Parenting a bully

What is a parent’s responsibility regarding the decisions kids make, especially when they decide to bully another child?

Bullying is a topic that parents just can’t seem to escape. Given the influence of peer pressure, technology and social media, bullying opportunities abound. If your child is on the bullying end of a bad situation, should you — the parent — be held responsible?

A team effort

Bullying is often considered to be an aggressive act perpetrated by one person and projected onto another, the victim. While this is often true, overcoming bullying is definitely a team effort. The parent of the bully will particularly appreciate this dynamic if he or she is on board with ending the bullying behavior (there are, of course, those parents who inexplicably encourage bullying). “Parents of the bully need to be included in the process of helping the bully understand his behavior and hold him accountable for his actions,” says Alyson Schafer, a psychotherapist and parenting expert. “The bully needs assistance and support, just as the bullied child does.”

Read more about 7 bullying resources for parents >>

Don’t deny it

Finding out that your child is bullying another child can be difficult to swallow, but denial will only postpone the recovery process. “Many parents of children who bully simply deny that their child could ever behave that way,” says Schafer. “Parents need to be willing to be open-minded and listen.” Once the facts are hashed out, you can begin to help your child remedy the situation, which may include working with the school.

Find out how to talk to kids about bullying >>

Learning opportunity

Nobody wants their child to be a bully, but if you find yourself heading down that road, you have an opportunity to turn the situation into a learning experience. “Bullying is about power in relationships and the bully does not yet have insights and skills to understand a different and more respectful way to feel powerful through acts of kindness, and in being masterful and competent at something,” says Schafer. As a parent, you can change that by teaching your child empathy.

Find out how to befriend a bully >>

Practical lessons

There are a variety of strategies for teaching your child empathy. Only you will know what’s best for her in light of your specific situation. Schafer offers the following techniques:

  • Read books or watch movies about bullying and write up a report discussing how bullying impacted the victim.
  • Watch a TV sitcom with the volume turned off and watch the faces and body language to identify feelings of shame, embarrassment, sadness and pain.
  • Watch a movie in which someone did good deeds and have them report on how the character felt and how the person they helped felt.
  • Have the bully practice acts of kindness and report back on how the experience felt.
  • If the bully feels genuinely sorry and would like to express that, have them write a note of apology.

Read more about dealing with bullying:

Is your child being bullied at school?
Parenting guru: When girls bully
Bullying in schools