Are You the Parent of a Bully? By Todd Patkin

Children and bullyingIs your child a bully? If you’re like most parents, your answer is probably an automatic “no.” Nobody ever thinks their kid is a bully. It’s always someone else’s child who is calling other kids hurtful names, pushing them around in the halls, and sending nasty texts. That’s why many parents don’t nip bullying behaviors in the bud: their heads are stuck in the proverbial sand, they simply aren’t aware that there is a problem.

If you are told by a teacher, fellow parent, or coach that your child is a bully, make sure there are consequences. Even if you believe the situation has been blown out of proportion, it’s important to squelch bullying behaviors the moment they appear instead of writing them off as a “stage” or a “normal part of childhood.”

Discipline aside, though, I believe that parents of bullies and non-bullies alike should employ several strategies to prevent hurtful behaviors. In fact, I firmly believe that the bullying epidemic will diminish only when parents begin to lead the charge inside their own homes.

First, simply acknowledge that even if your children aren’t the playground equivalents of mob bosses, they may still have the capacity to exhibit behaviors that hurt others. If it hasn’t happened already, don’t wait for a call from the school to address this issue. Have a specific discussion with your children about what bullying behaviors look like, and make sure they know that these behaviors will not be tolerated in your family. (Think of it as having “the talk” about not using drugs, for example.)

I also believe that it’s crucial to be involved in your kids’ lives every day. Nothing—not expensive gadgets, sports programs, music lessons, or creature comforts can take the place of what’s truly the most important thing in a child’s development: his parents. Being present on a daily, nitty-gritty basis will allow kids to stand the best chance when it comes to making all the right choices (not just avoiding bullying). Don’t leave your children’s development in the hands of others or up to chance.

Specifically, I recommend the following tactics:

  • Help your children understand “different.” The more your kids understand the world around them—and the more they learn that “different” doesn’t mean “less than”—the less likely they’ll be to target other groups.
  • Be a good example. You can’t hold your kids to one standard of behavior and then flout those rules yourself. Make sure that your own actions are friendly, compassionate, and courteous.
  • Teach your kids to intercede. Teaching your kids not to participate in bullying behaviors is a good start, but it’s also important that they not allow their peers to be tormented. Encourage them to step in if they see another child being treated badly—if they are comfortable doing so. If not, make sure your child knows to talk to a teacher or other authority figure when another child is being tormented. Even an anonymous note on a desk can open an adult’s eyes to a bad situation.

Ultimately, this is one social change that will happen because ordinary parents are purposeful and proactive. We have the power and responsibility to not raise bullies—and we need to start now.


Todd Patkin is the author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In and Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People. His new book, The Sunny Days Secret: A Guide for Finding Happiness is coming in Summer 2013.