Bullies are an ugly but very real part of childhood. There's not much we can do to protect our children from these cruel and brutal kids except teach them how to defend themselves from an otherwise unprovoked attack of the bullying kind.
Bullies are kids who have tremendous low self-esteem. They feel better about themselves by tormenting another, usually smaller or weaker child. If a bully decides to pick on someone that is not smaller in size but otherwise imagined as weak, they will usually have a gang around to further ensure the unfairness of the battle. They do not fight fair, nor do they understand compassion, dignity or basic integrity. Gee, wonder where they learned these lovely qualities?
A larger, stronger individual has most likely bullied a child who feels the need to bully another smaller or weaker child. Parents or caretakers who regularly torment or abuse their children are teaching these children to torment and abuse others who are not able to stand up to their size, strength or perceived power. These parents or caretakers are bullies themselves. Adult bullies are spouse beaters, verbal abusers, child abusers and the type of person we see personified in fiction as the menace to weaker, gentler people everywhere. They are the ones we love to hate in movies and books. Sadly, they are merely carrying on the tradition of their upbringing.
All we can do is teach our children to stand up for themselves in this situation... to avoid kids who have nothing better to do than torture other children and how to defend themselves if they ever do become the target of a bully.
We do not regularly teach our children to kick someone's teeth down their throat or fill their ears with a vicious verbal attack but I do believe that, under extenuating circumstances, children should be taught to fight back, to do whatever it takes to stop their attacker. Children might ignore a name caller or walk away from an instigator, but to do nothing when physically hurt by another child (or adult) leaves them defenseless. I have told my daughters to never start a fight but to always finish one, if possible. They have my total approval in defending themselves, whatever it takes. As much as we don't want to tell our kids to hurt another, do we really want to see our kids get hurt themselves? Of course not.
My older daughter was tormented last year for the first few months of school by a group of boys who clearly had no idea how to relate to a cute girl. ;-) She was pretty freaked out... at first. Then she fought back, giving them a dose of their own medicine. She stood up for herself with dignity and more smarts than the boys were capable of responding to. They are now all very good friends. These boys would fight to the death for her if she were threatened. They huddled around and comforted her when she didn't make the cheer leading team. They STILL apologize for having tortured her! Yes, she is a strong-minded kid. A lot of kids aren't. Those are the little darlings who need to learn to defend themselves the most.
Sometimes, enrolling a child, especially a boy, in a self-defense class works wonders for their self-esteem. They are instructed from the first day that they are not to use their newfound talent on another human being, however, the inner strength and physical control they learn can do wonders for their shy and reserved natures. Other good avenues for a child in need of a boost are sport lessons, gymnastics or possibly acting or dance classes for a child who expresses a desire to learn the arts. The better kids feel about themselves, the less likely they are to become victims or bullies in life. A good heart to heart conversation, where the child is heard and understood, can also work miracles in healing a wounded spirit.
A child who bullies other children needs to be stopped. They are in desperate need of instruction on caring for and nurturing others. Sometimes, a simple "How would YOU feel...?" can jar a recessed nerve in their brain to awaken compassion and respect.
Naturally, these lessons are best learned at home but a child who is on his way to becoming a sociopath needs help wherever he can get it.
Approaching the parents of a bully is probably one of the most unrewarding encounters you might have. They most likely have taught their child to be a bully, albeit unconsciously through a variety of abusive behaviors. I think it is imperative that these parents be made aware of their child's antisocial problem, whether from the school or another parent whose kid has become a victim of the bully. In so doing, we might indirectly encourage some of these parents and caretakers to reevaluate their family values and environment.