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Taking the Bully By the Horns

Share All kids know how to recognize bullies -- or do they? Taking the Bully by the Horns, written by Kathy Noll and Jay Carter, teaches kids how to spot a bully, how to recognize bully "games" --- and how NOT to play.

Taking the Bully by the Horns Book Cover

Not all bullies are obnoxious, threatening, balled-fisted meanies. Some are much more insidious, sneaking into a child's life as a "friend" who eventually pushes and prods a child to dress a certain way, behave badly, or engage in illegal activities. Some bullies are girls. Or family members. Or teachers. And when children are bullied, they sometimes turn into bullies themselves.

Showing children the many faces of bullies is perhaps the best feature of Taking the Bully by the Horns (Unicorn Press). The most effective anti-bully techniques in the world will be meaningless unless a child can recognize when someone puts their "bully mask" on, says author Kathy Noll, who wrote the book with Jay Carter, author of the adult anti-bully bestseller Nasty People.

Bullying doesn't always come with a physical push and shove. Sometimes it takes the shape of insults, or blame, or even a "helpful" comment: "I don't want you to feel bad, but . . .(fill in the blank: "your ears stick out," "your butt's big," "the other kids think you're stupid"). Bullying, Noll explains, are any words or actions that are intended to make you feel "as small as the dot at the end of this sentence." Kids (adults, too!) are likely to start looking at the people around them with a fresh perspective.

Operating on the belief that some good exists in everybody, Noll also encourages kids to look beyond the "bully costume" to the real person inside. Children who bully don't feel very good about themselves, she explains. While Noll encourages compassion, the bottom line is it's the bully's problem, not the victim's, no matter how hard they may try to convince the victim otherwise, she says. "Unfortunately, from time to time, people will slip into their bully costumes and hurt you or someone else for no other reason except to make themselves feel better," Noll writes. "[T]his could be from hurt they've experienced in their past. Now, they feel they have to take it out on somebody, and you just happen to be in their path. You haven't actually done anything wrong. Always keep in mind that they have the problem and you're OK."

The "you're OK" message resounds throughout the book, as Noll describes various types of bullies and their favorite mind-games. She also describes the victim, and alerts readers how to recognize if that's a role they take on too readily.

What can a kid do about bullies? Noll offers specific techniques, such as the "Excuse me?" response to name-calling or insults: "If someone uses 'word' bullying on you, ask them to repeat the last insult they handed you. It's hard to say something the exact same way a second time. And since you took him [or her] off guard, it probably won't sound as mean the second time around. But, if it does, say nonchalantly, 'Yeah, I heard that before,' or 'That's what I thought you said.' Then turn your back and stroll away."

In general, Noll's book offers good instruction and advice on dealing with schoolyard bullies and on recognizing those bully "best friends" who weasel their controlling ways into kids' lives. However, the most serious sides of bullying -- physical attacks, sexual abuse, and bullying by a parent, teacher, or other person in authority -- seem to be passed over in favor keeping the tone of the book light and kid-friendly.

The book's price -- $9.95 -- seems steep for a spiral-bound book of 37 single-sided photocopied pages. Still, the information is useful in many ways, and the "kidspeak" approach of the book makes it likely to be a book that kids will actually read. If it helps one child learn to recognize -- and deter -- the bullies in his or her life, it will be money well spent.

Taking the Bully by the Horns, written by Kathy Noll with Jay Carter, is available by mail order only for $9.95 (plus $2.00 shipping and handling) from Children's Self-Help (1997). To order, visit Kathy Noll's web site,

Article by Colleen Newquist
Education World®
Copyright © 1999 Education World

Originally published 10/18/1999
Link last updated 10/14/2008