A Parents Guide to Bullying – Tips for Preventing and Responding

Parents Guide to BullyingA Parent’s Guide to Bullying: Fight Back or Process It?


Bullying has long been an issue in the life of children, and parents—many of whom vividly recall memories of peers saying or doing mean things—can often relate to this issue, as well. The good news is that bullying rates appear to be declining. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, reported incidents of bullying among students in grades six through 10 decreased by 9% from 1998 to 2010.

There are many reasons for these recent improvements. Many schools have named the issue, and some conduct mandatory workshops to build awareness of bullying. It is common for information about the subject to be posted in school hallways, and some schools even hire counselors to work with children specifically regarding bullying.

The media have also helped increase awareness. Troubling instances of bullying, such as the case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who ended his life after being mocked for his sexual orientation, help create dialogue about the issue. Video cameras on smartphones also make it easier to catch a bully in the act. Instances of these videos going viral have helped create an appetite for change.

Anti-Bullying Efforts Still Have a Long Way to Go

Bullying remains a central issue for the young people I work with, which makes sense given the developmental life stage they are in. Erik Erickson, a well-known psychoanalyst who developed theories on the challenges people face at different life stages, spoke about the importance of children developing a sense of industry and competence through their relationships with peers. Our early experience in the schoolyard helps develop ourconfidence in completing tasks later in life. These relationships are where we develop a sense of confidence in ourselves. Children in school environments where they are constantly put down can end up experiencing low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness.

There is also an alarming correlation between suicide and bullying. According to Yale University studies, children who are bullied are two to nine times more likely to consider ending their own life.

The Case of “Michael”

It’s rarely talked about, but bullying can be difficult for parents as well as children. No one wants to watch his or her child be in pain, and we are often helpless to prevent it from happening. Our children’s hurt feelings are often experienced as though they are our own.A 9-year-old boy I work with—I’ll call him Michael—was caught between a rock and a hard place. He was deeply troubled after seeing an extremely violent movie at a friend’s sleepover party and did not know what to do with the disturbing emotions he had. Feeling overwhelmed, he confided in his mother. She instantly became enraged at the mother of the boy who had the sleepover, and called her at once to yell at her. The next day at school, Michael’s friends ignored him. When he tried to talk to them, he was shut out and made fun of.

This pattern continued for months. Michael turned again to his mother, who encouraged him to fight one of the boys from the party. This made matters worse, as he was suspended from school and became even more alienated from his peer group.

In my discussions with Michael, it became clear that he mostly had wanted to talk through with his mother the disturbing things he saw in the movie. Rather than trying to get the other kids in trouble, he wanted to process all he had inside and connect with his parents. The way the situation was handled not only left him isolated from his friends, it made him feel disconnected from his mother.

From One Generation to the Next

In discussing the situation with Michael’s mother, she shared with me her own memories of bullying. She, too, was scapegoated by friends and was often told by her father, described as a John Wayne type, to fight back when fighting was not necessary. As we processed the events surrounding Michael, she began to realize how hard it was to hear about her son’s struggles. Telling him to fight back was a way to avoid his troubling feelings.

Talking through all of this helped her to become more connected with Michael, and it helped her to better understand the difficult feelings that most children experience at school. I have seen generational patterns like this with a lot of the families I work with. In Michael’s case, his mother’s processing of her own experiences helped enable him to have someone to turn to when troubling situations came up.

What Parents Can Do to Help

It’s rarely talked about, but bullying can be difficult for parents as well as children. No one wants to watch his or her child experience pain, but we are often helpless to prevent it from happening. Our children’s hurt feelings are often experienced as though they are our own. It is hard enough to let them go when we drop them off at school, but to hear about the horrendous things that sometimes go on with supposed friends is disturbing.

To help with all of this, I recommend a couple of steps for parents:

  • Think and talk about your own memories of bullying.
    Witnessing our children’s experiences at school naturally stirs feelings related to our own experiences. The more your painful memories are talked about, processed, and understood, the more likely it is your child will have the knowledge and the skills to have a better and different experience. Working with a therapist offers a venue to process these feelings. Parent support groups can also be helpful in this regard.
  • Help your child talk about and process his or her experience with bullying.
    Safety should come first, and if your child is in serious danger, the school or authorities should be alerted immediately. This is not enough, though. Emotional bullying (ignoring, starting rumors), verbal bullying (comments, insults), and cyberbullying (posting mean things online, etc.) are difficult to prevent and sometimes just as damaging. It is important for parents to express curiosity about the impact of all of this. The more a child can use his or her parents to openly process all that goes on with peers, the more resilient they are likely to be when issues come up.


Despite the gains we have made, bullying continues to be a central issue for school-age children. If handled properly, however, it can be an opportunity for parents and children to become more connected, heal wounds of the past, and create new experiences moving forward.

If you need help processing bullying experiences, yours or your child’s, please consider enlisting the help of a qualified therapist.

A Parent’s Guide to Bullying: Fight Back or Process It?

Related Continuing Education Courses

This video course starts with a thoughtful definition of “bullying” and goes on to illustrate the functional roles of the three participant groups: the targeted individuals, the bullies, and the bystanders. The speaker discusses the concepts of resiliency, empathy, and growth/fixed mindsets, and considers the pros and cons of alternative responses to harmful behavior. Included also are an examination of the utility of zero tolerance policies and a variety of adult responses when becoming aware of bullying behavior. The speaker utilizes multiple examples and scenarios to propose strategies and techniques intended to offer connection, support and reframing to targeted individuals, motivation to change in the form of progressive, escalating consequences to bullies, and multiple intervention options to bystanders. Further segments discuss ways in which schools can create safe, pro-social climates. The course video is split into 2 parts for your convenience: part 1 is 1 hour and 34 minutes and part 2 is 1 hour and 9 minutes. Course #30-73 | 2014 | 21 posttest questions Click Here to Learn More About This CE Course!


This is a test only course (book not included). The book (or e-book) can be purchased from Amazon. This CE test is based on the book “Treating Explosive Kids: The Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach” (2006, 246 pages). This book provides a detailed framework for effective, individualized intervention with highly oppositional children and their families. Many vivid examples and Q&A sections show how to identify the specific cognitive factors that contribute to explosive and noncompliant behavior, remediate these factors, and teach children and their adult caregivers how to solve problems collaboratively. The book also describes challenges that may arise in implementing the model and provides clear and practical solutions. Two special chapters focus on intervention in schools and in therapeutic/restrictive facilities. Closeout Course #60-95 | 45 posttest questions Click Here to Learn More About This CE Course!


This course, which includes two CDC bulletins, discusses the findings of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), the most comprehensive nationwide survey of the incidence and prevalence of children’s exposure to violence to date, sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey confirms the alarming statistic that most of our society’s children are exposed to violence in their daily lives. More than 60% of the children surveyed were exposed to violence within the past year, either directly or indirectly. The reports further reveal the adverse effects suffered by children who witness violence, identify risk and protective factors, and describe the key elements of designing an effective response. This course satisfies the domestic violence requirement for biennial relicensure of Florida mental health professionals.Closeout Course #20-73 | 2009 | 19 pages | 14 posttest questions Click Here to Learn More About This CE Course!


This course was written for professionals working in the mental health, child welfare, juvenile justice/criminal justice, and research fields, as well as students studying these fields. The authors’ goal is to make a case for the fact that juvenile and adult violence begins very early in life, and it is both preventable and treatable. The author draws on her 30 years of experience working in and researching violence to demonstrate that society must intervene early in the lives of children living in violent, neglectful, criminal, and substance-dependent families. This course provides information about the problems of violence — in its various forms of abuse, neglect, and just plain senseless killing — that takes place in this country. These are problems that are seldom handled well by governmental agencies of child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and mental health. This results in more problems, turning into a cycle of youth violence and sexual offending that will potentially continue for generations. However, with the correct intervention, this cycle can be broken, which creates a safer environment for all of society.Closeout Course #60-68 | 2006 | 136 pages | 36 posttest questions Click Here to Learn More About This CE Course!


Professional Development Resources is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC Provider #5590); by the American Psychological Association (APA); by the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling (Provider #50-1635) and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within 1 week of completion); by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (Approval #PCE1625); by the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (Provider #114); by the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors and Marriage & Family Therapists (Provider #193); and by the *Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage & Family Therapist Board (Provider #RCST100501).