How to Respond to a Bully (In the Moment)

A lot of parents tell their kids, “Don’t let the bullies get the best of you.” It’s a popular thing to say. It has a nice ring to it. Obviously no one wants to give the best parts of themselves to a bully. The crazy thing is: this same saying can mean different things to different people, and how you understand it makes all the difference.

Getting The Worst of You

When some parents say, “Don’t let the bullies get the best of you,” they’re really saying something to the effect of, “Be on the lookout for bullies, and be ready with a quick comeback and a clenched fist.” The warning serves as a self-fulfilling prophesy and the kid inevitably ends up fighting back with the bully. Are we preparing our kids to be too defensive? What happens when a kid becomes focused on paying back the bully? Is the score ever really settled? And at what cost? Will both of them get suspended from school? When this happens, our kids stoop to the same level as the bully. The reality is: when we are defensive and reactive, the bullies often get the worst of us.

And here’s the paradox:

“When you give bullies the worst of yourself, they usually end up getting the best of yourself too. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.” – Tom Thelen


Getting the Best of You

For some parents, “Don’t let the bullies get the best of you” really means, “Don’t give them the reaction they’re looking for. Let it roll off your back.” The connotation is that the bully’s words don’t have to ruin your day. Their anxiety doesn’t have to become your anxiety. Don’t give them a negative reaction because that’s exactly what they’re looking for – a reaction. Sometimes we can even laugh it off because the way they’re acting is a bit silly and juvenile. When we are less reactive around bullies, we are refusing to give them power. We stay under control even if they go out of control. In this way, we don’t let them “get the best of us.”

Of course, we’re talking about subtle levels of bullying here (verbal, social, and cyberbullying). If you’re going through physical bullying, or harassment, or if you’re going through repeated bullying – even at a subtle level – then you need to get help from a trusted adult today. In my own story, nothing changed until I got help from an adult.

And through that process I learned the right way to respond to bullying, both in the moment, and more importantly, after the moment has ended, as I describe in my book Victimproof – The Student’s Guide to End Bullying.

So whatever you do, decide in your heart not to give the bullies the reaction they’re looking for. When we take control over our own actions and reactions, we give less control to the bullies. And when we give them less control, they stop bullying us.