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Bullying Prevention at Home

How can you prevent your child from being bullied or bullying others? Because many of the risk factors for bullying are outside of your control, it can feel like there’s little you can do to prevent or stop bullying, but there are many things you can do to decrease the likelihood that your child will become involved in bullying. You may be doing some of them already. Chances are, there’s even more you can do.

Preventing bullying means helping children and teens build the skills to care about themselves and others and to treat everyone with kindness and respect. Parents are the primary teachers of these skills, both through direct instruction and through the way parents interact with others.

Children are far less likely to bully others if they understand and respect others’ differences, if they understand why respect, responsibility, fairness, and other values are important, and if they develop a deep commitment to being respectful and fair. Self-efficacy and self-esteem – confidence in your ability to resolve issues and overcome challenges and a generally positive view of yourself– also reduce the risk for being bullied, as youth are more likely to be able to resolve conflicts without escalation and stand up for themselves and less likely to be damaged if they are bullied. There are many things you can do to help your child develop these capacities.



Parents as Role Models +

Many of the behaviors we consider bullying among children and teens are used regularly by adults. Often these behaviors are used in loving and caring relationships and are not done with the intent to harm, but children and teens may not easily be able to tell the difference. Research shows that aggression in children is easily influenced by aggression they see in the world around them. It is important to be conscious of your own behaviors and help explain to your children when behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate. For instance:

  • Avoid gossiping about friends or family members
  • Limit the use of negative name-calling and teasing; Point out the difference between playful and harmful teasing
  • Make a conscious effort to model the respect and caring you hope your children will develop
    • Treat others who are different from you with respect – both adults and children. Many parents, for example, want children with behavior problems or special needs removed from the classroom out of fear of interference with their own child’s learning. But this suggests that children do not have responsibility for others in their community. Children are more likely to care about others who are different from them when they see their parents doing the same.

Developing Respect for Differences and Fairness +

Many instances of bullying are based on bias or a perception that other youth are different or inferior in some way. In order to prevent bullying, it is important that youth value respect and fairness for all, regardless of any differences other youth may have.

  • Hold your child to high ethical expectations
    • For example, don’t allow your child to be rude to others under any circumstances. Ensure that your child is fair and explain to your child why fairness is important. Explain to your child that he/she has responsibilities to his/her communities, whether neighborhoods, classrooms, sport teams, or religious communities.
  • Don’t make happiness or achievement the primary goal of your child-raising
    • Make caring for others and kindness priorities. Being kind and caring is not only important for its own sake and for the sake of a healthy society, but children who are kind and caring are also more likely to develop caring and lasting relationships of many kinds, and those relationships are the strongest and most durable source of happiness.
  • Help your child develop the skills he/she needs to treat people well day to day
    • Guide your child, for example, in how to praise appropriately and criticize respectfully, and in how to help someone else without patronizing them.
  • When children respect you, they are more likely to adopt your values of respect and fairness
    • Think about how your child perceives you. If you think your child does not respect you, consider why. You may want to consult your partner or close friends about this disrespect and about how you might handle it.
  • Reflect on whether you are modeling respect, fairness, and other important values day-to-day
    • Are you appreciative and caring with others, including those who are different from you and those outside your circle of friends? Are you honest and fair in your dealings with others?
  • Don’t seek to jump in with quick solutions to your child’s dilemmas
    • Help your child think through dilemmas and work with him/her to figure out how to best uphold important values such as honesty and fairness in resolving these dilemmas.
  • Help your child manage destructive feelings that can lead to hurting others, such as shame, anger, and envy
    • Help your child become more aware of these destructive feelings and give your child strategies for managing them.

Promoting Self-Efficacy and Self-Esteem +

When children and teenagers feel good about themselves and confident in their abilities, they are less likely to be bullied and less likely to bully others. Promoting self-esteem and self efficacy is an on-going process that requires parents to be reflective about the balance between caring for children and giving them the autonomy to gain the confidence to solve problems on their own.

  • Help your child learn how to tackle challenges for themselves
    • Instead of immediately rescuing him/her from difficult situations, help him/her learn ways to handle problems on their own. Do step in, though, when he/she is really stuck and needs additional support, and make sure that he/she is always safe.
  • Take the time to listen to your child and to really know the kind of person your child is—his/her strengths, worries, interests, hopes, etc.
    • This kind of knowledge can help you choose activities for your child in ways that affirm and appreciate who he/she is. It can make you useful to him/her in solving personal problems and in taking on important challenges.
  • Avoid harsh or threatening discipline practices; These can damage your child and put him/her at increased risk for bullying
  • Set clear expectations, guidelines and rules for your child
    • When a child breaks a rule, work with him/her to figure out what went wrong, use consequences directly tied to the behavior, and make sure the child understands why he/she is being disciplined.
    • As a parent, sometimes you clearly need to make the rules. You need to set rules, for example, around cleaning up, bed time and curfews. But, try to include your child in decision-making and rule-setting in many other areas of their lives. You should be sure to get your child’s guidance, for example, about what kind of activities he/she enjoys after school. Having input into these decisions develops your child’s capacity to think and his/her self-efficacy.
  • Find out what activity your child is interested in and help him/her develop competence in that activity
    • Especially if your child struggles in school, it’s important to find other activities that enable your child to feel competent and find friends with similar interests.
  • Recognize that no child is perfect and that making mistakes is part of the learning process
  • Even if you have a close relationship with your child, ensure that he/she has a trusted adult outside the home to talk to about frustrations or anxieties
    • Think back to when you were younger – sometimes you probably wanted to talk to someone other than a parent. Sometimes children and teens also need to talk to a trained mental health professional, especially when other trauma or issues arise in your home.
  • Keep open lines of communication with your child’s school
    • Know what’s going on with your child at school and make school staff aware of any issues he/she is experiencing at home that may affect his/her behavior or emotional well-being at school.

References Used for this Page +

Nickerson, A.B., Mele, D., & Osborne-Oliver, K.M. (2010) Parent-child relationships and bullying. In: S.R. Jimerson, S.M. Swearer, & D.L. Espelage (Eds.). Handbook of Bullying in Schools: An International Perspective. New York: Routledge, 187-198.

Perry, D.G., Hodges, E.V.E., & Egan, S.K. (2001). Determinants of chronic victimization by peers: A review and new model of family influence. In: J. Juvonen and S. Graham (Eds.). Peer harassment in school: The plight of the vulnerable and victimized. New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 73-104.

Rigby, K., Slee. P.T. & Cunningham, R. (1999). Effects of parenting on the peer relations of Australian adolescents. Journal of Social Psychology,139, 387-388.

Weissbourd, R. (2009). The Parents We Mean to Be, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.