Can we bully our kids out of bullying?

Bullying parentI don’t have a lot of faith in most bullying programs in schools. Mainly because they focus on the children and not the families. I believe a lot of bullying is generated in homes where bullying occurs. We don’t realize it because bullying is part of our traditional parenting methods. We punish and threaten children to get them to do what we want. Isn’t that bullying? To many children it feels that way—somebody bigger and more powerful telling me what to do or else. When parents find out their child is bullying at school, what is the typical outcome? That child will be yelled at, lectured to, punished in some way—in other words, bullied. Bullying is an everyday occurrence in most homes. It’s a wonder we don’t have more bullies.

Not only are children bullied by their parents, but parents live in a world of bullies. Look at corporate America. It seems that the only way to get ahead these days is to be a bully among those competing for jobs. The media shows our children how all the time. Movies, Youtube, video games are all full of scenarios that show the success of bullies getting what they want.

We have to start at the foundation. We must engage in peaceful, empathic, accepting ways of parenting. That doesn’t mean accepting behavior no matter what. It means accepting the child, who he is and how he views his world, in order to connect and then have influence over his behavior. Everyone’s needs in the family are equally relevant. Problem solving means anyone can say, This isn’t working for me. How can we make it work for both/all of us?

Siblings bully each other and parents freak out. There is a certain amount of sibling skirmishes that need to be allowed and worked out without parental involvement, but if true bullying is happening then intervention is needed—but not the traditional kind. Punishing or banishing the aggressor to her room only fuels her anger and determination. Parents can facilitate conflict resolution so children learn at home how to get their feelings out and heard and how to solve a problem in a way that no one loses. Children then learn how to get what they want but they learn how to do it while respecting and cooperating with the other.

We need to admit that families are at the root of bullying—not to be blamed for it but to take responsibility for the words and actions that influence young vulnerable minds. We have bought into the reward and punishment system of parenting, but our children haven’t—yet. We need to put an end to it and not until we do will we see an end to bullying.

Addition 9/10/19:

Parents Who Belittle Their Kids May Be Raising Bullies.
Interviews with more than 1,400 teens revealed that those subjected to derisive parenting were more likely to develop dysregulated anger, which is often a sign of difficulty controlling emotions and puts teenagers at a higher risk for both bullying and for becoming bully victims. Study senior author Dr. Daniel Dickson writes, “Implications from our study are far-reaching: Practitioners and parents should be informed of the potential long-term costs of sometimes seemingly harmless parenting behaviors such as belittlement and sarcasm… Parents must be reminded of their influence on adolescents’ emotions and should take steps to ensure that adolescents do not feel ridiculed at home.”
Journal of Youth and Adolescence, July 2019

6 thoughts on “Can we bully our kids out of bullying?

  1. Bonnie,
    I love how you’ve highlighted the need for families to take responsibility for problems that arise. Whether or not a problem begins at home, it always enters the home in one way or another. We see that across the board in behavior problems, stress and illness.
    My books help families cope with difficult challenges such as cancer and deployment to war; each story told through a child’s eyes. Whether you’re 8 or 88, everyone connects to the “child within.” Embracing families in this way makes painful subjects approachable and gives everyone a voice.
    Bullying is similar in that children often act out when their world feels out of control, when they’re suffering in some way, or when they simply don’t have a voice.
    Thank you for helping families to engage in problem solving together. Whatever the source of struggle, families are more resilient when solutions are a team effort…with parents in the lead.

  2. I’m impressed, I need to say. Actually hardly ever do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, you could have hit the nail on the head. Your thought is excellent; the issue is something that not sufficient people are talking intelligently about. I’m very completely happy that I stumbled throughout this in my seek for one thing regarding this.

  3. Thank you for such a great post, Bonnie. Yes, as parents and caregivers we all do play a part in teaching kids not to be bullies. Unfortunately, some parents do play a part in nurturing the bullying behvaiour in their kids. Sad but true because I had a bad encounter with the nastiest girl a few years ago. She is the product of her mother’s constant over-indulging and bad parenting where her mother would always defend her bullying antics whilst leaving the victims to suffer (unfair don’t you think). Because of that, she becomes a terrible work colleague and a frenemy that nobody wants to touch with a 45 foot long pole from what I hear from people I know.

    1. Both overindulgence, which can lead to entitlement in children, and physical punishment and witnessing physical aggression in the home can influence and scare a child into bullying others. The family atmosphere is so critical in understanding the roots of bullying but we usually do not look there for intervention.

  4. While I think most of this is good advice, I dont think it is realistic, nor help teach children how to deal with the real world. A child that tries to express his feelings to a bully in school (that is all he knows) will most likely get harassed even more. Furthermore, no matter how logical your reasoning is, a child will continue to do what he can get a way with. I would like to see any child on this planet who’s parents did not have to use ANY sort of bullying technique as described by you. Children need to have bounderies and explaining does not always equal compliance.

    1. I am not suggesting the child express his feelings to the bully, but with a parent who acts as a sounding board. When intense feelings toward a bully can get expressed to an understanding parent, it is very empowering. I experienced it with my daughter. And I am in no way suggesting parenting without boundaries and limits. They are the basis of my work but do not ever have to be doled out in a bullying manner. That in fact undermines the power of the parents authority.

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