argue or fight with them.  Take a breath.  Refuse to react with anger; a bully hopes you’ll respond in a way that gives him or her an invitation to engage in combat.
  5. Remember What’s True. If a bully calls you hurtful names, be direct and say, “No, I’m not” or “I don’t know where you get your information, but it’s wrong.” Remind yourself: If it sounds or feels unkind, it’s not true. It’s not important what a bully thinks about you – what matters is what YOU think about you.
  6. Stay with the Crowd.  Don’t be caught in situations where you are by yourself, especially if you are being bullied by someone.  Follow others into the restroom if you need to use it.  Walk with others in the halls between classes.
  7. Ask for Help.  Do not believe only a coward would tell an adult.  It takes great courage to inform an adult if you’re being bullied.  Ask to be moved to a different class.  Contact the principal.  Write your teacher a note and explain the situation.  Tell the bus driver and sit at the front of the bus.
  8. Talk to Someone. Make an appointment with your school counselor.  Explore ways you can strengthen your confidence and communication skills.  Join a support group.  Build a support system.  Create a plan with a caring adult about how to work through a situation involving a bully.
  9. Focus on Positive Thoughts.  Don’t let negative self-talk get you down. Create positive affirmations (Use these tips to get you started).  Find inspiring quotes or words of encouragement to remember and repeat to yourself.
  10. Get Informed. Learn more about bullying and how to deal with it from information offered on websites such as, Kids Against Bullying,, and Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center.  Consider these books and check out the previews of Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl, Blubber by Judy Blume, or Bystander by James Preller.

[clickToTweet tweet=”It’s not important what a bully thinks about you – what matters is what YOU think about you.” quote=”It’s not important what a bully thinks about you – what matters is what YOU think about you.”]

Many years after I experienced bullying in high school, I shared my feelings with a counselor.  I asked him, “Why me? Why did the bullies single me out?”  The counselor answered, “Because you took it.”

He was right.

I didn’t tell anyone.  I didn’t talk to anyone about it.  I believed what the bullies said was true.  I believed everyone hated me. I believed I was worthless.  It was up to me to change my thoughts and my beliefs.

When you get sick of tired of being sick and tired, you change your behavior.  When I changed my behavior and refused to be threatened and controlled by bullies, the harassment stopped.

I once heard a wise seventh grader say, “Ignore the people who talk behind your back. That’s where they belong: Behind you.”  When children (and adults) set strong personal boundaries and refuse to allow others to define who they are, they discover confidence.  Remember that your future is always ahead of you; never behind you.

What can you do if someone bullies you? What can you do if you see someone bully another person?

Anita Washington, popular host of The Emotional Happiness with That Anita Live, discuss How to Handle Bullying. A podcast of our discussion is also available.

Free yourself from negative, self-defeating thoughts with suggestions from Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.

Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmation. Discover how to Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

Are you ready to make a change in your life? Begin with these tips from What You Must Let Go to Move Forward.

Find 8 Ways to Feel Positive (Even When Everything Seems Wrong).

Get inspired with wonderful words from 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.