Teaching Kids When to Walk Away and When to Stand

I pulled my van to the carline curb and I could tell by the look on my happy kid’s face, the day didn’t go so hot.

Before his seatbelt was fastened, the words tumbled out. He was wringing hands and his voice shook and my heart right along with it.

“I have to see the Principal tomorrow. I got in a fight,” words I’d never heard from his lips.

I waited for the punchline.

when to stand

His teacher waved my car over and motioned for me to roll down the window. I knew it wasn’t a joke by the look on her face. She told me my son would explain and then this God-sent teacher said, “Don’t be hard on him, Mom. It was a natural response.”

Within minutes I had the story: A couple of boys started picking on my son at lunch. The same intimidating boys we told him to walk away from months earlier when they started name-calling. My son did it and it held off the bullies. For awhile. When it started back up, my son walked away. Again. But this time, one of the boys rammed him with his shoulder. My son did the same back. A lunchroom aid told them to knock it off.

My son is a peacemaker. He’s kind and probably one of the most tender boys I know. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he walked away for the third time after the reprimand. That’s when he was pushed from behind, so hard he stumbled forward several feet.

He turned around and pushed back just as hard.

And that’s what you call a school fight. Thankfully, teachers broke them up and separated them. They collected stories and witnesses and nervous boys.

After school, my son was worried we would be upset with him.

I realized we had clearly taught him when to walk away, but not when to stand.

He learned that lesson all by himself.

I told him how proud I was of his choice to walk away first and defend himself second.. “Maybe I should have punched him? I almost…” and the testerone flowed. I told him we don’t advocate fighting and fists never fix things.

“Mom, I think the name calling is over,” he said and smiled for the first time since being picked up. I told him there might be a consequence at school for pushing back, but it didn’t matter. He did the right thing and if the right thing was punishable, we would take that too.

He gave his side of the story to administration the next day.  I got a phone call explaining that the bully situation was being dealt with seriously. And then she commended my son for doing the right thing.

“Your son did exactly what we want our students to do. He walked away and then when that didn’t work, he stood firm,” she said.

What we need to teach our kids concerning bullies:

  1. Define it: “Bully” is a loose term these days. My kids even use it at home referring to each other. We define it as someone who is consistently trying to intimidate you with their ugly words or their bodies.
  2. Avoid bullies: These kids aren’t cool, don’t try and be a part of their group or win them over. And don’t join them being verbally abusive to someone else.
  3. Walk away: Sometimes the most powerful response to a negative word is to simply ignore it. It’s like letting air out of bulging tire. Many “bullies” are just full of hot air and walking away diffuses the situation.
  4. Tell an adult: It’s always okay to tell your parents or a teacher when someone is name calling or making your feel inferior with their words. There’s a fine line between reporting a bully who is relentless and tattle tailing for every little thing. But if it’s something that goes on regularly and is a problem, our kids need to feel safe in reporting it.
  5. Stand and defend yourself: There are some situations where you need to stand tall against them. This act of bravery is often enough to send them scampering.

The boys had to “serve some time” (my son’s words) and when they said their “bullying had just been for fun” the teacher asked my son if he thought it was fun. The boys were sorry and offered a sincere apology.

My son learned when to walk away and when to stand. It was a good lesson for all of us.


Comments

  1. says

    We had a similar situation a year ago with our grandson. He came to live with us half-way through his sixth grade year and began school in our district. There were a small group of boys who began to bully him from the beginning. My grandson has been through a lot in his short life. I, too, taught him to ignore them. I taught him to walk away. He finished the 6th grade and started the 7th grade. The same group of bullies were at that school as well. My grandson went out for football. The bullies didn’t want him to play. So they bullied him. He never told me. He just quit going to practice. But we didn’t know. When the day of the first game came he felt he had to tell us because he knew we would come to the game and he wouldn’t be suited up. After he told me what was going on I called the coach. When I told the coach who the boys were he wasn’t surprised and said he would deal with it. He dealt with it. But the bullying didn’t stop. They just got better at being less obvious about it. 8th grade came and my grandson did NOT go out for football. Who was surprised? Last year as a freshman, in the gym one day while lifting weights, this same group of kids started in on my grandson. He knew he had enough. They shoved and he shoved back. And he yelled that wanted to ‘kill them’. Of course what he said wasn’t right but he had been bullied for the past 3 years. He had turned the other cheek. He had walked away. He had told adults. NOTHING worked. But this sure got their attention. The police were called and my grandson had charges filed against him for making terrorist threats. The #1 bullies mom and dad showed up at the school upset that their little bully had been threatened. They wanted my grandson to be punished. They couldn’t/wouldn’t believe their precious son would ever bully anyone. The police came to our house. They interviewed my grandson. We had to go to court. After my grandson told his story…over and over and over again…finally someone listened to him. The other boy was charged and given community service. The boys were told to avoid each other and no more trouble. The same thing happened for my grandson. He finally stood up for himself and the bullying stopped. Unfortunately that is the case with so many who get so fed up and they come to school with guns. We have got to find a way to make the bullying stop! Schools have to help parents. Consequences have to matter. Thank you for this today. I am proud of your son for taking a stand. Enough is enough…(this year my grandson is in the 10th grade and none of the bullies go to his school any longer. For some reason or another they have all had to leave to attend another school) Sorry this is so long. You touched a spot today.

  2. Sylvia says

    You are very fortunate that your son was not punished the same as the bullies. Many districts have a zero tolerance policy and simply to do not care who started it or how many times a kid has walked away. My son was in a similar situation as yours in this incident. In his case, fists did solve something that no adult in the school would/did solve. I was proud of him. He was taught to never start a fight but also that he did not have to stand there and let someone beat him up. This will sound crazy coming from a teacher, but sometimes if kids would fight back the bullying would absolutely stop. Teaching kids to take the bullying day after day is wrong.

  3. Sara K. says

    It is so hard to teach our children where to draw the line between walking away and standing up for yourself. I think you guys have found that line for your son! What a wonderful, strong and Godly young man you are raising!

  4. says

    I loved this post! We have 2 boys and have always taught them to walk away. Sometimes, though, walking away doesn’t work and your boy needs to stand up for himself or someone else. Way to go for your guy! :) Unfortunately, sometimes the only thing that stops a bully is a show of force. I am not an advocate for fighting and I always tell my boys to walk away or ignore first, but sometimes the only thing a bully understands is a physical show of strength.

  5. Linda says

    It is not just boys that are bullied. Girls are even more vicious. The nastiness and exclusion are extremely hurtful for young girls. And, though hard to believe, sometimes it is even physical violence with the girls, as well.

  6. says

    My son the pacifist finally stood up for himself this year. he thought the bully was about to jump on his prone position on the floor so he kicked out and floored the other boy.
    Those instincts are good and finding a balance is key.
    I hope your dear son is ok at school. it’s such a shame these things go on.

  7. Amber K says

    I have printed this out and will have my younger two sons 12 and 8 read it. We will talk about this together…we’ve talked about it before. Our boys have been taught to walk away and to forgive but we’ve also encouraged them to make their stand when they’ve had their fill of it. This will help deepen their understanding of what we mean…So thank your sweet boy for being an example for boys (and girls) every where. ;) Go ahead, pat yourself on the back. ha ha ;) Hugs, girl. My heart was beating fast reading that first part of this. Whew, it ain’t easy being a momma!!! Can you just imagine how Jesus feels? He loves us so much.

  8. Jen says

    Adults bully too. I once tried to combat bullying at work by putting a “naughty list” on the side of my computer monitor. When the person bullied I said in a cheerful tone, “Oooh, you’re going to end up on the naughty list!” It worked somewhat and it made the rest of my colleagues laugh.

  9. Tracy B says

    Nice post. I think kids are painfully aware of the bullying that goes on in school or elsewhere. I think one of the huge problems in schools, even ones with “no tolerance” policies, is how many adults turn a blind eye to it. Teacher’s and administrators should go through some kind of workshop on how to deal with bullies, and how to recognize it. I am a youth director at a church, and you would be appalled at how many kids tell me that they have “told an adult” like they are supposed to, and the adult did nothing, usually a teacher. The teacher told them that they were being dramatic, that they should “toughen up”, or even made the situation worse by confronting the bully right in front of the kid being bullied. Let’s not forget also, to love and pray for our enemies (bullies) even while teaching kids to walk away or stand up for themselves or their peers. Most bullies are suffering from very low self esteem themselves, even depression, that’s why they do it, to make themselves feel better or more important.

  10. Karyl says

    Please give your son a, “Well done,” from us. There are some consequences worth paying. And he may have helped these kids in the long run. The younger the bullies are forced to deal with the consequences of their own actions, the better chance they’ll have to make a change before bullying is all they know how to do.

  11. says

    This post brought tears to my eyes because I know how many kids are bullied and I fear for the later years in my kids’ lives. I commend you and your husband for teaching your children to walk away, but also because you understand there are times when a child must make a decision like this on his own. Thank you for sharing this story.

  12. Amanda Peterson says

    Kristen, I wanted to say how much I appreciate your honesty on your blog. You’re not afraid to share the hard stories and they way your family has found to best approach those situations. Parenting is hard and we all need a little encouragement along the way. Thanks for being so real with all of us.

  13. says

    My son is in a similar situation.
    Now the boys involved say they are just “teasing” him because they always get a reaction since my son is definitely on the sensitive side. There’s nothing physical and they are not necessarily saying rude things, name calling……it’s just, you know – boys teasing one another. Except, it’s been a couple of years now. And it is always directed at my son: nobody else. So while they are not necessarily bullies in the strict sense of the world – some days they all play just fine together – we see now that there has been a cumulative effect on my son. He is starting to hate going to school. These boys are not necessarily absolutely mean spirited, but they definitely have decided my son is the so called “weak link.” So we are trying to encourage our son to walk away when he feels any teasing has gone too far, or crosses a line. To not be afraid to speak up and say he feels friends shouldn’t treat one another that way. On those days, he finds someone else to play with. And hopefully it shows these boys, in a non confrontational way, that he will find friends elsewhere and not tolerate their teasing.
    One boy was a bit more “hands on” shall we say. But our son stood up to him with a good elbow to the ribs when he was put in a headlock…..and the other boys did stand by my son on that day. Together, they all chased that definite bully out of their group. So hopefully this is just a matter of my son gaining some confidence in knowing how to handle situations that are more the “grey” areas I suppose.

  14. says

    I’m so happy to read an account when it has paid off immediately to do what is right.

    Last year my daughter (at the time 12) had to learn and grow through a “best friend” being a bully to both her and another friend. As a parent it was hard to watch, hard to navigate what was right, what was age related drama, and extremely hard to walk through with her. All three girls come from Christian homes and we all attend the same church. In the end the bully did not win, but she and my daughter are no longer friends either. Standing up to the bully cost a dear friendship and it took a year to come full circle – for my daughter to really see the value of the perceived loss. Hard life lessons learned.

    I really appreciate all of your posts – being THAT family is hard. In our area, we are the family who does things differently too :-). Thank you for your boldness to encourage others in parenting how we know we should.

  15. amber says

    I have 3 daughters, 13, 11, & 4. These last 2 years have been extremely difficult for my older girls. My 11 year old is in the midst of an ordeal that started at the end of last school year and picked right back up on school day one this year. Girls are malicious and usually their bullying is more about exclusion, but my 11 year old actually got surrounded by a group of 5 or 6 girls all screaming at her and one in particular threatening to “smash her face in”. We have cried and prayed and talked about turning the other cheek and walking away. Unfortunately, these girls had been my daughters “best friends” for a few years and she just could not separate herself from them. Just recently, she finally started to actively seek other friendships and distance herself from this group. I pray the Lord will surround our children with kind, supportive, like-minded, Godly young people!

  16. Sarah says

    My son went through this for two years. Principal repeatedly said “It’s not you, this kid picks on everyone” He finally reached his breaking point and pulled out his judo. Problem solved….even though it meant detention.

  17. says

    As a mom to two elementary boys this is very helpful to read. I struggle with the when the point is to defend. Your son did well! As a former teacher, I would add a number 6, and that is to spend some time praying each night for the bully. Too often we forget about what that child might be suffering that causes them to lash out at others. Those things don’t excuse their behavior, but it does help you to see them in a new light.

  18. says

    Yet, Chitwood said, Green was perfectly still with a sense of calm that most definitely belied the scene moments earlier, when cops arrived to find Green slowly beginning to drive a large knife into his girlfriend’s chest. Speaking Thursday by phone from the Volusia County Branch Jail, where he’s still recovering in the jail’s infirmary, Green, 32, said he remembers nothing about that night. Nor can he explain how his post-football life went bad. “I don’t know,” he said.
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