Girls being meanMy 8-year-old daughter Molly is a rules follower. So when her school started focusing on “stomping out bullying,” she took the rules to heart: be kind to others. When confronted by a bully, use your words; say, “Stop!”; walk away; tell the teacher.

This all seemed like sound advice to me, until a classmate began teasing Molly about her height.

Slippery Slope

“Do you say ‘stop’?” I asked Molly when she told me, to which I got a well-deserved eye roll and an “Of course.”

“Do you tell the teacher?”

“Yes. He told her to stop, but she didn’t. If I keep telling him, he’ll think I’m tattling.”

I tried to explain why it wouldn’t be tattling, but she wasn’t buying. A lifetime of “Kick me” signs and stolen lunches flashed before me. I couldn’t let that happen to Molly. “Listen,” I said to her. “If saying ‘stop’ isn’t working, you’ve got to do something else. Show her how it feels to be made fun of.

What does she look like?” I knew I was traveling down a slippery slope, but my Mama Bear had come out and there was no shoving her back in.

“She has buck teeth,” Molly said.

“Well, if she calls you Little Legs, say, ‘Don’t call me that again, Rabbit.’” I made a face with exaggerated buck teeth.

Molly was horrified. “I can’t do that! Name calling is against the rules.”


The next week, a different girl took Molly’s hands at recess and did the old, “Why are you hitting yourself?” thing.

In tears, Molly recounted how she said, “Stop!” and tried to walk away, but how could she walk away or go tell a teacher when the girl had her hands?

Again, I tried to explain nuance—this time, instead of the difference between tattling and telling, the difference between fighting and self-defense—and might have suggested kicking the girl in the shins if it happened again, but Molly would have none of it.

I felt panicked. By raising my child to respect rules, was I also raising the perfect bullying target? As things were, Molly was a bully’s dream: she would never give the bully a taste of her own medicine, and by yelling, “Stop!” she was letting the bully know she was getting to her (and isn’t that what bullies want?). And because Molly was afraid to “tattle,” there wouldn’t be consequences.

I decided to take it up with her teacher. I was immediately glad I did. He offered to talk to Molly privately, keep an eye on her at recess, and inform the other aides.

The next day, I asked Molly if her teacher had said anything to her.

“Yes,” she said, clearly relieved. “He told me I can always count on him if I’m in trouble.”

Know Your Kid

Teachers need to keep in mind many personalities when discussing bullying. But you don’t; you can tailor your guidance to your individual child.

That’s why I’ve talked more to Molly about self-defense and assertiveness. It’s helped to have a supportive teacher and a school with strong anti-bullying policies. I read Bullying at School and Online, which gave me good ideas. It’s good reading even if your kid isn’t currently in a bullying situation, but I wish it had been more specific about the “resistance techniques” it advises. I’ve written to its creators for elaboration and will keep you posted (pun intended!).

In the meantime, please share your own ideas with me and other readers. We’d love to hear from you!