The Child Who Won’t Be Bullied (Checklist)

Part of my work as a therapist and consultant for kids in Spokane, Washington State involves visiting schools.  At almost every school I visit, whether public or private, in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood or a higher one, at least some children are being bullied.  Some schools have little staff support or training, no anti-bullying programs, and school cultures of disrespect – these factors tend to allow or even support bullying at school.  However, even schools with research-based programs, including “no bullying” policies, staff training, classroom presentations, posters in the hallways, caring administrators and watchful playground supervisors still have at least some children who are targeted and hurt by bullies.

In observing kids in schools and those who come to my Spokane office for help, I notice similar characteristics in most of the children who are consistently bullied.  This is not to say that any child is “to blame” for being bullied.  Bullying is wrong and the bully is at fault.  However, I believe bullies often choose their victims or targets based on certain reactions to initial teasing, or lack of particular social skills.  Teaching children these reactions and skills and helping them take steps to avoid being targets can decrease their chances of being bullied, minimize or eliminate emotional hurt, and improve their general social acceptance and friendships.

So how does bullying start?  It begins with what we used to call teasing, joshing, hassling, or razzing.  This includes “insulting” or rude remarks, pushes or “accidental” bumps into the other child, or temporarily “stealing” possessions.  This kind of teasing is usually done by one or two children toward the “target” child, within the unplanned social interactions that naturally occur throughout the day.  Surprisingly, I’ve observed that even the most popular kids – the basketball stars, the social butterflies, the ones with “social cache” – are subjected to these same beginning “volleys” of bullying.  Why do they not become “victims” of more severe bullying?  Perhaps their low-key, calm, self-confident, and good-humored reactions tell the bully that they are not going to take significant offense, and therefore cannot be “bullied.”  Making things “no fun” for the bully may prevent the initial “teasing” from rising to the level of serious bullying, which can involve daily incidents, more children, planned attacks, and more severe and hurtful actions. 

Children with fewer social skills and more reactive emotions tend to respond to initial teasing with anger, hypersensitivity, withdrawal, or lack of humor.  While they are not to blame for being bullied, their reactions may inadvertently help to make them more “fun” to bully, which may increase the intensity and frequency of bullying.  It’s as if the bully is fishing around for a suitable fish to catch and says to himself, “Ha!  I’ve got one!”  Another metaphor has likened the bully to a wolf among sheep, looking for that lone sheep who panics and runs, while the rest of the flock look back blankly as if to say, “Really…do you know how ridiculous you are?”

With these thoughts in mind, and again – without blame to the victims – the following is an admittedly unscientific checklist of the characteristics I have noticed in children who are “bully-resistant” or “Won’t Be Bullied.”  I’ve found that when less socially skilled children learn to change their reactions and increase their skills, many can defuse the power of bullies, even in schools with no anti-bullying programs.

The Child Who Won’t Be Bullied – A Checklist of Skills and Characteristics

Notes:  Even if a child is significantly impaired – for example, has lower verbal skills - many of these checklist items can be modified and still serve the purpose of decreasing bullying.  However, if any child is bullied often or severely, or is in danger of real physical or emotional harm, always seek the help of a local professional who can provide advice specific to your situation.

Sense of Humor

Displays a sense of humor (in general).
Understands and enjoys various types of age-appropriate jokes.
Doesn’t take child interaction and play too seriously – is able to relax and laugh on a daily basis.
Laughs at himself (along with others) when he makes a mistake or appears silly or clumsy.
Is not “thin-skinned” and can laugh at a good-natured, mild joke at his expense from time to time.

Emotion Regulation

Maintains an easy-going temperament in general.
Has a slow-to-rise “anger thermometer.”  Will only get very angry in circumstances that warrant it.
Rarely has “hurt feelings.”
Tends to interpret the first several “volleys” of bullying – a gentle push, a tease, calling a name, grabbing a belonging – as “all in fun,” and reacts as if they are harmless, not personal, and friendly, even if not meant that way by the bully.
Responds to teasing first with genuine humor (Ha!), calm assertion of rights (Funny…but give it back) or good-natured answers (You wish! Or “Never gonna happen!”) before resorting to more serious and potentially antagonistic responses.
Does not “get angry inside” while trying to “ignore the bully” (this is often well-meaning advice from adults).  Anger shows, and this feeds the bullying.


Feels loved and cared for.
Has a caregiver and/or other safe persons to whom he or she can express feelings.
Is not struggling with hurt, abuse, neglect, trauma, loss, shame, guilt, depression, mental illness, or other experiences, conditions, or emotions too big for a child to handle alone.  (If your child has experienced these, please seek professional help).
Does not keep feelings bottled up.
Values and strives for fairness, but doesn’t complain often about things being unfair.
Is flexible in game-playing and interactions.
Compromises with others, because he or she realizes you can’t always have your own way.
Does not assume that others are “out to get him.”  Generally assumes good or neutral intentions of others.  (For example, if hit inadvertently with a ball (but is unhurt) in physical education class, will likely laugh rather than react with anger or indignation).
Realizes momentary embarrassments will soon be forgotten.

School Behavior

Follows basic classroom rules.
Does not have significant negative behaviors which cause the teacher to single child out by name often.  (This is overheard by other children and sets child apart as “different” or “lesser.”)
Does not get “in trouble” at school often, with consequences such as isolation or being sent to the principal’s office.
Does not isolate himself or herself at social events, recess, lunch, or breaks.  (Standing or sitting near others, even if they are not friends, can discourage bullies).


Has confidence that he or she is a great person and someone worthwhile to know.
Knows that not everyone will like him or her, and that’s OK.
Greets others by name at least some of the time.
Can do at least one thing well (a skill, hobby, or special knowledge), and is proud of this.
Realizes that some kids like to tease or even be mean, and this says something about the bully, not about them.
Knows that being called a name (by a bully) is not evidence that the name is accurate or believed by others.

General Social and Personal Skills

Follows unspoken social rules.  For example, does not stand or walk too closely, or touch, push, grab or hug people indiscriminately.
Asserts himself or herself reasonably in games and interactions.
Does not respond to teasing with silence or withdrawal.  (Child doesn’t have to be the life of the party, but silence, withdrawal and hesitancy may imply meekness or weakness to a bully).
Can actively (verbally) defend himself or herself when needed, but rarely feels that situations warrant this.  Tends to “let things go” in a good-natured way instead.
Never whines.
Does not cry or complain often.
Dresses in ways similar to peers of same gender (or can take mild teasing if he decides to “be different”).
Says “No” to things that aren’t right for him or her.
Does not let others take advantage of him or her.
Evaluates the motives of others before agreeing to do what they ask.
Has good problem-solving skills, and does not respond with withdrawal or outbursts.
Notices how he or she is perceived by others.
Adjusts behavior based on the consequences of his choices or actions.
Accepts that everyone doesn’t always agree with him or her.
Accepts losing games with good sportsmanship.

Friendship Skills

Realizes that friendships take time. 
When interacting with others, tries to “have fun and be fun.”
Has developed personal interests, hobbies, activities, and/or conversation topics which overlap with at least a few kids in his or her class or age-range, so there is a basis for common interest.
Does not talk solely about interests which signal significant immaturity or set child apart from peer group for grade, age, or developmental age (i.e., solely discusses preschool building toys when peers are interested in many preteen subjects).
Chooses friends based on like interests and other commonalities.
Has learned and uses basic social interaction skills, such as how to make friends, meet others, join others in play, solve problems, and have mutual conversations.
Knows how to begin friendships (identifying shared interests, casual repeated contacts, more contact…).  Does not begin by asking, “Will you be my friend?”
Does not have socially unacceptable or bizarre habits or behaviors, like picking nose at lunch table or howling like a wolf at recess.
Does not continue to do things that annoy others.  Will change habits which are socially disapproved of such as yelling, grabbing other’s items or frequently interrupting others.
Does not “nit-pick” others, such as correcting others on exactly what time it is.
Does not appear needy (nagging, calling, or texting others repeatedly, interacting with peers who are busy, nagging others to respond or give a particular type of reply, persisting in trying to make friends with an uninterested person…).
Has made at least a few “good friends.”
Has friends (or identified individuals who will not reject child) to sit with at lunch and interact with or be near at other social times.
Rejects potential “friends” who treat him or her poorly, or are consistently negative toward others.
When hurt by a friend, will express feelings and expect an apology.  (This should be a genuinely hurtful situation, not one in which the child is overreacting).

Helping children learn as many of these skills and characteristics as possible can create more flexibility, remove the “fun” from bullying, increase social acceptance and friendships, and often prevent teasing from escalating into more serious and harmful bullying.

Need more help?  Call  (509) 448-1506 or Click to Email 

Deborah Skalabrin, MSW, LICSW

701 W. 7th Avenue, Suite 15
Spokane, WA  99204
(509) 448-1506 - Phone
(509) 624-7500 - FAX


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