How not to bully

How not to bully

By Douglas Pieterse, Co-Founder & Head Personal Trainer
"It may be simple but not always easy"


Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s the word bully never carried as much weight with it that it may today. It was almost a matter of fact kind of word, “don’t worry about that guy he’s just a bully“, something most kids could just brush off and ignore. If a kid was being picked on whether is was verbally or physically then the general attitude would be that the bully is helping the poor sod to toughen up and that he needs to learn to look after and stand up for themself. After all if a hyena laughs at a lion the lion doesn’t run away crying does he? At least this was the attitude where I grew up and I feel the outcome varied across those that may have been bullied. You end up with some that have a very strong aversion to bullies and go out of their way to put them in their place. Then there are those who’s confidence starts to wither away and in turn look to please others by doing things that don’t necessarily fit their own moral compass. The best ones are the bullied who become the bullies, after all if you cant beat them then join them.

This is all great and well but now that I have my own kids, I feel that there must be a better way. Preying on the weak is human and animal instinct but it doesn’t always need to be accepted, especially with younger kids.

There are a gazillion (as my kids would say) reasons why kids may grow up with insecurities. It would be very difficult to fix them all but when it comes to how they behave with their peers, I feel like we have the best chance to teach them the best ways to deal with both those trying to break them down and those that need a hand through tough times. With this in mind I put together the best approach I had at my disposal to help them be the best little cavemen they could be. This approach is broken into 3 main sectors, kind of a users guide really.

The 3 C’s of anti-bullying

All too often the most skilled are out done by the more confident. Confidence is built over time and can only prosper if nurtured along the way. Unfortunately we are not all built the same and there are many ways in which one can build or destroy confidence but I really believe in giving children responsibilities in which they can succeed or fail and to encourage them to play sports allowing them to be more physically active. Sure, being smart helps kids to be more confident, but knowing oneself both inside and out also goes a long way. I like to play different games with my kids, helping them learn which skills they are good at and which ones need work. They start to get a realistic idea of what they are capable of and what they may be capable of achieving, knowing more about themselves allows them to lead when they know what’s going on and to follow when its time to learn. There is nothing more satisfying than watching your own child’s face beam with excitement when they get to be in charge. As a parent it’s important to support their ideas when we can, even though cutting up glow sticks to make glow in the dark glassware may not always make mum very happy.

Bad things will always happen, how we deal with them will often be the example that our kids may follow. Knowing that we cant always avoid being bullied or being in a physical altercation can help us to be one step ahead. Sure, its not ideal to have your pride and joy at the bottom end of a ground and pound but if he is, wouldn’t it be great if he knows exactly what to do. I asked my kids what they think happens in a typical bullying situation or what have they seen, this gives me the relevant material that I need to cover. My kids gave me a quick demo of how one kid at the playroom sits on top of them and pins them to the ground. This was great as it meant I could teach them how to get out of this situation.

Teaching them how to cope in these situations is both a fun interactive experience for parent and child plus its something that they can use in real life situations. The lesson may not always be physical and just communicating with them about what they can do if they find themselves being isolated and picked on goes a long way. Knowing they can trust an adult whether it’s you, me or grandpa, goes a long way. The last thing I want them to believe is that they have no one to turn to in those situations. We practice our scenarios of what could be deemed as some nasty bullying. One child gets to play the bully and the other gets the opportunity to try to problem solve by either walking away or speaking to someone that can help them deal with the situation. Another great by-product is that the kids have the opportunity to identify exactly what bullying looks like and that often actions that they may have thought had no bearing actually can have a negative impact on the kid being called fatty fat fat.

Kids have a need to be wanted and accepted. They poke an prod trying to figure out exactly where they fit in, all the while hoping to meet the expectations and acceptance of their parents and peers. Having a place where your child can be a part of a community means that they also have a place where they may feel safe to express themselves exactly the way they want to. Building these communities can sometimes be difficult but they go a long way. Sure, your kids can be in a team sport where they learn about working together and building relationships but a lot rides on them being physically gifted. Sometimes all you need is a group of kids about the same age hanging out together or going on adventures. This is a community they belong to and when the time comes they know they can rely on the friends they make in this group to support them in building social confidence and being there to discuss difficult situations that may come up. I like to use these little social circles to teach them about selflessness and caring for others, identifying poor social behaviour and knowing how to offer support. Some lessons are harder than others to teach but they go a long way, check out our treasure hunt where the kids found their way to their favourite shop to buy a gift for someone else haha.

Lead by Example

My kids are at a suggestible age when it comes to how they see me behave. The strong human nature to be better than those around them shines through when they ask questions like, who’s the strongest, smartest or fastest at certain physical activities. Their hope is that it may be mom or dad so they can brag about it to their friends and establish themselves on the playground hierarchy. For this reason I have done my best to be honest with them, told them who I think may be the strongest, showed them that its ok to compete and not always win and most importantly not to try breakdown those that have done well or been lucky.

One part that takes practice and that I often mess up is not being a bully parent at home. This can be tough, sometimes I just want them to listen because I’m the adult but I worry that this comes across as listen to me because I’m bigger. Make sure to pay attention to your tone and body language when dealing with your kids and ask yourself if you’re being a bully or a guide.


Do your best to be the one your child can confide in if they have a problem but accept that that may not always be the case and that giving them all the support you can via confidence, coping and community may help them to either get through a bullying situation or know how to help someone else who may be in that situation. It’s not fun to think that kids have to deal with this but it is a life skill that they will need all the way through to adulthood. Bullying is a nasty business, let’s eradicate it as much as we can for our kids and build a better social future for them.
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