Back To School? Bully-Proof Your Child – By Dr. Laura Markham, PhD, Clinical Psychologist

Bullying begins in preschool and gains momentum as kids get older. Depending on which survey you read, between 40 and 80 percent of middle school students admit to bullying behavior. Not only is bullying pervasive, it has become increasingly dangerous with cases of children committing suicide or being beaten to death

That’s the bad news. The good news is that bullying is preventable, and you can bully-proof your child – and keep him/her from becoming a bully.

Model compassionate, respectful relationships from the time your child is small.
The best way to keep children from being bullied is to make sure they have high self-esteem and strong relationships at home. Children learn both sides of every relationship, and they can act out either one. If you spank, your child will learn that physical violence is the way to respond to interpersonal problems. If your discipline methods use power over your child, he/she will learn to use power over others or to let others use power over him/her.

Stay connected to your child through thick and thin.
Lonely kids are more likely to be bullied and to let themselves be bullied. Remember, parenting is 90 percent connection (a close relationship with your child) and only 10 percent guidance. The guidance won’t stick unless you have the relationship to support it. Without such a foundation, trying to provide guidance may drive your child away. Keep the lines of communication open, no matter what.

Model confident behavior with other people. Kids learn by watching us.
Speak up. Don’t put yourself or your child down. Don’t let yourself be pushed around. Teach your children the language they need to stick up for themselves early on: “It’s my turn now. I want a turn now.”

Teach your child basic social skills.
Kids who are outsiders are more likely to be bullied. Bullies prey on children whom they perceive to be vulnerable, including needy children who are so desperate for peer acceptance that they continue to hang around a group of peers even when one of the group leaders begins to mistreat them. Role play with your child about how to join a game on the playground; how to introduce themselves to another child at a party; and how to initiate a play date.

Teach your child basic bully avoidance.
Bullies operate where adults aren’t present, so your child should avoid unsupervised hallways, bathrooms, and areas of the playground. Sitting toward the front of the school bus, standing toward the front of the line, and sitting at a lunch table near the cafeteria chaperones, are all good strategies for bully avoidance.

Coach your child to handle teasing and bullying by role playing and encouraging him/her to stand up for him/herself.
Research shows that bullies begin with verbal harassment. How the “victim” responds to the first verbal aggression determines whether the bully continues to target this particular child. If the aggression gives the bully what he’s looking for – a feeling of power from successfully pushing the other child’s buttons – the aggression will generally escalate. It’s imperative to discuss this issue with your child BEFORE he is subject to bullying, so that he/she can stand up for him/herself successfully when a bully first “tests” him/her.

Kids need to be reassured that there is no shame in being frightened by a bully, in walking away, or in telling an adult and asking for help. Bullying situations can escalate and saving face is less important than saving his/her life.

Teach specific strategies, and then practice them at home until your child is comfortable with them.

Teach kids to intervene to prevent bullying.
Bullying expert Michele Borba says that when bystanders (kids who are nearby) intervene correctly, studies find that they can cut bullying more than half of the time and within 10 seconds.

The best interventions:

• Partner with the victim and remove him/her from danger. Go stand with the victim physically, turn the victim away from the bully, and walk him/her away toward adult help. Say, “You look upset” or “I’ve been looking for you” or “The teacher sent me to find you.”

• Get help. Bullies love an audience. Get the other kids on your side by waving them over to you, yelling, “We need your help.” Confront the bully: “You’re being mean.” Then walk away: “C’mon, let’s go!”

If you’re at all worried about safety, dial 911 or shout for a teacher.


Dr. Laura Markham trained as a Clinical Psychologist, earning her PhD from Columbia University. The founding editor of AhaParenting, Dr. Laura also serves as parenting expert for Mothering and has had her articles published on over a dozen websites, including SheKnows,, ParentingBookmark, KeepKidsHealthy, MomsWhoThink, and ToddlersToday. She is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. Dr. Laura lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two terrific kids.

This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared on the Aha! Parenting site and was reprinted with permission and limited editing.

  1. One Response to “Back To School? Bully-Proof Your Child – By Dr. Laura Markham, PhD, Clinical Psychologist”

  2. Great advice! Yesterday my 4 yr daughter said to me that everybody says goodbye to her when she leaves (school) but they don’t say goodbye to Susie (changed the name to protect identity). I notice that Susie is a very shy person. What should I interpret by my daughter telling me this? I told my daughter that she should say goodbye so Susie’s not sad but she said that Susie doesn’t get sad.

    By Tricia on Sep 18, 2013