Parenting a bully can be tough. Parents should learn what bullying means and the consequences it can have for the bully. There are some important ways that parents can help their children learn to not be a bully. Find tips for parenting a bully here.
Bullying is a repeated pattern of singling out another person for mean behavior. Boys and girls both bully, though boys tend to be more physical and girls more social in their bullying. Bullying can take a number of forms, including:
- Physically pushing around another person
- Mocking or putting someone down
- Maliciously gossiping or spreading rumors
- Ignoring or excluding someone
- Using cell phones or the computer to send mean messages to a person
When parents hear that their child is bullying others, it is a normal reaction for them to deny or defend the bullying, especially if the person telling them about the problem is accusatory, angry, or aggressive. Though it’s difficult, parents should try to listen to what others are saying about their child. They can help keep the conversation more calm by asking the person to tell them about the problem without yelling or labeling their child a bully, and by reassuring them that they will talk to the child who has been acting like a bully. Parenting a bully starts with recognizing your child may be bullying other children.
Parents of a child who is bullying others may not know how to approach the problem. Sometimes a school counselor or a mental health professional can help them understand the concepts associated with parenting a bully. Children and teens can bully for a number of reasons, including feeling insecure, having watched another person act like a bully, having been bullied themselves, or feeling that bullying can get them what they want, including social acceptance or dominance over others.
Understanding why children bully can help you in parenting a bully. Contrary to popular misconceptions, bullies general have friends and a high self-esteem. They are, however, more likely to be impulsive, aggressive, or easily frustrated, and to have trouble with rules and authority figures. They also tend to lack empathy for others. Bullying is not normal behavior or just part of growing up. It is important to get help for a child or teen who is acting like a bully because bullying can have a negative impact, not only on the victim, but also on the bully and the school or community.
Children or teens who bully others are more likely to:
- Turn to violence as a way to deal with problems, which can lead to fighting
- Rebel against or be aggressive toward authority figures, including parents
- Damage property or steal
- Abuse drugs or alcohol
- Do poorly in school
- Get in trouble with the law
Parenting a bully can involve legal responsibilities. Bullying can also cross the line into illegal behavior, including bullying that takes place on the phone or the computer. Parents can be held responsible for phone or computer bullying, which can include facing legal actions or losing their phone or internet accounts.
Some things that parents can do to teach their children not to bully include:
- Set a good example by not bullying or intimidating others, and standing up to friends or family members who act like bullies
- Talk to your child about the fact that bullying is wrong and hurts other people
- Make clear family rules about what bullying is and that any form of bullying is not acceptable. Explain what the consequences will be if anyone bullies, and make sure that you follow through on the consequences every time the rule is broken. Rules and consequences should not be too lax or too harsh
- Help children and teens learn to empathize with others by asking them to think about how someone else might feel about being bullied. It also may help to encourage them to do kind things for others, including those they don’t know well.
- Spend time with your child and ask questions about their friends and their activities. Get to know their friends.
- Monitor teens’ behavior, including their use of their cell phone and computer. Consider keeping a family computer and not allowing computers in children’s or teens’ rooms.
- Encourage your child’s positive activities and goals and praise their accomplishments.
- Watch for and praise any times that they use positive social interactions or non-violent problem solving, such as showing empathy for others or compromising in an argument.
- Make sure children get any help they need if they are struggling in school or in other areas of their lives, including having problems with aggressive behavior or lack of self-control.
- Work with school teachers and administrators to discourage bullying at school and reward positive behavior
- Get counseling for children who have a persistent pattern of bullying to find out if there are any underlying problems causing the bullying.
Though it may be difficult to admit a child or teen has a problem with bullying, getting them help will improve their well-being and chances for success in life. With help, parenting a bully can get easier.
SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Information Center, “Is Your Child a Bully?” [online]
Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Safe Communities – Safe Schools Fact Sheet, “Bullying Prevention: Recommendations for Parents” [online]
Sherryll Kraizer, Coalition for Children, Inc., Safe Child Program, “Take a Stand: Prevention of Bullying and Interpersonal Violence” [online]
National Crime Prevention Center, “Bullying: What Parents Can Do” [online]
Stop Bullying Now! “Help for Youth Who Bully” [online]
Girl Scouts, LMK: Life Online, “Do You Know the Consequences of Cyberbullying?” [online]