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Posted on Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 11:10 a.m.

Bully continues to harass 11-year-old son, even after intervention by teachers

By Kerry Novick

Dear Kerry,
My 11-year-old son is often bullied by another boy at school. His teachers always sit them down and get them to talk through the incident. But nothing changes. The other kid continues to harass my boy, and I’m not sure how to help him stand up for himself.
-ET, Farmington

Dear ET,
It is always painful to see your child being victimized and frustrating to feel that he can’t keep himself safe. Both kids will be harmed by these aggressive interactions, so you’re right to be concerned and want to make a change. Although schools usually now have anti-bullying policies, they aren’t always effective, and teachers often don’t get ongoing support to implement them fully.

It’s best for children and for the community if parents and teachers can work as a team. Your boy needs you to advocate for him by joining his teachers in making their interventions more effective. It’s a good first step in conflict resolution to have the boys sit down and talk through their dispute. Unfortunately, though, people tend to think that should change things, but it’s only the first step, and there are three more steps needed to make a lasting difference.

The next step is to work with your son to address his self-confidence. You may need to think about whether you have really given him the space to speak up, as well as appropriate limits and responsibilities to balance his wishes and reality.

He needs your help to validate asserting himself, so that he feels that grownups will truly back him when he sticks up for himself. He will also need your help to develop the emotional muscle of scaling his feelings and reactions to the size of the problem. If his self-esteem has dipped too low, he may need professional help to add to what you can give him.

Another possibility is that he is contributing to the problem by provoking in some way. Often kids don’t realize that they have gotten into a pattern of involvement with a bully where they play a role in prolonging the bad interaction — for instance, younger kids who let themselves be chased, rather than refusing point blank to start that game and seeking out an adult for help.

Reconstructing the events in detail may raise your son’s awareness of any part he may be playing. It isn’t blaming him to consider that he may have some responsibility or choice points along the way in the chain of events.

His teachers may need your support to follow up on their first conflict-resolution step. Their next step is to make a plan with the boys for how they will behave differently and how they will monitor results.

Your son may wish the other guy could be made to disappear, but the solutions have to be realistic and fair to both children. Kids and teachers will have to work together to track how well they are following the plan.

And, if they don’t follow the plan, there have to be further consequences. Each school decides what those should be, but parents can offer their ideas.

Perhaps the boys will have to work together under a teacher’s supervision to help the third-graders in the playground, or read to the first-graders and help them write their book reports. Both boys can be appreciated for the strength and maturity they show in setting an example to the younger kids.

When children get self-esteem from authentic achievements and skills, they won’t need to feel good by putting someone else down or getting attention by being a victim. They might even discover that they admire some qualities in each other!

Kerry Kelly Novick is a local child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst, and author, with Jack Novick, of “Emotional Muscle: Strong Parents, Strong Children,” available at or through She welcomes your email with comments and questions for future columns at


Macabre Sunset

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 : 1:43 a.m.

Rather irresponsible advice from Ms. Novick. Since the schools protect the bully, and the conduct is conduct that would land an adult in jail, it's time to get the police involved. And if that fails, it's time to hire a lawyer to address the school's administrators and the child's parents. We let people commit unspeakable acts against our most vulnerable citizens.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

Ann Arbor Public Schools has always had a problem with bullies. It is happening to us. We just threatened to sue and well, the two of em still are near each other but we are on top of it all the time. If the bully does or says anything ours goes straight to administration. We make pains of ourselves to make sure ours is safe. Might want to start threatening lawsuits if that school does not respond. Teachers cannot always be inter mediators and they try to work with the children. But if this resolution has not worked? Then do what our school did. Put them in different classrooms and different places on the playground. Just keep telling your child this. We will be there no matter what and that bully will get theirs soon enough. Good luck. Bullies are just children who want a lot of attention.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 6:39 p.m.

Don't think you can just AAPS has had a bullying problem, all districts have this problem. Kids can be mean and you can try to teach kids to be nice and respect each other, but unfortunately all kids don't align with this thinking. Teachers do the best they can, but it is often bigger than what a teacher can handle alone. I think schools are in a tough position, they could take a hard line, suspend kids who are bullying and get sued by those parents. They can be less proactive and the parents whose kid is getting bullied sues. It seems like a no win situation for schools at this time.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 2:33 a.m.

They make them sit down and talk it through together??!! As if they are equally to blame for the incident? Or as if talking rationally and nicely will have any effect on the bully who gets drug-like satisfaction from the peer support he gains from the act of bullying? Where else do we do this? Do we make rape victims sit down with the rapist and see what we all could do to prevent this in the future? I was bullied from the time I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, and the bullies almost never acted alone. A crowd for attention only gave them more power. And every word spoken in a sit-down session like that can only be fuel for the next torture session. I'm sure everybody is nicey-nice and very sorry until the adults aren't present. And in my experience, all the fighting skills in the world wouldn't have helped against the supportive crowd the bully always had. Even if it would have, the self-esteem of somebody in that position could be so low that they may believe they can't have any effect on their own life. This child needs to understand that they are not the problem, and be supported by teachers as well as parents.


Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

Unfortunately bullying is not just in schools - it's a part of American culture. Until our society makes some drastic changes in terms of its culture, bullying will continue. Rob Granger is right - bullying happens on every level in our current society, including the corporate world and public sector. School should have very clear and explicit policies in place and it should be made aware to parents and students. I think what Kerry Novick is getting at is the idea that there must be communication, which can foster empathy. Without communication and empathy we will just create frightened youth who will lash out at those around them. This would be an extremely unhealthy school.


Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

Topher- bullying isnt just an American problem. In fact, it is a lot worse in other cultures. Igrew up in Australia, India, and a couple of years in Kuwait. Attended schools in all 3 countries. Trust me, it was really bad in all 3 countries, and in India and Kuwait, neither the parents nor the Teachers or Principals, nor society seemed to bother or care

Kathleen Kosobud

Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 9:48 p.m.

Children who are bullied, and who lack the reserves in self-esteem to stand up to bullies often can't be counted on to buck up and push back. I am convinced that all the judo, boxing, etc. will not do much but put the bullied child at further risk. I think that more novel approaches might be worth exploring--carrying a whistle to blow, and then shouting "Stop it!!" may be an effective way of drawing a great deal of negative attention to the bully, and support from others around for the person being bullied. Part of the solution is in raising the awareness of other children to bullying, and providing them with permission to step forward and raise their voices against bullying. I recommend the use of Teaching Tolerance's materials on bullying. I am convinced that building networks of peer pressure to behave with civility is a better solution for schools, since it builds, over time, a culture in which bullying is not acceptable. And the pressure comes from other kids, not adults. Just my two bits' worth.


Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 8:58 p.m.

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Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 6:35 p.m.

I was bullied as a kid in school, and though I'm in general opposed to violence, some self-defense training is definitely in order. Because of my cousin, who was constantly cited for getting into school fights, my parents would not give me any such training or train me in how to defend myself in general. I think, though the DID go to the school, etc. that was a bad mistake. You don't have to turn the kid into Mike Tyson in order to teach self-reliance and being able to take care of him/or her self.

Tony Livingston

Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 6:25 p.m.

My child had a similar scenario with the school also making them sit together. I ended up asking for there to be a &quot;no contact&quot; rule. The girl was not allowed to have any contact with my daughter. It was a really difficult time so I feel for you.l

Ron Granger

Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 5:28 p.m.

The idea of sitting down with both boys just seems comical. It clearly has not worked. I see two approaches, and I think a combination of both would be best. 1. Hold the schooll accountable and force their hand. Don't accept them humiliating your son by forcing him to sit down with his abuser in pointless meetings. They are making him the victim. Where else in society must those who are attacked face further abuse at mandatory meetings with their attackers? The school should suspend the kid who is repeatedly intimidating other students. Ask the school why they have not solved this. Ask them to support you kid when it escalates to violence. Write a letter summarizing your past communications with them on this. 2. The real solution is to get the kid to stand up for himself. Get him some self defense training. He needs to stop being the victim. Those are important life lessons. Things will only get worse in the corporate world, where there will be nobody to stand up for him (and please don't say &quot;HR&quot;!). People will walk all over him in life, if he lets them, or he expects someone to rescue him. There will always be someone bigger, tougher, stronger, and smarter than you. None of those are an excuse for allowing yourself to be bullied in life. It isn't always about a physical confrontation, but at 11, it sometimes is. When you run away from a bully, the bully wins. Sometimes you need to fight. It'll hurt, and you may not win. But bullies rarely pick on those who fight back.


Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 9:22 p.m.

Are you insane? What if the other kid is much larger or stronger? So he stands up for himself and now gets hurt in the process? That strategy is doomed for failure and is from a mind set that might makes right. The kid has the right to go to school and not be harassed by other kids or teachers PERIOD,. IF the school won't provide that environment, then force it legally. Also place the other kids parents on notice that this will cease immediately, or you will sue them too. The reaction of the parents will tell you all your future actions. If the kid continues, then you know the parents are the douche bags One line in this is really troubling to me. &quot;Another possibility is that he is contributing to the problem by provoking in some way.&quot; Classic blame the victim. The kid deserved it. That girl deserves to be raped because she looked slutty and had big breasts. Allowing this type of drivel disgusts me.


Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

I agree, also to note that 11 is too old to pussyfoot around. By that age our school bully had graduated from extorting lunch money from third graders to actually biting off the nose of an adult and landing in jail for a long time. Don't give bullies any room for excuses.


Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

And where are the other kid's parents involved here? No mention of them — seems they owe a good deal of the responsibility too.

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Sat, Feb 26, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

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